Year after year, we have one goal: find this season’s breakout fantasy football tight end. Because they are indeed out there. For seven years in a row now, a tight end has come from outside the top 15 in ADP to finish top five. 

Whether it’s Darren Waller, Eric Ebron, Evan Engram (twice) or last year’s guy Sam LaPorta, tight end is a position we can consistently create leverage with in our fantasy football drafts. And there should be an opportunity to do that once again this year. 

When digging through the fantasy football rankings, the mock drafts, the best ball drafts and the early ADP, we need to keep three things in mind when finding a breakout tight end: talent, scheme and opportunity. When those three things come together at an affordable ADP, magic can happen. And there’s a chance that Hunter Henry is this year’s magical fantasy football tight end from deeper in drafts. Here’s why.




Hunter Henry's Talent

There are certain attributes and skills we look for in elite tight ends, most of which are laid out in our article What Makes An Elite Tight End. And Hunter Henry checks virtually all the boxes except one: speed. His 4.73 forty is technically in the 63rd percentile for tight ends, but there are a lot of blocking tight ends that skew those percentages. 

We ideally want that number to be in the 4.6 or below range for higher aDot routes and breakaway touchdown potential. There is a reason that George Kittle, who ran a 4.52, has more 40+ yard plays as a tight end than anyone else. And he’s the only one over the last decade or so with multiple 70+ yard plays. 

That said, it’s not the end of the world to not have that speed – as long as you get the targets. Zach Ertz is a prime example (and is also arguably the best size/speed comp to Henry even if Ertz is a little slower). One thing that both players do incredibly well to earn targets is win vs. man-to-man coverage. Here were the top tight ends last year in catch rate vs. man-to-man coverage per PFF (minimum of 10 targets):

Of this group, Hunter Henry also led in contested catch rate at 83.3% (which was the highest for any tight end getting five or more contested targets). This ability allows him to have tremendous success in the red area where defenses typically go zero coverage with no help over the top. 

Despite the Patriots tying with the Panthers for last in red zone scoring attempts per game at 2.1 per game and Henry being tied for TE28 in red zone targets with only 9, he scored 5 touchdowns on end zone targets. That was second behind only Cole Kmet’s 6. When given the opportunity, Henry can win.




New England Patriots Scheme

The New England Patriots finished tied with the Carolina Panthers for last in scoring last year at only 13.9 points per game. So, a complete offensive overhaul was obviously in order. The New England Patriots' new defensive-minded head coach Jerod Mayo has tapped Alex Van Pelt to come over from Cleveland and revamp this offense. And Mayo allowed him to bring a lot of his own people over as part of that to make sure the playbook was properly implemented.

The Patriots’ scheme last year was lacking in everything considering only one player on the team cracked 50 receptions, and it was Ezekiel Elliott. But one aspect it was extremely lacking in was tight end screens. In fact, the Patriots and the Dolphins were the only two teams in the league last year that didn’t call a single tight end screen. Alex Van Pelt’s Browns, on the other hand, called 21, which was second only to Doug Pederson’s Jaguars with 24. David Njoku himself got 20 of those screens (also second only to Evan Engram’s 21). 

We know that Henry has the ability to win against man-to-man coverage and the hands to bring down contested catches. Now we’re looking at a new scheme coming to town that puts an emphasis on creating space for players like Henry. Mixing in a few more manufactured touches that are virtually automatic receptions certainly would not be a bad thing for Henry.




Henry's Opportunity With The Patriots

As we laid out in What Makes An Elite Tight End, being a top two target on the team is arguably the single most important aspect of tight end upside. Last year, every single tight end that finished top 12 in PPR either led their team in targets or was second. That’s the game we have to play at this position, whether we are spending up for an elite player or digging through the bargain bin.

If the New England Patriots had Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle, Ja'Marr Chase/Tee Higgins or the trio of wide receivers that the Seattle Seahawks have, Henry would be a tough sell. But the Patriots don’t even have ONE player who is a certified NFL star at this stage. The target leader last year was Demario Douglas with 79. Kendrick Bourne returns, but is he a guy that commands 120+ targets? 

They added Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker in the draft, but I’d much rather bet against unproven rookies than established vets. And, within the tight end group itself, Austin Hooper is more of a blocker at this stage and seventh round pick Jaheim Bell is not much of a threat. The path is fairly clear.

The Patriots will either have Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, who knows the scheme from his time in Cleveland, or third overall pick Drake Maye. Unless Maye is a complete flop, the odds are pretty good that we have an upgrade here from Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. We don’t know who the quarterbacks will favor, so Henry has as good of a shot as any of them. And he has the TE eligibility in fantasy football that creates positional scarcity. 




Fantasy Football ADP: Hunter Henry

It’s a little early to have reliable redraft ADP, but we do have some references at our disposal. On Underdog Fantasy Best Ball, Henry currently comes off the board as the TE18, well outside the range you would see drafted in a typical redraft league with 10-12 teams and one tight end spot. 

Early rankings on consensus sites like FantasyPros have him similarly ranked as the TE18 (which, coincidentally, is the same spot that Darren Waller, Eric Ebron and Sam LaPorta previously ranked). Based on dynasty valuation sites like KeepTradeCut and PeakedInHighSkool, you should not have to pay more than a third round pick in your dynasty league. With Henry, our belief has always been that the talent was there. 

The fact that he scored six touchdowns on a Patriots team last year that threw only 16 total touchdown passes is a borderline miracle. There’s no guarantee that this new offense will be much better or that Hunter Henry will be a top dog within it, but the hope is there that the quarterback and the scheme will favor Henry. And, when you get down into the range where Henry is being drafted, a little hope is all we can ask for.