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Bold predictions for the Chargers: Gates to be all-time TD leader among TEs

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We’re three days away from training camp, so now it’s time for our third bold prediction for the San Diego Chargers.

Bold Prediction No. 3: Antonio Gates will be the all-time leader in touchdown catches among tight ends

“Rivers to Gates, touchdown Chargers!”

Man, that phrase will never get old. A former basketball stud who transitioned to football after college, Antonio Gates redefined the tight end position. Over 13 seasons, Gates has amassed 844 receptions for 10,644 yards and 104 touchdowns. He’s been one of the best pass-catching tight ends since joining the league in 2003.

Oh, and did I mention that Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection, was an UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT. That’s more impressive than Game of Thrones getting a perfect 10 on IMBD for their season six finale.

The Chargers signed Gates to a new two-year deal in the offseason. At 36 years old, he is still playing at a high level, but he’s likely going to retire within the next two years.

Former Chiefs and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez leads all tight ends with 111 career touchdowns, which ranks sixth on the all-time receiving touchdowns list. Gates (104) is behind Gonzalez for seventh all-time on that list, and I believe he has just enough left in the tank to pass Gonzalez this season.

It’s already a huge accomplishment being in the top 10 as a tight end. Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, who ranks as the third-best tight end in that category, finished with 62 career touchdown catches, which is tied for 69th on the list. Again, it’s been a new breed of tight ends as of late.

It will be a challenge, though. There are a ton of weapons for quarterback Philip Rivers to throw to including Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Stevie Johnson, Tyrell Williams and third-down specialist Danny Woodhead. Also, the Chargers drafted tight end Hunter Henry in the second round of this year’s draft. He won’t be tabbed the starter right away, but he’ll likely get a ton of playing time his rookie year. At 6-foot-5, Henry is the tallest of the pass-catchers and figures to be a big red-zone target.

Even though new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s focus is to jumpstart the running game, it should impact the passing game in a positive way. Just a note: aside from finishing with two touchdown grabs his rookie year, Gates scored a season-low four touchdowns in 2013, the year Whisenhunt called the plays.

In 2014, he scored 12 touchdowns, the most since the 2004 season (13). Despite being handed a four-game suspension to open up the 2015 season and dealing with an MCL sprain in the second half of the year, Gates still finished with five touchdowns. If he can stay healthy in 2016, Gates can make this bold prediction become a reality.

According to ESPN’s Eric Williams, one of RIvers’ goals heading into the season was to help Gates reach that mark. He needs eight more touchdowns. Let’s see one of the greatest quarterback-tight end tandems achieve greatness.

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