Hunter Henry Is a Great Long-Term Investment for the Chargers

Henry might not produce as a rookie, but as the top tight end in the class, he was a solid choice for San Diego.

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.

Henry’s measurable compare pretty favorable to that of Jason Witten and Travis Kelce when they were coming out of college.

Hunter Henry Travis Kelce Jason Witten
Height 6'5" 6'5" 6'6"
Weight 250lbs. 255lbs. 264lbs.
Arm Length 32 3/4" 33 3/4" -
Hand Size 9 1/4" 9 5/8" -
40 time 4.66s 4.61s 4.65s
Bench Press 21 reps - 25 reps
Vertical Jump 31.5" 35" 31"

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.

Projecting Henry

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.

Year Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2015 Maxx Williams 32 268 1
2014 Eric Ebron 25 248 1
2013 Tyler Eifert 39 445 2
2012 Coby Fleener 26 281 2
2011 Kyle Rudolph 26 249 3
2010 Jermaine Gresham 52 471 4
2009 Brandon Pettigrew 30 346 2
2008 Dustin Keller 48 535 3
2007 Greg Olsen 39 391 2
2006 Vernon Davis 20 265 3

Now check out how each of those tight ends fared during their second NFL season:

Year Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2015 Maxx Williams - - -
2014 Eric Ebron 47 537 5
2013 Tyler Eifert 3 37 0
2012 Coby Fleener 52 608 4
2011 Kyle Rudolph 53 493 9
2010 Jermaine Gresham 52 596 6
2009 Brandon Pettigrew 71 722 4
2008 Dustin Keller 45 522 2
2007 Greg Olsen 54 574 5
2006 Vernon Davis 52 509 4

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.