The San Diego Chargers might have finally found their replacement for ageless wonder Antonio Gates.
With the No. 35 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Chargers selected tight end Hunter Henry. The former Arkansas Razorback was considered the best receiving tight end in the draft. According to Pro Football Focus, Henry posted the top receiving grade in the nation among tight ends in 2015. He finished with 51 receptions for 739 yards and three touchdowns. He also didn’t drop a single pass.
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Henry will be the Chargers’ tallest pass catcher. He will be a big red-zone target for quarterback Philip Rivers and will also help out in the running game. Here is NFL analyst Lance Zierlein’s summary on Henry:
“By far, the premier tight end in the 2016 draft. Henry is a big body with the athleticism to get open, the hands to finish catches in traffic and the blocking ability to help give a running game the additional kick it might be missing on the edge. Henry should come in and become a very good NFL starter.”
There were a few mocks that had Henry going late in the first round–even though it’s been a rare occurrence. Since 2010, only Jermaine Gresham (2010), Tyler Eifert (2013) and Eric Ebron (2014) were drafted in the first.
This was dabbed a weak tight end class, but Henry could be a gem. Henry’s transition to the NFL should be smooth since he played in Bret Bielema’s pro-style offense, which is appealing. He’s a nightmare matchup with great hands who averaged 14.3 yards per catch over the last two years. He showcased good speed at his pro day, posting a 4.66 40-yard dash, which would have ranked second among tight ends at the combine had he participated. He can line up in-line, in the slot or on the outside.
While he’s a solid route runner, Henry only averaged 4.7 yards after the catch, per PFF. Also, he only has nine touchdowns over his three-year career (including the three in 2015), but Bleacher Report points out that Alex Collins and his 20 rushing touchdowns last season had something to do with it.
Two-tight end sets have been a trend in recent years, and the position has been an overlooked need for the Chargers. With Gates on his way out in a year or two, too, Henry will need to prove he’s the heir apparent sooner rather than later. Ladarius Green, who went East to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was supposed to be that guy. Head coach Mike McCoy will need to do a better job in developing Henry than he did with Green, especially since San Diego took him with its second pick.
The Chargers took arguably the best edge defender in the draft, and now they get the best tight end in the draft. Look for them to fill needs at safety and center with their next picks.