The Chargers are having a rough season, with their potential hampered by a multitude of injuries and the team finding new and inventive ways to lose most games. They are coming off of a huge win over the Denver Broncos, but they’re still last in the AFC West.
That being said, there have been some bright spots all through this season, blocks they can build on going forward. One of the best is the play of rookie tight end Hunter Henry, who looks like he could absolutely be a force in the passing game for a decade.
He’s off to a terrific start.
Henry has 310 yards, which ranks him 5th in the entire league, even though he’s a backup to Antonio Gates. He has only 19 catches, while the lead tight end – Carolina’s Greg Olsen – has 39.
If Henry got as many looks as Olsen and played at his current pace, he’d be right near the top of all the TE charts. He’s averaging 16.3 yards per catch. That ranks him 12th in the NFL, but the stats are a bit skewed. Cleveland’s Connor Hamlett has one catch for 17 yards, for example. Technically, sure, he’s averaging more yards per catch, but it’s certainly not the same. If you limit it to guys with at least 10 catches, Henry ranks second, behind only Rob Gronkowski.
Now, something of the same argument made with Hamlett could be made against Henry. If he had Olsen’s catch total, wouldn’t his average be likely to fall? He’d have more chances to get tackled after just a few yards and more goal line plays where even doing his job perfectly just means he’s only going to get a few yards.
While that is true, Henry still ranks 14th when looking at catches, so he’s getting more looks than over half of the tight ends in the NFL. That’s not shabby. His 310 yards carry some weight. It’s not like he had one or two fluke plays and raked up inflated numbers.
The Broncos game really showed what he can do. Though the Broncos do tend to struggle against tight ends, they still have an elite defense. Even if it’s not as good as last year, they are considered one of the premier units in the league. The Broncos were leading the AFC West on the strength of that defense and won the Super Bowl on it last season.
Henry just tore it to shreds. They couldn’t touch him.
They locked down the wideouts pretty well, but Henry could do whatever he wanted in the middle of the field. He had six catches for 83 yards. He moved the chains over and over again, keeping that Broncos’ defense on the field and tiring it out. He ran over defenders, trucking them to the ground and showing he didn’t care about their reputation as a physical defense. He scored a touchdown on the opening drive, helping to establish a tone for the game that never really went away.
If this is what he’s doing to a top defense, in a nationally-televised game, as a rookie, then his future in the NFL is terrifically bright. He’s only going to get better.
The Chargers drafted him hoping that he could just replace the stats they used to get out of Ladarius Green. He’s been better than anticipated, though, and Green has yet to play a snap in Pittsburgh.
Don’t crown him the next Gates yet. He does have a lot to learn and will grow more and more into this role, while Gates is on his way to the Hall of Fame. But what the Chargers have seen so far makes it appear that they have their tight end of the future. It’s been an integral position in San Diego for years, and Henry can help keep it that way for years to come.