There are plenty of qualities that make Gates so successful: body control, work ethic and size, to name a few. But what sets him apart is his versatility.
"To me, Gates is one of the most versatile players in the NFL -- he can block and catch, and you can split him out wide, use him all over the field," Head Coach Norv Turner said.
Brandon Manumaleuna had a breakout 2006 season after five up-and-down years with the St. Louis Rams. He quickly established himself as the preeminent blocking tight end in the game, generating movement in the running game and picking up blitzing defenders in pass protection.
The key to Manumaleuna's resurgent season was his move to America's Finest City. He was born and raised two hours north of San Diego in Torrance, Calif.
"Brandon's a Southern California kid, so he was never all that happy in St. Louis. As soon as he moved back to California, everything just clicked," said one Rams assistant coach.
Stepping into the No. 3 role is Scott Chandler, a fourth-round pick from Iowa. He has the size (6-foot-7, 265 lbs.) and soft hands to make plays over the middle of the field, and his years playing for Hawkeyes Head Coach Kirk Ferentz have made him a proficient blocker.
Chandler has two great role models to learn from as he adjusts to the pro game.
"Having Gates out there is always a learning experience for me, because I can watch him running routes and in the passin game. I also have Brandon in the blocking game that I can watch…It's like a film session in and of itself just watching those guys," Chandler said.
Another player worth watching is Kelly Griffeth, who first signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2005. He is a tackle-tight end tweener with a work ethic and blocking style similar to Kris Dielman; and Griffeth hopes to climb the depth chart in a similar fashion.
No team in the NFL has a better tight end corps than the Chargers. So long as Antonio Gates is sitting atop the depth chart, that is unlikely to change.