It was a Jekyll and Hyde start to the 2017 season for second-year tight end Hunter Henry. After a top-notch rookie campaign, most expected Henry to take over the lead tight end role from veteran Antonio Gates this year. Not only did that not prove true, but Henry, who was a starting tight end in over 90% of NFL fantasy leagues, did not receive a single opening day target in his brief stints on the field.
NFL fantasy was abuzz. What happened? Week 2 seemed to bring a sense of normalcy. Henry finished that game with seven catches and 80 yards. The first week must have been a fluke. But then came Week 3. Again, Hunter Henry was not part of the offense. Not a single NFL fantasy point for those who went back to the well after Week 2.
Week 4 still had people guessing. Gates saw five targets to only three for Henry. Henry saved his day with a touchdown with his two short catches. By this time, Antonio Gates had collected the all-time record number of touchdowns by a tight end and collected a milestone 900th catch.
Finally, against the Giants. Hunter Henry lined up for more snaps and saw more targets than Gates. Henry only caught three of the eight passes thrown his way, but another touchdown saved his day. This past week, Henry again saw more action than Gates and caught seven passes for 80 yards.
Is that enough of a trend to make Hunter Henry a must-start for Week 7? Let see.
It is hard to discern much of a difference in the passing attack that warranted a change at the tight end. Gates is still seeing a good portion of the snaps and targets. But it is more like last season when the two were among the league leaders in receiving touchdowns.
One thing that has changed is that the Chargers won both games with Henry taking the bigger role. Those are their first two victories of the season. Another player who is seeing more touches is getting most of the credit for that. Melvin Gordon had a sit down with the coaches after the Chargers fell to 0-4 with a loss to the Broncos. He pretty much told them to give him the ball.
They did. In fact, he got the ball 60 times in the past two games. While it is a fact that the Chargers almost always win games when Gordon gets 20 or more touches, when the team needed to get downfield in a hurry for the winning field goal last week, that was Hunter Henry catching passes, not Gordon. The level of trust between Phillip Rivers and both Gordon and Henry has returned. I can not guess why it ever left.
Will it continue?
The key here is Phillip Rivers. If his animated responses to reporters’ questions and renewed energy in the clubhouse are any sign, it will. Rivers has all but guaranteed a win against Denver this week as he tries to bring his team a step closer to .500.
The return of Keenan Allen probably had a lot to do with the early under-usage of Henry and maybe Gordon, too. Rivers targeted Allen every chance he got. That is understandable as Allen has been catching everything within reach and has always been a favorite target. But now that Rivers has been reintroduced to one of last year’s most reliable receivers, I would expect the target distribution to be similar to these past two weeks. It has been a winning formula so far.
So then… Henry is a must-start
If Hunter Henry was a wide receiver, I’d be hesitant to say yes because of his low floor. But that floor seems to be rising to last year’s heights and to be honest, there hasn’t been a consistent week-in and week-out tight end all year. So…
Yes. Hunter Henry has regained his must-start status, albeit as reliably as any tight end can be.
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