The New England Patriots need to upgrade the tight end position, and Hunter Henry is probably the best choice on the open market. Henry probably won’t be back with the rebuilding Chargers, which means he’s going to need a new home. New England doesn’t typically spend big on free agents, but they should make an exception for Henry.
New England Patriots, Hunter Henry an Ideal Matchup
The Patriots had arguably the worst group of tight ends in the league last year. After striking out on Jared Cook, the Patriots never found a true replacement for Rob Gronkowski. Because of this, they spent the year with Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, and Ben Watson catching passes for Tom Brady. The results were pretty underwhelming, as both the running game and passing game took a major step back from 2018.
Henry is no Rob Gronkowski, but he’s more than capable of making plays in the passing game. The former second-round pick appeared in 12 games last year, recording 55 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns. The was more than just pure volume-based production, as Pro Football Focus ranked Henry as the 12th-best tight end in football, ahead of guys like Zach Ertz, Eric Ebron, and Kyle Rudolph.
Henry primarily lines up as an in-line tight end, but he has the ability to line up in the slot or out wide as a true receiver. His skill set is somewhat similar to that of Aaron Hernandez, although he’s probably not quite as good of a pure athlete. That said, Henry has the ability to get open in the red zone and isn’t afraid to go over the middle of the field. New England’s red zone offense was one of the worst in the league last year, and Henry should provide an immediate boost to that unit.
Hunter Henry is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, but he’s nothing special as a blocker. He’s not undersized at 6’-5” and 250 pounds, but he doesn’t stand out in the trenches. Some blocking specialists are able to thrive with these numbers, but Henry isn’t one of them.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hunter Henry had a 56.8 run blocking and 56.5 pass-blocking grade, both of which are well below average. In fairness, he only had 14 pass-blocking snaps, and that’s obviously too small of a sample to make any wild claims. His 182 run-blocking snaps, however, are enough to tell us that Henry isn’t great at opening rushing lanes.
Additionally, Henry has something of an injury history. The tight end has yet to play a full 16-game season, although he has played in 12 or more games in three of his four campaigns.
However, these are weaknesses the Patriots will happily deal with. New England knows they need to upgrade the pass-catching weapons around Tom Brady, and signing Henry is one of the best ways to do that. History backs this up, as Jared Cook is a subpar blocker and the Patriots still tried to sign him to a big contract.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, it’s never been more important to get players who can make a positive impact in the passing game. Tom Brady can no longer singlehandedly carry an entire offense, but he can play at a high level if given a decent supporting cast. Combining Hunter Henry with Julian Edelman and another free agent signee should give Brady all the support he needs to put the Patriots back in Super Bowl contention.
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