The tight end position is one of the most demanding and intricate positions in football. Depending on the play call, tight ends can be asked to split wide and run routes like a wide receiver, line up on the line of scrimmage and block like an offensive tackle, or come out of the backfield like a fullback. Most tight ends in the NFL can do one of these things well. Sean McGrath, a true blocking tight end, doesn’t fool anyone when he goes out on routes. The great ones can do all three things well. The elite tight ends in the NFL aren’t just recognized for their ability to be a mismatch in the red-zone, it’s their ability to do whatever is asked of them at a high level. Hell, this isn’t your average wildcat quarterback, this is a 6’5”, 260-pound gazelle in a Travis Kelce uniform.
If there’s one thing Chargers fans know well, it’s what great tight ends look like. If you were lucky enough to watch Kellen Winslow play, then you’ve already seen two Hall of Fame tight ends sport the powder blues. Antonio Gates broke the record for most touchdowns by a tight end earlier this season against the Dolphins, and while it was an amazing moment for Antonio, it was an even better moment for the team. Anthony Lynn has slowly phased Gates off the field for the younger, stronger, “better” Hunter Henry, and it has already paid dividends.
It takes a tremendous amount of skill to block in the NFL. Your body takes a pounding, and your wallet doesn’t get any fatter. You aren’t starting any offensive linemen on your fantasy team anytime soon. Plenty of Chargers fans don’t even know the name, Sean McGrath. Blocking takes selflessness and a desire to make your team better. That‘s why Hunter Henry is my kind of tight end.
The Chargers ground out a tough win against the Raiders and looked impressive running the ball. On this play, it’s fourth and goal from the Raiders one-yard line. The Raiders know the Chargers are running the ball. The fans know the Chargers are running the ball. Somewhere on the sideline, Marshawn Lynch is texting Pete Carroll asking him to watch how it’s done. Winning teams can run the ball when they need to.
Hunter Henry comes in motion to the strong side of the field. He quickly recognizes his man as he’s lining up on the ball. As soon as the play starts, there is zero wasted motion getting to #58. With a wide base and power at the point of attack, he quickly digs his man out of the way to create a clear path for Melvin. That’s everything you want out of an offensive lineman, let alone a tight end.
Against the Chiefs, Hunter Henry had zero targets. While inexcusable, it isn’t for lack of receiving ability. Hunter is routinely asked to look the part of a receiver, and block effectively out in space. On this 11-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon, Hunter is lined up next to the offensive tackle but in a two-point stance like a receiver.
Hunter runs his man 5 yards off the line of scrimmage before the defender realizes the play is a run. Once Hunter engages him, he keeps his feet moving and his hands inside, locking up the defender who has no chance of coming off his block. As Melvin nears the end-zone, Hunter sees the safety flying over to make a play. At the last second, Hunter cuts off the safety, allowing Melvin to score untouched. Heads up football by the best Henry since Ford.
Running routes and catching passes from the tight end position is as difficult as it comes. Not only do they have to line up from many different spots, but they face the most complex variety of coverage the league's defenses have to offer. Fighting off linebackers, safeties, corners, and defensive ends just to start your route isn’t ideal. Chipping defensive ends to help your offensive tackle before recognizing the coverage to decide whether to run your curl route or break inside to catch a pass just as a middle linebacker takes your head off, sounds like you’re being set up to fail. Yet the league’s elite continue to make it look easy.
Hunter Henry looked the part from the first few games of his rookie season. He made a few mistakes here and there, but historically rookie tight ends have had a very hard time transitioning to the NFL. This play against the Colts his rookie season demonstrates how easy Hunter has always made it look.
Hunter releases vertically and avoids contact with the defender head up on him. By the time the inside linebacker realizes he’s screwed, Hunter has already broke, on his route and is expecting the ball. If Philip Rivers puts a little more velocity on it and leads him down the field this is a touchdown.
The best tight ends in the league get yards after the catch and make people miss.
On this play, Hunter explodes out of the backfield leaving his defender in the dust. After catching the ball in stride at the line of scrimmage, it takes three Broncos to finally take him down after 34 yards.
Hunter has shown he’s as good as they come in the red-zone, after scoring the second-most touchdowns as a rookie tight end in NFL history.
Once Philip motions Austin Ekeler into the backfield and sees it’s man coverage, game over. His eyes lock onto Hunter like he’s the last babysitter on earth. Hunter could’ve done a better job leaning into his man to create separation, but he's plenty open as he breaks smoothly into his corner route. After a WWE takedown by Darian Stewart draws a pass interference penalty, the Chargers would get the ball on the 1-yard line.
Many fans have been searching for Antonio Gates successor for years. After Ladarius Green continuously left fans with powder-blue balls, Hunter Henry looks like the one the Chargers were waiting for.