Charles Kleinheksel has begun a series of articles looking at rookie wide receivers, and placing their first NFL seasons in some kind of historical context. Well, the NFL is a copycat league, so I thought it only right to appropriate this idea and take a look at tight ends.
As Mr. K himself put it, using the RotoViz Screener (truly one of the greatest, if not the greatest app we have at RotoViz) he set the Screener:
to find rookies from 2010 – 2016, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player
Well said, Charlie. For my first offering, we’ll take a look at Chargers TE Hunter Henry.
On the face of it, Hunter Henry finds himself mixed in with some fine company. Rob Gronkowski, despite more injuries than a half season run of House.MD, has more receiving touchdowns (68) than any other TE since entering the league, while only Jimmy Graham has more PPR points than Gronk in the same span. Graham also has 6280 receiving yards, the most of any TE, to go with his 59 touchdowns. Since 2013, no TE has more receptions between Week 11 and Week 17 of a season than the 137 Zach Ertz has snaffled, leading one Eagles fan to campaign for a period of mass hypnosis to attempt to convince Ertz that it’s actually December all year round. Not much is known about the fifth name on this list, some cove called Aaron Hernandez. He must have just gotten bored with football and opted to make a killing in some other form of business.
All four comps for Hunter Henry had their productivity, and an increase in year two.
Graham and Gronk both commanded more than 20 percent of the target share in their second go round, while only Ertz failed to increase his number of touchdowns.
Hunter Henry emerged as one of the NFL’s most efficient red zone weapons, snaring 11 of his 17 targets inside the opposition twenty yard line. Eight of these 11 he converted into touchdowns. His TD rate matches quite comparably with the other leading red zone vultures around the NFL.
Henry saw at least one red zone target in all but three games, and saw seven targets inside the 10 yard line.
If one removes the touchdowns from Hunter Henry’s debut season, he didn’t enjoy that large a role in the Chargers offense. According to the RotoViz Air Yards Screener App, Henry only saw a WOPR (Weighted Opportunity Rating, a weighted combination of target share and market share of team air yards) of over 0.6 once all season, and as the chart below shows from Week 6 onward he took a large backseat to his fellow TE Antonio Gates in this department.
Henry has the still formidable barrier of Gates blocking his way to increased snaps, but his nose for the end zone did ensure that he held weekly fantasy appeal. Gates role is expected to reduce to that of playing only on obvious passing situations, opening the door for Henry to see a few more targets between the twenty yard lines. In mock drafts carried out between January 8th and February 8th, Henry was one of the first ten tight ends going off the boards. Assuming he remains healthy, and retains the trust of Philip Rivers inside the red zone, it is very likely that Henry could flirt with TE1 numbers in 2017.