Gates is perhaps the best known of the three players the Jets picked up. The speedster out of Alibene Christian was drafted in the fourth round by the Dolphins last year and there was plenty of buzz surrounding his potential to help the team in his rookie season. In the end, he didn't produce much and the incoming coaching staff didn't take to him immediately. With limited preseason playing time he was unable to make it onto the final roster.
After the jump, we'll look at his performances from preseason (last year and this year) and the 2011 regular season.
Week One: Atlanta
Gates was used as the primary kick returner, got a couple of chances to return punts and got reps at receiver with the second unit. His two kick returns netted just 38 yards, but both came on short kicks, so he got out past the 20 each time, spinning out of a tackle for a few extra yards on the second one. On his first punt return he made a nice cut to get seven yards, but the play was negated by a penalty. He later misjudged the flight on a punt and almost muffed it, moving out of the way at the last minute as the ball bounced at the 15 and rolled inside the ten. As a receiver, he was targeted on two deep balls in the second quarter, burning his man by a step on the first one which was slightly overthrown. The second one was not even close. He made an impact in the third, catching a 17 yard pass on a 4th-and-7 post pattern with a defender draped all over him and then making a jumping catch at the back of the endzone for a six yard touchdown.
Week Two: Carolina
Gates didn't achieve much in this game with no catches on three targets, a rush for minus yardage, a kickoff return where he was nailed before he got back to the 20 and one punt return for ten yards. However, he did also draw a late hit penalty on that punt return after making the first man miss. On the rush, he actually did well to almost get back to the line of scrimmage because a defensive lineman penetrated deep into the backfield to blow the play up. Two of the incompletions came as he beat his man deep but the pass was overthrown. The third was a miscommunication where he ran deep but the quarterback threw to his back shoulder.
Game Three: Tampa Bay
Gates didn't return any kicks in this one, but was targeted six times. However, he caught just two passes for 15 yards. Of the four incompletions, one was just off his fingertips on a deep throw off a three step drop. The other three were inaccurate passes, although he was open on all three - one deep, one over the middle and one as he came back to the ball. His first catch went for six yards and a first down as he made a leaping catch and held on despite a big hit. The other saw him catch the ball on a quick hitch and turn upfield for nine yards. He also had a false start.
Game Four: Dallas
Gates didn't play much in this one, his roster spot already secured. He was thrown to twice - the first being ruled a lateral as he took the ball in the flat for a five yard run. The second one saw him finally catch a deep ball as he beat his man by a clear two steps for a 42 yard gain.
Gates caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, rushed twice for two yards, returned three kickoffs for 63 yards and two punts for 12 yards. He was actually targeted 14 times, although many of these were downfield throws where he was open but the throw was inaccurate. When that happens, you have to wonder about the accuracy of his route running, but it was definitely apparent he was drawing attention from the deep safety.
2011 Regular Season
As the season got underway, Gates started off as the primary kick returner. He held this job for most of the year. He returned punts in week three only and averaged just under 10 snaps per game as a receiver.
Week One: New England
As a kick returner, Gates ran one kick back out to near the 50 with a great burst of speed, but it was negated by a penalty. On one other kick return, he leapt through a gap to get out to the 25.
Week Two: Houston
Gates was targeted twice - dropping a pass on a quick slant (although he felt he had been held) and drawing a pass interference flag on a deep ball where he burned Kareem Jackson and the ball was just off his fingertips. As a kick returner, he exploited a big hole to make a 39-yard runback, but also got caught running laterally and stuffed at his own eight. He also returned three punts for 32 yards.
Week Three: Cleveland
In this game, he was targeted once, going deep against Joe Haden and making a leaping grab, but coming down well out of bounds. He also caused an illegal formation penalty by lining up in the wrong spot. As a kick return man, he made a cut and spun out of a tackle for 27 yards, but that one was called back. He did get to the outside on another kick and was knocked out of bounds at the 39 with a penalty added on.
Week Four: San Diego
Gates made his first career catch in this game, grabbing an eight yard pass on an out pattern for a first down. However, he also got stuffed at his own ten yard line on another kick return.
Week Six: Jets
Following the bye week, Gates was once again stuffed inside his own 20, this time at the 14. His role reduced over the next few weeks and he wasn't significantly involved.
