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LA Chargers: Grading the Bolts’ 2020 tight end group

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field on December 08, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field on December 08, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

The LA Chargers’ tight end group might prove to be very important in 2020.

One of Tyrod Taylor’s most targeted weapons when he in Buffalo was Charles Clay. He racked up 500+ yards in each of Taylor’s seasons. He was the third-leading receiver on the team in 2015, second in 2016, and he led the team in receiving yards in Taylor’s final season in Buffalo.

That doesn’t necessarily tell us that tight end will be one of the most targeted positions this year, as every quarterback in a new environment develops favorite targets. A Taylor led offense based on ball security and keeping drives alive will likely use tight ends as safety valves though.

Hunter Henry

When bringing up tight ends, there’s the first tier of Zach Ertz, George Kittle, and Travis Kelce. A group of players that may very well be their team’s best receiving option. Hunter Henry has never quite elevated himself into that tier, as injuries have gotten in the way. His excellent 2017 season had everyone excited for 2018 and the leap he could make. Unfortunately, torn ACL would put the kibosh on that.

2019’s results were generally positive for Henry but came with some setbacks. In Week 1 vs. Indianapolis, he fractured his tibia plateau and was out for four weeks. When he came back, it was like he hadn’t lost a step. The Pittsburgh game is one to forget for the LA Chargers as a team, but Henry led the team back into that game almost on his own. The next game vs. Tennessee was also great.

The production came down towards the end of the year, but part of that was just that there were a lot of mouths to feed on offense. Austin Ekeler had a career year as a receiver out of the backfield and Melvin Gordon got more targets as he came back into the fold.

As a receiver, Henry had what was his best season as a pro. He missed four games and still eclipsed his previous season receiving high by about 100 yards.

One tweak to his game that I’d like to see in 2020 is an increased blocking role. Perhaps this is something the Chargers will use their other tight ends for, but Henry is a good fit for it. The Chargers have been cautious with using him as a blocker due to the injury history, but at some point, the team has to use his talent there.

In his second year back after the torn ACL, Henry should be back to normal from an athleticism standpoint. It really could be a career year for him, given how Taylor is more predisposed to using some quick throws to the tight ends and running backs as opposed to Philip Rivers’ gunslinger mentality. It’s all about staying healthy for Henry, especially entering a contract year in 2020.

We’ll have to wait on the contract extension, if and when it happens. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Popper, Henry and the Chargers were close to a deal prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

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