Hunter Henry: Catching Fire in 2017?

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It’s no secret that the tight end position was incredibly disappointing in 2016. Odds are, if you spent a high draft pick on a top-ranked tight end, you did not get the return on investment you were hoping for. Well, I’m here to tell you that the tight end in fantasy football is not dead.

In fact, there’s plenty to be excited about in 2017. Do not let your emotions get to you in next year’s fantasy drafts. As far as tight ends go, stay the course. You will see that the 2016 regression of the position was an anomaly. There were injuries to the elite tight ends in the game and plenty of new weapons that began to stake their claim as the future elite.

Break Out Candidate

One player in particular that stood out to me last season was the 35th overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft, Chargers rookie tight end, Hunter Henry. In his rookie season, Henry led all tight ends with 8 receiving touchdowns (tied with Cameron Brate). He accomplished this with just 36 receptions on the year, scoring 22% of the time he caught the ball. He ranked 27th amongst tight ends in targets with just 53 and ranked 23rd with 478 receiving yards. An excellent season, especially for a rookie. So, this means that Hunter Henry is hardly a breakout candidate for 2017 right? Wrong.

Henry’s 2016 Production

Hunter Henry is nearly a replica of Antonio Gates with his size, at 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing in at 250 lbs. Henry will be 22 years old at the start of the 2017 season. He took full advantage of his targets in his rookie season and gained the trust of quarterback, Philip Rivers as a reliable option, especially in the red zone. Henry received 32% of his targets in the red zone and 7 of his 8 touchdowns also came from within the 20-yard line.

Sure, 8 touchdown receptions is not an easy achievement to repeat, but when you combine Hunter Henry’s percentage of red zone targets, his age, size, speed, and the fact that Antonio Gates will presumably see a decrease in production in 2017, you can start to see the possibilities are endless for this young and talented tight end.

What About Antonio Gates?

A big reason that the volume wasn’t there for Henry this past season was clearly because of the looming presence of future hall of fame tight end, Antonio Gates. No surprise, Gates had another impactful season with 53 receptions, ranked in the top 10 for tight ends with 93 targets, and had over 500 receiving yards. He also tied Tony Gonzalez for most career touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history (111). It may appear that he isn’t in danger of slowing down in 2017.

Antonio Gates will be 37 years old before the 2017 season begins. He only needs 1 touchdown to top the list of tight ends as the all-time leader in TD receptions. At his age, Gates isn’t 100% committed to the 2017 season, quoted as saying he is “leaning toward” playing. Regardless, Antonio Gates is beyond the twilight of his career. He will likely play in 2017 and make history, but the probability of him dominating in targets and receptions out of the tight end position all season for the Chargers when Philip Rivers has a talented, shiny new toy to throw to, is a bit dubious.

Looking Ahead

Some early 2017 mocks indicate Henry taken as the 9th tight end off the board, going somewhere in the back-end of the 8th round. Don’t be surprised if his ADP rises as we get closer to the 2017 season. The value of the tight end position will regain its place in fantasy drafts. Hunter Henry will surpass the production of whatever his 2017 ADP indicates.

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More of Antonio Gates’ production will transfer to Henry in 2017, which will result in more targets, receptions, receiving yards, and yes, possibly more touchdowns in his sophomore year. Henry signed a 4-year contract with the Chargers in June of 2016, so he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He is quickly becoming a key part of a prolific and productive offense. The now Los Angeles Chargers ranked 8th in passing yards and 9th in points scored in 2016. Philip Rivers throws a ton in this offense, leaving no shortage of opportunity for Hunter Henry to shine even brighter in 2017.

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