2018 Fantasy Football Offseason: Hunter Henry's torn ACL deals blow to Chargers and Fantasy owners
Jamey Eisenberg looks at the Chargers offense and the tight end landscape following the news that tight end Hunter Henry will miss the 2018 season with a torn ACL.
There's a big three at tight end for Fantasy owners this season with Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, but for a while it was starting to look like it might be a fearsome foursome with Hunter Henry.
That's not the case anymore.
Henry suffered a torn ACL during a team workout Tuesday, and he will miss the 2018 season. It's terrible news for the Chargers and Fantasy owners since Henry had the potential for a breakout campaign.
The Chargers are now left with Virgil Green atop their depth chart, but there's a strong possibility the team decides to bring back free agent Antonio Gates. In April, it was reported that the Chargers were moving on from Gates after 15 seasons, with the intent to give Henry the spotlight.
Now, the Chargers might be in dire need of Gates, who will turn 38 in June. Other free agent tight ends available include Coby Fleener, Julius Thomas, Brent Celek and Marcedes Lewis, but a reunion with Gates makes the most sense.
He's coming off a season where he had the lowest targets (52), receptions (30), yards (316) and touchdowns (three) since his rookie year in 2003, but that was sharing playing time with Henry. In 2016, when Henry was a rookie, Gates was the No. 10 Fantasy tight end in non-PPR leagues with 53 catches for 548 yards and seven touchdowns on 92 targets.
Gates could potentially post that kind of production again if he's back with the Chargers with Henry out. And if that happens then he should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy tight end with a late-round pick.
Henry's absence hurts Philip Rivers, but he was already being selected as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with a late-round pick based on early Average Draft Position data. That's low given Rivers' success as a Fantasy passer -- he's been a top-12 quarterback for five seasons in a row -- but he's not flashy like Jimmy Garoppolo or Patrick Mahomes. And now the loss of Henry will lower his stock even more.
That could turn Rivers into even more of a value pick, especially if the Chargers sign Gates, but he's still just a backup Fantasy option coming into the year. Rivers is a great quarterback to pair with someone coming off an injury like Deshaun Watson (knee), Andrew Luck (shoulder) or Carson Wentz (knee), and it's not a bad idea to handcuff him with the unproven guys like Garoppolo or Mahomes. You know Rivers is safe, even if he's not flashy.
The Chargers' secondary receivers now have more upside with Henry out. Keenan Allen has already proven himself as a top-10 receiver in all leagues, and his value won't change -- he's being drafted in Round 2.
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Maybe we see the Chargers go back to Tyrell Williams, who was a star in 2016 when Allen missed 15 games with a torn ACL, but he struggled last year when everyone was healthy. Or the Chargers can finally get a return on their investment after Mike Williams was a bust as a rookie in 2017 after he was selected as the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Along with Travis Benjamin, the Chargers have what could be a standout receiving corps, and if a tight end of significance isn't added then look for Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams to both see a boost in Fantasy value. As of now, Mike Williams is just a late-round flier, but they both could improve their stock as we get closer to training camp.
In taking a broader look at tight ends, Henry's loss hurts an already thin position. It might put an emphasis on drafting Gronkowski, Kelce and Ertz early, and they will likely be off the board in the first three rounds.
You can wait on the proven tight ends with mid-round picks that, like Rivers, are considered safe options in Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Delanie Walker and Kyle Rudolph. All four can still post consistent production, but it feels like their ceilings are capped. Only Graham, with his move to Green Bay, might return to elite status if he can start doing more than just score touchdowns.
Evan Engram was great as a rookie in 2017, but he did that without Odell Beckham (broken leg) and with Sterling Shepard battling various injuries. Along with the addition of rookie running back Saquon Barkley and a healthy receiving corps for the Giants, Engram might be a bust candidate instead of a breakout.
One of my favorite breakout candidates is Trey Burton with his move to Chicago, but he's unproven as a starter and could struggle. Still, he's an excellent mid-round pick based on the Bears offense under new coach Matt Nagy, who was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City and worked with Kelce.
There are young tight ends to gravitate toward with late-round picks like George Kittle, Ricky Seals-Jones, David Njoku and potentially the rookies in Mike Gesicki and Hayden Hurst, but they are going to be gambles until they prove themselves. And then there's Gates if he re-signs with the Chargers.
There are plenty of others to mention, notably Cameron Brate, Charles Clay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Benjamin Watson, Jared Cook and Vance McDonald. And Rico Gathers is another sleeper with a late-round pick now that Jason Witten has retired.
But the more names we rattle off, the more you realize that it could be a long year at tight end. And losing a premier one like Henry is just awful -- for the Chargers and Fantasy owners.
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