One of the better NFL tight ends over the last five seasons, Hunter Henry now finds himself in a messy situation with the New England Patriots. As he fights for snaps and touches, can Henry become a value in a relatively weak positional group, or does his 2021 fantasy football outlook suggest looking for a different option at his ADP?
Hunter Henry’s fantasy outlook for 2021
Henry has been one of the better tight end options for four of five seasons in the NFL (torn ACL in 2018). In 55 games, Henry caught 196 of 284 targets for 2,322 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2020, he set a career-high 93 targets and 60 receptions with Justin Herbert under center.
But has that on-field success translated to fantasy success? In his first two seasons, Henry was the TE18 (8.7 ppg) and TE14 (9.1 ppg), respectively, but was splitting snaps (59%) with Antonio Gates, although it was at the tail end of his storied career.
As the TE1 for the Los Angeles Chargers, Henry has finished as the TE9 (12.5 ppg) and TE12 (10.4 ppg) while seeing an uptick in both snaps (68%) and target share with 18.2% in 2019 and 17% last year. Since 2019, Henry has averaged 4.4 catches for 48.5 yards and 0.35 touchdowns per game, which you would take every day in fantasy. Outside of the big three (Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller), the talent and expectations fall off a cliff.
The issue for Henry is that he is no longer sitting atop the TE depth chart following his signing with the Patriots in the offseason. He was actually the second TE signed — they gave $50 million to former Tennessee Titan Jonnu Smith. I think that says a lot without saying a word.
While I expect to see a change in offensive philosophy, this will never be a high-volume team. Although Henry might be a better pass catcher, Smith is more dynamic and the likely focal point. Without the volume he has been accustomed to in years past (84.5 targets per year since 2019), Henry’s ceiling and fantasy outlook are capped as a mid-TE2.
Hunter Henry’s fantasy projection
The Patriots are going to be a better offense and team in general in 2021. Not only did the offense struggle, but they had eight players on defense opt out. Throw in a brand new QB and a shortened offseason, and it’s not hard to see why they struggled at times.
If we look at their previous five-year average, the stats paint a clear picture. From 2015 to 2019, New England averaged 27.8 points on 66.8 plays per game. Moreover, the Patriots averaged 37 passing attempts for 269.2 yards.
In 2020, points (20.4 ppg) and plays (61.2 per game) fell, and passing slid to just 27.5 attempts and 180.6 yards. It could have been even uglier if not for the fourth-best rushing offense (31.4 attempts for 146.6 yards).
New England’s weak receiving corps
Even after adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, the wide receiver corps is still one of the weaker ones in the NFL. If they are going to find success in the air (which they struggled with last year), the tight ends will play a massive role. But I am worried that means more for Smith than it does Henry.
While Henry has scored 21 times in his 55 games, he has only 13 with 70 or more receiving yards and only 10 career catches on passes 20+ yards downfield. So, if he is not going to be an explosive deep target, Henry needs red-zone receptions.
The departure of Newton helps that significantly. Henry should be one of the Patriots’ main pass-catching weapons. I see the Henry move being better for the Patriots than for your fantasy team, and his projection is in the range of 40-43 receptions for 430-440 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Hunter Henry’s fantasy ADP
Injuries are always a concern for Henry, and this preseason has been no different. He was seen wearing a compression brace on his shoulder during joint practices with the Giants. However, the positive is he was on the field. What these injury doubts have done is drive Henry’s price down in drafts.
According to Sleeper, Henry has an ADP of 141.6 in half PPR formats. Meanwhile, in NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Henry has an ADP of 168.77 ADP. On Fleaflicker, his ADP falls between those at 161.3.
Should you draft Henry in fantasy in 2021?
For my money, I believe Smith will be the TE1 for the Patriots in 2021. I am not saying that Henry will be an afterthought. You don’t give a guy $37.5 million to forget about him. However, Smith presents more upside on a per-touch basis than Henry. Not to mention, he can be utilized in the rushing game, which is overlooked.
Both Henry and Smith are talented enough to cut into each other’s ceiling. But if one were to miss time, the other would be a TE1 for fantasy. But on draft day, I would let someone else select Henry while I take Smith in a similar range. With that said, neither are likely to win you any weeks.