Week Ten: Washington
Something I wasn't expecting to see here - some good blocking from Gates, as he made a cut block from the slot to enable Brandon Marshall to pick up 15 on a wide receiver screen. He also added 30 yards on a kick return as he fought for a few extra yards at the end of the play.
Week 12: Dallas
More good blocking here, as he engaged with a cornerback on a downfield block and drove him out of the play, enabling Reggie Bush to gain 14 yards to the outside. Gates also caught an 11 yard pass as the defender gave him a big cushion on an out pattern on 1st and 20. He added a 32 yard kick return where he initially hesitated, but still got to the outside.
Week 13: Oakland
In the highlight of Gates' career so far, he returned a kickoff 77 yards with a great burst through two gaps, although he did benefit from what looked like it could have been an illegal block in the back. He was pushed out of bounds inside the 25. Gates also got the ball on an end around, making a good cut and spinning out of a tackle to pick up four yards.
Weeks 14 to 17
Gates had one decent kick return over each of the next three weeks, breaking a tackle on one (27 yards), driving tacklers for a few extra yards on another (30 yards) and breaking into the open field only to get tripped by a kicker on the last one (33 yards). However, in week 16 he was also stuffed inside his 20 once and in the last game it happened again as the Jets got him down at the 11.
After showing all that preseason promise, Gates had a disappointing year, production-wise, with just two catches for 19 yards on ten targets (including 0-for-5 on passes beyond 20 yards). However, he did average a creditable 24.8 yards per kickoff return, despite showing some questionable decision making.
The preseason did not begin well for Gates. Amidst questions about whether the new coaching staff liked him, he fell down the depth chart and didn't play in the first game. He did get some time in the last three games and was quoted as saying he felt confident he'd be on the roster because he'd had a good camp, only to be waived a couple of days later.
Week Two: Carolina
Gates was targeted three times in the third quarter. The first two were incomplete as he juggled the ball at the sideline on an out pattern and the timing was completely off on the second one. The third saw him create some positive yardage as he was interfered with when he easily beat the defender deep. In the fourth quarter, he caught his first pass on a quick throw to him on the outside as he broke a tackle and cut back to the middle for nine yards.
Week Three: Atlanta
In this game, Gates had a 17 yard catch and an 11 yard run in the second half. The catch saw him stop his route and make the catch, then run for some extra yards, while he had loads of room on the end around. He was targeted twice earlier on, making a leaping grab on a deep ball but coming down out of bounds on one and breaking up a potential pick-six on the other as the defender jumped the route on a throw out to the flat.
Week Four: Dallas
In his last chance to make a case, Gates didn't get many opportunities to prove himself. He was targeted once in the first half, but the ball was low and underthrown downfield. In the fourth quarter, he did catch a pass on a play where he lined up at fullback on the right side and leaked out into the flat on the left. That gained seven yards.
With limited opportunities to perform, Gates caught three passes for 33 yards on eight targets and rushed once for 11 yards.
The inevitable comparison people will make is to David Clowney. Gates, almost exactly the same height and weight, is a deep threat who seems prone to mistakes, is raw as a route runner and may have minor character concerns. Like Clowney, he might not have an ideal attitude or build for a special teams role other than as a kick returner, although as least he has some experience of returning kicks at the NFL level, which Clowney did not. Another underrated aspect of Clowney's game was his blocking and there were a few flashes of that from Gates here.
One thing I'm wondering about is if this is a very short term move with Joe McKnight's status up in the air for week one. Did the Jets bring Gates in to return kickoffs until McKnight gets back and nothing more?
While he showed some signs of mental errors in the return game, Gates was still pretty productive and could thrive running behind Mike Westhoff's blocking schemes.
However, Tony Sparano is obviously very familiar with him, so I'd expect they have bigger plans for him than just returning kicks. As a receiver, over the course of the two preseasons and one regular season, Gates caught just 10 of 34 passes. While a high percentage of these were deep balls, so you would expect a low success rate, that's below 30%. Having said that, on a number of these he was wide open and the throw was just inaccurate. Maybe Mark Sanchez would have more success connecting with him down the field. He was definitely able to beat starter-level players deep, so could stretch the field just with the threat of getting deep.
This is a move for a player with undoubted upside, but whose career seems to have stalled at the moment. If he gets a shot, he could be the source of some chunk plays this season, but it seems clear his game needs a little refining.
I'll be back with a look at Konrad Reuland and Isaako Aaitui later.