Unfortunately third-year tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL running a route in a non-contact drill in May earlier this year.
However, after weeks of the move being rumored, Henry was removed from the PUP list and placed on the active roster on Monday.
Over the past two seasons, Henry has 81 receptions for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. When you take away that kind of production from an already slim tight end group it makes it hard for the next man up to match or at least put up similar numbers. Now yes I know Virgil Green and Sean Culkin are blocking tight ends. However, Antonio Gates needs someone else to step up in the passing game.
Philip Rivers’ quarterback rating in 2017 was 123 when targeting Henry which was third in the league. Henry also had a catchable target rate of 88.7 which was number one in the league.
Last year Henry was in on 68 percent of snaps with 14 percent of them lined up as the slot receiver. He also had around 20 percent of both red zone targets and end zone targets.
Another stat that not many know is that Henry was also third in the league in air yards with 406. Basically, if you aren’t familiar with air yards, it’s the number of yards thrown from the line of scrimmage toward that receiver. It does not matter if the pass is complete or incomplete.
Here is an example from Week 4 of last year.
Philip Rivers goes DEEP…
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2017
If you want to learn more about air yards and origin check out this article by Josh Hermsmeyer on Rotoworld.com
I can go on and on with all these hidden stats and analyzations, but, I’m now going to give you my honest and realistic football point of view.
Obviously with a lack of production in an area, it’s only right for an increase in another. With Henry going down before the season started the Chargers and Rivers knew Melvin Gordon was going to be even more involved.
If Hunter is back in the lineup on Sunday, it’ll force Brian Flores and the New England Patriots’ defense to either play man defense or zone. Either way, it’ll cause a much-needed mismatch for both the safeties and linebackers.
Another aspect of Henry’s skill set is his ability to block in the run game. That is what makes him so special. This will most definitely open up the play action game.
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With no real tight end threat, the opposing defenses would stack the box when the Chargers would come out with multiple tight end sets. They basically are saying “We aren’t worried about you throwing it because I know my guys can cover yours. However, it’ll be a different story when you add a Pro Bowl caliber tight end in the mix.
It’s simple when there are more threats in the passing game it’ll force the linebackers to stay honest and not send everyone to stop Gordon.
With the struggles the offense has been having these last few weeks, Rivers will have another dangerous and reliable target to help the balance. If the smooth route runner out of Arkansas can go on Sunday it’ll be a huge addition for this L.A. squad as they venture deeper into the playoffs.