My breakout tight end pick for the 2017 Fantasy Football season is Hunter Henry. I thought more Fantasy players would join in on my enthusiasm for the 22-year old tight end, but it seems he keeps slipping in the drafts. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Henry was being drafted near the end of Round 7. Nearing the end of July, you can draft him at the end of Round 8 or the start of Round 9.
And I believe there are three reasons why his stock is falling.
Some players feel his touchdown production from 2016 is unsustainable. In his last seven games, he hauled in five touchdown passes. For the year, Henry recorded eight touchdowns in 15 games. He scored at least one touchdown in 53.33% of the games he appeared in.
The second reason some Fantasy players are avoiding him is Antonio Gates is still hanging around. The veteran was unable to be a reliable Fantasy starter in 2016, but he still posted a 53-548-7 stat line. He also tied Anquan Boldin with 24 red-zone targets, the sixth-most targets in the league.
When Philip Rivers was in the red zone last season, he leaned on Gates.
Finally, some Fantasy players are still skeptical about drafting a tight end on the Chargers outside of Gates. Ladarius Green was hyped up from 2013-2015 as the heir of Gates, and there were reasons to believe he could become a top-tier tight end. Green is an incredible mix of size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and speed (4.53 40-yard dash), but his physical abilities never translated to Fantasy success.
Add into the mix that Henry is so young (22), and you seemingly have a handful of reasons why you should avoid him in your 2017 Fantasy Football draft.
I understand all of the reasons why some players are avoiding him. However, there’s a changing of the guard at the tight end position. You see, the Chargers had a specific plan to help Gates finish with more touchdowns (more on that in just a bit), and the 37-year old tight end knows his role is going to change.
This change could help Henry haul in more passes, record more receiving yards, and potentially finish the year with double-digit touchdowns.
The Breakout Tight End To Own
According to a March 6 report by Matthew Berry, the Chargers made a “deliberate effort” to help Gates get the all-time touchdown record for a tight end. In the report, an offensive assistant said Henry could have had 10 to 12 touchdowns last year.
Henry hauled in eight touchdowns last season and finished 19th in scoring at the tight end position in PPR leagues. If he had caught two more touchdowns, he would have finished 17th in scoring. If he hauled in a total of 12 touchdown passes, he would have finished 12th in scoring.
These are hypotheticals for 2016, but there’s a reason to believe Henry could catch at least 10-12 touchdown passes this season.
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In 2017, Gates will take a backseat to the 22-year old tight end. Gates tied the touchdown record last year, and he only needs one more touchdown catch to break the record. He could break the record as early as Week 1, and there will not be a concentrated effort to consistently target the veteran in the red zone.
Along with not seeing as many red-zone targets, the veteran may not be on the field as much, which could improve Hunter’s Fantasy production. More playing time won’t always translate to Fantasy success, but being on the field more can help increase his Fantasy production.
Last season, Gates was on the field for 54.9% of the offensive snaps. In comparison, Henry was on the field for 53.8% of the offensive snaps.
Just for a reference point, the top tight ends in PPR leagues last year (Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen and Kyle Rudolph) were on the field for at least 86.6% of the offensive snaps for their respective teams. As you can see in the accompanying graph below, more offensive snaps generally correlated with more Fantasy points for the top finishers at the tight end position.
I don’t expect Henry to break the 80% threshold if Gates is still able to play, though.
However, even just a slight uptick in playing time could help Henry score more Fantasy points. Cameron Brate was only on the field for 62.2% of the offensive snaps for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, and he finished as the sixth-highest scoring tight end. Jimmy Graham was on the field for 74.6% of the Seattle Seahawks’ offense snaps, and he finished as the fifth-highest scoring tight end.
If he can be on the field more, he should increase his reception and receiving yard totals. He averaged 13.3 yards per catch (YPC) last season, so with 60 receptions in 2017 and a 13.3 YPC average, that would amount to 798 receiving yards. With 70 receptions in 2017 and a 13.3 YPC average, he would record 931 receiving yards.
These types of totals are achievable with more offensive snaps and with Rivers as his quarterback. Over the last two years, Rivers has averaged 286.85 passing yards per game. His totals took a dip in 2016 from his 2015 totals with the emergence of Melvin Gordon, but the 35-year old quarterback still averaged 274.1 passing yards per game.
That was just slightly behind Aaron Rodgers’ 276.8 passing yards per game.
Conservatively, I project Henry will catch 60-65 passes, record 800-830 receiving yards, and between seven to nine touchdown receptions. That could place him as a Top 5 tight end.
But his ceiling could be even higher…
How Hunter Henry Could See a Massive Workload
Gates recorded 24 red-zone targets last year, the most on the team. But what if he gets hurt early in the season or is ineffective? Without the concentrated effort to get him touchdowns, most of those targets could go to the 22-year old tight end.
It’s not a stretch to believe Henry could finish with 24 or more red-zone targets in 2017. He recorded the second most (17) on the team last year.
Also, even if Gates is healthy, the young tight end’s workload could increase because this depth chart is looking shallow right now. Rookie receiver Mike Williams was expected to potentially miss the entire season because he may need back surgery. Williams has said this is false, but there still isn’t a timetable on when he can play.
Keenan Allen is reportedly in good shape after tearing his ACL in Week 1 last year. However, he has only played in nine games in the past two seasons. If Allen faces any setbacks or gets injured again and Gates is hurt or ineffective, Hunter’s ONLY competition for targets will be Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman.
Of course, Gates and Allen could stay healthy and effective throughout the season. But with Gates’ age and Allen’s injury history, you can see how quickly Hunter could become Rivers’ go-to guy.
Tight Ends to Pair With Hunter Henry
Right now, you can draft Henry near the end of Round 8, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
Depending on your confidence level in Henry and your risk tolerance, there are several strategies you can use when drafting tight ends. You’ll never find a “sure thing” in Fantasy Football, but there are tight ends who are known to provide consistent production.
Greg Olsen has recorded a 1,000-yard season each year since 2014. Also since 2014, Travis Kelce has recorded at least 862 receiving yards. For risk-averse Fantasy players, pairing Kelce or Olsen with Hunter is a smart play. You limit your downside if the sophomore tight end gets hurt or is still stuck in the shadow of Gates. If he does break out and Kelce and Olsen are also playing well, you can plug one of them in your flex spot.
One of the pairings I also like is drafting Kyle Rudolph and Henry. Rudolph finished with the second-most targets in the red zone in the entire NFL last year, and he will remain one of Sam Bradford’s favorite targets in 2017.
For Fantasy players who don’t mind taking on a little more risk, I would pair Henry with Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Coby Fleener, or Dwayne Allen. In an MFL10 format, I would consider drafting Henry with Gates and add a third tight end. If Henry has a bad week, you could potentially offset a poor performance with Gates’ Fantasy totals. There’s also the possibility they each have a big week.
Despite a planned effort to help Antonio Gates bring home the record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end and being a rookie, Hunter Henry caught eight touchdown passes. In 2017, Henry will receive more playing time, and he will be the starting tight end. With more playing time and more red-zone targets, the young tight end could record double-digit touchdowns. The depth chart is also shallow for the Chargers right now, so the 22-year old tight end could become the go-to guy for quarterback Philip Rivers. Best of all, you can draft him in Round 8 or Round 9.
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Photo Credit: Adrian Scottow
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