Pickin’ Bolts: Chargers TE Needs & Gates Succession Plan

Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego
Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

There have been several mock drafts lately predicting the San Diego Chargers will take a Tight End in the second round. In particular, those mocks usually predict the Chargers will draft Arkansas’ TE Hunter Henry.

Those who predict the Chargers will use an early pick to draft a TE are using sound logic. The Chargers’ number one TE option, future-Hall of Famer, Antonio Gates is old (he’ll play the 2016 season at 36).

He’s missed at least one game due to injury in four of the last six seasons. Despite the fact that he just-signed two-year contract, 2016 may be his finale. So the Chargers need to start thinking about his successor.

But Gates isn’t going to Hall of Fame because of his athleticism, he’s going to Hall because he outworked his competition. The Chargers need to bring someone in who will see that work ethic and embrace it; who will learn from the master.

The Chargers had hoped Ladarius Green would be that guy but he left for more money than the Chargers will willing to fork out. And the Chargers were right to let him go. Despite Green’s amazing athleticism there were numerous occasions where Green was targeted and couldn’t come up with the catch, or he was open and not thrown to. Rivers obviously did not trust Green to actually catch the ball. Green’s performances were spotty at best.

A look at the Chargers receiving statistics shows the following:

Player Recep. Targets Catch %
1 Woodhead 80 106 75.5%
2 Allen 67 89 75.3%
3 Johnson 45 65 69.2%
4 Gates 56 84 66.7%
5 Green 37 63 58.7%
6 Inman 35 65 53.8%
7 Floyd 30 69 43.5%

These were the only Chargers who were targeted more than 60 times. Two players on that list are now gone. Green is with Pittsburgh and, of course, Malcolm Floyd retired. I have trouble thinking the Chargers are going to miss Green that much or that Green will make a huge difference in Pittsburgh.

I think the Chargers have other needs that will require the use of their second round pick (Jaylon Smith? Ryan Kelly? A DE if they take Ramsey in the first? A safety if they take Buckner?). In my opinion San Diego should use another mid-to-late round pick on a TE to groom and develop.

The following players are the guys I like and would consider starting in the third round (alphabetically):

Austin Hooper. Mandatory Credit: AP Photo
Austin Hooper. Mandatory Credit: AP Photo

Moritz Boehringer, Germany (no college football), 6’ 4.5” 231 – He has an NFL TE frame and an NFL WR’s athleticism (4.43 second 40 yard draft, 39” vertical jump). He played organized football in Germany so his experience is obviously limited. He’s a project with nearly limitless upside. He might be more suited to WR but either way his size and athleticism allow him to create mismatches (which is why I think Tight Ends and not WRs or RBs are the most crucial ball-carrying positions on the team).

Devon Cajuste, Stanford (converting WR), 6’4” 234 – Cajuste is a big-bodied WR who has plenty of experience blocking (and has shown a willingness to do so). He has big hands (10 ¾”). Despite posting a 4.55 40 time at his Pro Day, Cajuste is not known for his speed. Scouts say he lacks a second gear. Despite that Cajuste has shown that he can get open and he is a reliable pass-catcher. At “only” 234 lbs. he’s somewhat of a “tweener” but I like his upside.

Thomas Duarte, UCLA, 6’2” 231 – While Duarte is listed as a TE he rarely played tight with the OL. And like Cajuste, he would be a significant project. Duarte is also interesting in a non-football sense. Duarte has ethnic roots rarely found in the NFL. He is of Japanese and Mexican descent. He has adequate sized hands (10”) but has a little history of drops in college.

Rico Gathers, Baylor (converting college basketball player), 6’7” 268 – Gathers, whom I profiled previously, is another big project. He hasn’t played football since he was 14. Supposedly that was his plan all along and he has consistently worked on football drills during basketball off-seasons. I will say this, looking at his frame, he was training for a basketball life. All the running and jumping required in basketball makes a leaner frame more desirable. Gathers has been lifting weights for NFL bulk. He may be an undrafted free agent but his upside is significant.

Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky, 6’6” 249 – Higbee might have the highest upside or at least he may be the most likely to reach his upside on this list. Despite being a one-year starter, Higbee has reliable hands (10 ¼”) and according to ProFootballFocus.com has only dropped 2 passes over 2 years. He’s not a great blocker but he’s willing.

Austin Hooper, Stanford, 6’4” 254 – Hooper is another Stanford Cardinal on this list. He’s more of a true (or traditional) TE. He’s more of a blocker and last-option as a pass-catcher. He had a relatively high drop-rate in college. He’s not anywhere near the athlete that the previous guys on this list are. That’s not a knock, because they probably lack his blocking prowess. He’s not a guy I would be disappointed to have on my team, but in today’s game, where the TE can stretch a defense and offer pass-catching mismatches, Hooper’s traditional profile limits the excitement a modern TE can provide.

Ultimately I’d love to see if the Chargers could get Gathers as an undrafted free agent and draft Higbee in the 3rd or 4th round. I’d also love to take a flier on Boehringer but I’m worried about how high of a draft pick would be required to acquire him.

Thanks for reading and please, follow me on Twitter @PickinBolts

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