Antonio Gates: TE's Likely Return Makes Him a Must-Start vs. Falcons

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers in action against the Oakland Raiders during their season opener at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 10, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Even though the San Diego Chargers did not miss Antonio Gates against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, fantasy football owners certainly did.

While the Pro Bowl tight end was nursing his injured ribs, Dante Rosario filled in nicely and had three touchdowns against the Titans. Unfortunately, the former Panthers player was still a free agent in most leagues. 

The good news is that Gates should be returning to the football field very soon.

According to Dan McLellan of, "signs look good" that he will play on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. McLellan explained, "Gates continued to wear a vest to pad his injured ribs but said the difference in pain between last week and this week was night and day."

This is big for the Chargers, who have their toughest test of the season coming up in Week 3. Like San Diego, the Falcons have won both of their previous games in decisive fashion. However, Atlanta faced tougher competition in its win over the Denver Broncos

In that game, the defense forced three interceptions from Peyton Manning and gave the passing attack fits through all four quarters. If the Chargers are not at full strength, the team will struggle to stay competitive.

Fortunately, Gates makes a big difference in the offense. There are few consistent targets in the receiving corps for Philip Rivers to trust, so having a 10-year veteran to throw the ball to helps a great deal.

In addition, the tight end knows how to use his size and athleticism in the red zone. This is evidenced by the fact that he has not had fewer than seven touchdown receptions since his rookie year. Malcolm Floyd also has good size, but it is always better to have multiple options.

If he is declared active on Sunday, fantasy owners should have complete confidence in keeping Gates in their lineup.

Rosario's success against the Titans shows that the team has not changed the game plan of going to the tight end when in the red zone. The three touchdowns also set a new career high for Rosario for an entire season, so there is little chance the team lets him cut into Gates' targets in the future.

The offense has also been able to rush the ball frequently due to its large leads, but that will not be the case in Week 3. The quick-striking offense of the Falcons will force San Diego to throw more often to keep up, which benefits Rivers and all of the receivers and tight ends.

Despite getting older, Gates is still one of the top players in the NFL at his position. He finished seventh in fantasy scoring among tight ends last year, despite the fact that he missed a quarter of the season with an injury. 

If you are lucky enough to have him on your fantasy team, you should not hesitate to keep him in your lineup. He will not be activated unless San Diego intends to use him early and often.

Just make sure to check on Sunday to see if he gets the green light from the team.