With the 35th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, the Chargers drafted University of Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry. In doing so, they may have finally found the heir to the aging Antonio Gates throne. Coming out of Arkansas, the 6’5, 250-pound tight end has soft hands, great route running, and the ability to block. Henry was named the 2015 John Mackey Award winner, an award reserved for the nation’s top tight end. He also earned first-team All-SEC honors, finishing the 2015 season with 51 catches for 739 yards and reaching the end zone three times.
Other than Gates it seems as though the tight end position has been somewhat of a revolving door, being temporarily filled by one-dimensional players. Fan-favorite Ladarius Green was expected to take the reins from Gates, and showed flashes of greatness. However, after an ankle injury last season, concussion issues, Gates steady play, and a lucrative $20-million dollar contract later, Green inked a deal with the Pittsburg Steelers this offseason to join Ben Roethlisberger and their top-tier passing offense.
I like Green and think he will have a good career with Big Ben at the helm. However, I think it was a smart decision for the Chargers to part ways with Green. With injury concerns and his lack of size for the blocking game, he was just too much of a liability for the money. Drafting a well-rounded tight end like Hunter Henry has eased my concern surrounding the future of the tight end position.
Antonio Gates’ decline has been graceful. His production has been steady. At 35 years of age, one begins to question how much more he has in the tank. Many of his duties and roles have been slowly shifted to younger players like running back Danny Woodhead, and the security blanket he once provided Phillip Rivers has started to unravel.
Now is the perfect time to start grooming a potential heir to take over Gates throne, and Henry is the perfect candidate. Let’s be honest no one will ever be able to replace Gates, he is arguably one of the best tight ends to ever play the game! Hunter Henry will be able to contribute right away, and will be able to learn from one of the best to ever do it. Ultimately, he will become a long-term solution to the tight end position.
Henry has the potential to thrive in a Ken Whisenhunt offense. His system is a steady balance of short passes and physical runs, with an emphasis on clock management. Henry can shed defenders, and has secure hands to haul in passes, as shown in his Junior campaign at Arkansas, where he didn’t drop one pass. Henry also has the ability to stack up on the offensive line and offer blocking support to Rivers in the pocket, or open up holes for Melvin Gordon in the run game.
The rookie has already started to turn heads in rookie minicamp. With only a day to familiarize himself with the offense the rookie looked comfortable on the field. He showed why the Chargers targeted him with their second round pick. He was running smooth routes and making several highlight reel worthy catches, immediately becoming the break out star of the two-day event.
Realistically, Gates has another two or three good seasons left on his aging body, but I believe Gates might hang it up quicker if the Chargers can make a deep run into the playoffs sometime soon. This time frame provides Henry with the ability to learn the offense, his role and responsibilities, build chemistry with Rivers, and work on some of his weaknesses.
Henry has a tendency to get a little grabby at the offensive line and was flagged for holding three times in 2015, and struggles to get good body position against defenders, making it easier for defenders to bully the young rookie. However, he is still very young and growing into his body. By adding bulk, along with perfecting his technique he has the potential to be one of the better tight ends in the league.
Not only does Henry have the desired size and skill, he also possesses great work ethic and football IQ. I believe the Chargers have found the tight end for the future and can quit looking for help via free agency. I can see Henry easily amassing 400+ yards, and 3 TD’s in his rookie campaign. What are your predictions? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.