Antonio Gates says he feels like he belongs in the Hall of Fame ... and he tells TMZ Sports if and when he gets in, Julius Peppers should be there right alongside him!!
The two NFL legends were officially named semifinalists for the highest honor in professional football earlier this week ... and when we saw Gates out in LA on Tuesday, we had to get his thoughts on it all.
The former Chargers tight end said he was stoked for the recognition, calling it a "dream come true" -- before adding that he was pretty sure when the final cutdown comes, he'll make it.
"I feel like, mentally," he said, "I belong in there."
As for the rest of the 24 semifinalists, Gates said he could make a case for just about every player on the list ... though he specifically said Peppers definitely deserves the nod.
Some other names who will be considered for the class of 2024 include legends like Dwight Freeney, Andre Johnson and Devin Hester -- three guys Gates said should get long looks for the Hall's final cut next year too.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is proud to announce 25 Modern-Era Semifinalists for the Class of 2024.