Hunter Henry Is a Great Long-Term Investment for the Chargers
Round 1 of the NFL Draft came and went without any tight ends being selected, but we didn't have to wait much longer to see the best player at the position come off the board.
Four picks into the second round, the San Diego Chargers selected the best tight end in this class in Hunter Henry.
Top of His Class
There's been a big change in the tight end position in the NFL recently with so many tight ends playing almost like wide receivers and relying less on the blocking aspect of their position.
Hunter Henry isn't one of those tight ends who spends most of his time lining up outside like a receiver, though. He's a true tight end, lining up in-line on 78 percent of his snaps in 2015. He moved to the slot for 21 percent of his snaps in Arkansas' pro-style offense.
|Hunter Henry||Travis Kelce||Jason Witten|
|Arm Length||32 3/4"||33 3/4"||-|
|Hand Size||9 1/4"||9 5/8"||-|
|Bench Press||21 reps||-||25 reps|
Both of those veteran tight ends excelled during their senior year, but neither of them performed nearly as well during their early years in college. Henry had at least 400 yards receiving in each of his past three seasons in college and capped it all off by earning the highest receiving grade among all tight ends from Pro Football Focus during the 2015 season.
Through all of that, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was actually what he didn’t do. On 51 catchable passes, Henry had zero drops all season. That was a slight improvement over the two drops he had on 39 catchable passes in 2014.
Henry in San Diego
Henry joins a tight end corps in San Dieo led by 13-year veteran Antonio Gates. Gates has been in the top 11 in targets among all tight ends in each of the past three seasons, including 2015, when he missed five games and shared the field with former Charger Ladarius Green. Now in Pittsburgh, Green saw 63 targets during his last season in San Diego last year.
In terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies the value added or lost on each play relative to league-average expectation level, Gates again took a step back in 2015.
Gates' 0.68 Reception NEP per target last season was the third-worst of his career. Along with his 0.72 Reception NEP per target in 2012 and 0.56 in 2013, the aging veteran has had three of the four worst years of his career in terms of Reception NEP per target over the past four years.
More blocking production is also needed from the tight ends on the Chargers after the team finished dead last in Adjusted Rushing NEP last season.
With Gates' performance declining and Green no longer on the team, the Chargers could certainly benefit from Henry immediately in his first year, but transitioning to the NFL is generally tough for tight ends.
During their rookie seasons, the first tight end drafted in each of the past 10 years has eclipsed the 50-catch mark only once and amassed 500 receiving yards only once. None have caught more than four touchdown passes.
Now check out how each of those tight ends fared during their second NFL season:
Tyler Eifert lost his sophomore season due to an injury in the first game, and obviously Maxx Williams hasn't began his sophomore campaign yet. Other than those two players, Dustin Keller is the only player in this field to regress in receptions, yards, and touchdowns during his second season.
Jermaine Gresham had the same number of receptions from year one to year two, while increasing both his yardage and touchdown totals as a sophomore in the NFL. Every other first tight end drafted over the past 10 years has increased their receptions, yards, and touchdowns during their second season.
The Chargers were wise to select Henry while Gates is still around. Still, don't expect big production from Henry this year, but keep him in mind for next year with confidence.