Antonio Gates' suspension cripples fantasy potential

In what has to be considered a shocking development (no pun intended), San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for performance-enhancing substances. The No. 2 tight end in fantasy football in 2014, Gates will be forced to miss one third of the fantasy regular season and thus can no longer be considered a No. 1 option. In fact, I've dropped him from No. 6 at the position down to No. 15.

That makes him worth no more a late-round pick as a roster hold.

While the decision to take him at that point could be fruitful upon his return, keep a few things in mind. First, Ladarius Green will now be allowed a chance to shine as a prominent option for the Bolts. A fantasy darling during the 2014 preseason, Green couldn't pass Gates on the depth chart and was waiver-wire fodder in most formats. If he can prove that he's been worth all the hype, well, Green could etch out a bigger role and eat into some of Gates' targets upon his return.

How much talent does Green have in that 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame? He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine ... that's the same time as Kenny Britt, Davante Adams and Riley Cooper, and it was faster than Antonio Brown, Kelvin Benjamin and Dwayne Bowe during their respective 40s. I'd take a flier on Green in the late rounds as a No. 2 tight end.

Second, owners need to remember that Gates is 35 years old. And while his 12 touchdown catches last season were impressive, it was one more than he had had in his previous two years combined. It was also the first time he had cracked double-digit scores since 2010, so his chances of duplicating that total (even in a full season) seemed slim.

The loss of Gates appears to be bad news for the value of Philip Rivers, who threw almost 40 percent of his 2014 touchdown passes to his veteran teammate. However, Rivers still averaged over two scoring strikes per game and his yards per attempt and explosive pass plays actually increased in games played without Gates since 2010. That could be good news for third-year receiver Keenan Allen, who is one of my favorite bounce-back candidates in fantasy land.

As for Rivers, he's still on the board as a top-15 fantasy quarterback in 2015 drafts ... with or without Gates.

One last thing to remember is that this news makes a thin tight end position even thinner. In fact, I wouldn't draft anyone but Rob Gronkowski in the first two rounds and no one but Gronk and Jimmy Graham in the first 50 overall picks. That leaves Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce as the only other players at the position I would pick before Round 7. So if you're unable to grab one of those four players, I'd advise waiting on the position and targeting potential bargains like Martellus Bennett or Zach Ertz.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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