Antonio Gates proved his skill as a football player early on in his career. More recently, however, we're seeing that the 31-year-old has proved to be a trend-setter as well.
When Gates began his career as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 2003, he was an anomaly as much as anything. He had a spot on an NFL roster due to skills shown in other athletic pursuits, as he had played college basketball at Kent State, even making the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA tournament, but not football.
Instead, Gates proved that his basketball skills translated perfectly to football. Catching passes first from Drew Brees and then Philip Rivers, Gates provided his quarterbacks with the luxury of a big body with speed and good hands that could out-leap any defender for the ball.
In other words, the perfect pass-catching tight end.
Tony Gonzalez had become the greatest receiving tight end of all time by following a similar formula, but Gates became the poster boy for the basketball player skill set. With those abilities and talents, Gates made his first Pro Bowl in 2004 and hasn't missed it since. He's also a five-time All-Pro and member of the All-Decade team for the 2000s.
Since Gates' emergence, plenty of teams have looked for players in his mold. Jimmy Graham is the most similar to Gates in terms of career path and ability, while Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley and Aaron Hernandez have also followed the lead of the athletic specimen at the position.