Late Bloomer #5: Antonio Gates
After Nick Saban wouldn’t let Gates play both football and basketball at Michigan State, he left and eventually landed at Kent State, where he only played basketball, helping the Golden Flashes reach the Elite Eight in his junior season and averaging over 20 points and seven rebounds per game his senior season. As we know, Gates returned to football after not playing in college and soon blossomed into a star.
In just his second pro season, he led all tight ends with 13 touchdowns. Upon retiring after the 2017 season, he holds the all-time lead for touchdowns by a tight end with 114. In between, Gates made eight consecutive Pro Bowls and outside of maybe Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end of his generation.