The positional grading of the 2016 San Diego Chargers commences here at Bolt Beat as I continue to make my way through the offensive side of the ball. Here, I’ll be grading the tight ends.
The Chargers have been a one-man show at the tight end position for several years but this past spring, they selected a tight end in the second round of the NFL draft that shows tremendous promise for the future.
The team also signed Jeff Cumberland as a veteran free agent, but didn’t even get through the preseason schedule before he was lost for the year. As a result, Antonio Gates and rookie Hunter Henry did all of the heavy lifting this season, and did a good job doing so.
Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
How much more praise can you heap on this guy? He just continues to get it done at a high level each and every season and 2016 was no different.
When the season started, many fans felt that Gates’ role in the offense would be scaled down and figured he’d be used on red-zone situations and obvious passing downs. That wasn’t the case, as Gates got many more snaps than Henry.
Even at 36 years old, Gates finished third on the team with 53 receptions. He found the end zone seven times and showed no signs of slowing down. Then, in the season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, he caught career touchdown pass No. 111, tying him with Tony Gonzalez for the most ever by a tight end.
That is a record he will hold alone following his first touchdown catch in 2017.
The only knock I would give him would be for missing a couple of games, which has to be expected with an aging player. Still, he’s played a full 16-game season just twice since 2010.
Oct 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) cannot bring in a catch during the second quarter as New Orleans Saints free safety Vonn Bell (48) defends at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
First, the selection of Henry after drafting Joey Bosa in the first round was a terrific one. Knowing that Gates can’t play forever, general manager Tom Telesco identified the tight end of the future and took him.
Henry had some growing pains as a rookie, despite playing pretty well overall. He dropped some passes and had a fumble against the Indianapolis Colts that ruined San Diego’s chance to win the game at the end.
More from Bolt Beat
- LA Chargers: Drue Tranquill takes a jab at Gus Bradley’s defense
- LA Chargers second-year players: Nothing lose and a lot to gain
- LA Chargers: Why running back could be a big issue for the Bolts
- LA Chargers: Chris Rumph’s upside is Melvin Ingram-like, but better
- Chargers: Reggie Slater calls LA the “dream scenario” for Rashawn Slater
Though Henry actually led the team with eight touchdown receptions, he only caught a total of 36 passes. I anticipated him getting more snaps than he did as well and often asked myself “why isn’t Henry in” during critical instances in several games.
Still, his career got off to a solid start and he has a tremendous future in Los Angeles.
Sean McGrath was actually active for every game this season, but rarely saw the field. He finished the year with just two receptions for 25 yards. He has done little during his time in San Diego after a promising 2013 season with the Chiefs.
I would be surprised if McGrath is on the final roster heading into next season.
Only the New England Patriots can boast a better tight end combination than the one the Chargers have. That said, I would like to see Henry receive double the targets that he did this season and I’d like to see him on the field just as much, if not more, than Gates.
My final overall grade won’t include McGrath’s contributions, since they were so minimal, so considering what Gates and Henry did during their first year together, they did quite well.
Overall Grade: B