Hunter Henry out for season with torn ACL after path cleared as Chargers' starting TE

Jack BaerWriter
Shutdown Corner
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/29269/" data-ylk="slk:Hunter Henry">Hunter Henry</a>’s first season as the full-time starter at tight end is over before it began.
Hunter Henry’s first season as the full-time starter at tight end is over before it began.

Hunter Henry’s first season as the full-time starting tight end for the Chargers might have lasted one day of OTAs.

The third-year tight end suffered a torn ACL during drills during the team’s first day of OTAs, the team announced on Tuesday. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter the injury was suffered while Henry was running untouched during drills and will likely end his season, though the team is getting a second opinion.

Antonio Gates a possibility for Chargers?

Henry had spent his first two seasons in the NFL splitting time at tight end with Chargers great Antonio Gates, who the team parted ways with in April. With Gates still a free agent, he could certainly be on the Chargers’ list of possible replacements for Henry this season.

Gates, who will turn 38 this summer, still planned to play for another team after the Chargers declined to bring him back once his contract ran out. It’s definitely a way no party hoped for, but it looks like Gates’ new team could be his old one.

Hunter Henry’s lost breakout year

There is no way to know for certain that Henry was headed for a breakout season, but his performance in a limited roll over the last two seasons and the influx of playing time and targets, particularly in the red zone, from Gates’ departure sure seemed likely to add up to a strong year for the Arkansas product.

Henry ranked just behind Rob Gronkowski in passer rating when targeted last year according to Pro Football Focus. Also respected as a blocker, Henry was a volatile producer over the 2017-18 season, going entire games without a target and missing out on touchdown opportunities while Gates pursued the tight end career touchdown record. When the ball did make its way to Henry, it usually led to good things for the Chargers.

What’s next for the Chargers?

Even if the Chargers were to bring Gates back into the fold, it could still be tough for the team to replace Henry’s production. Also on the Chargers’ depth chart at tight end are Virgil Green, Sean Culkin and Braedon Bowman. It’s also worth noting that the Chargers did not draft a tight end in the 2018 draft.

Neither Culkin nor Bowman have a catch in their careers, so Green is the probable starter in Los Angeles until the team brings someone in from the outside. In seven NFL seasons, all with Denver, Green has 71 receptions on 103 targets for 807 yards and four touchdowns.

Outside of the tight end group is the Chargers’ deep corps of wide receivers, who will likely see a higher target share without Henry around. Still, there really isn’t a player on the Chargers roster capable of doing everything Henry was slated to do for them, and that’s what will make him quite difficult to replace.

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