Fantasy Debate: Hunter Henry vs. Tyler Higbee

Jul 29, 2020
Fantasy Debate: Hunter Henry vs. Tyler Higbee

Hunter Henry and Tyler Higbee are both being drafted in the second tier of fantasy tight ends, going off the board at TE7 and TE9 respectively, across all platforms. In this debate, Brandon Niles will take the side of Henry, while Jennifer Eakins argues for Higbee.

The Case for Hunter Henry

Brandon: We all know what’s wrong with banking on Hunter Henry. He missed two games back in 2017, then the entire 2018 season, and another four games last year. It’s hard to put all your proverbial eggs in the basket with all the missing wickers. In addition to concerns about his regular availability is the quarterback change for the Chargers. Gone is Philip Rivers, a long-time friend of the tight end position, and in comes Tyrod Taylor… err, Justin Herbert… err, Justod Taybert?

Either way, suspecting Henry of ill production due to these two factors overshadows what he’s done throughout his short career thus far. With 55 catches, 652 yards and five touchdowns in just 12 games last year, he finished 10th among tight ends in fantasy points per game. That’s just one spot ahead of Tyler Higbee in ranking, but it was on a whopping 29.5% increase!

Henry has been as steady as they come while on the field. He’s averaged 3.3 receptions on 4.7 targets for 41.7 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game over the course of his career, which projects to 52 catches, 667 yards and 6.4 touchdown over the course of a season, good for roughly top seven among tight ends last year. And that’s over his career. Henry’s pace last season would’ve landed him at 73 catches, 869 yards and 6.7 touchdowns. At only 25 years old, Henry is just entering his prime and is one of the best receivers in the games at his position.

The touchdowns are perhaps the biggest difference between these two. Henry had two more touchdowns (five) than Higbee did (three), despite playing in three fewer games. And Higbee has the better offensive team. The Rams offense scored 4.2 points more per game than the Chargers. Three touchdowns last season was a career-high for Higbee, who was a part-time player until the second half of 2019. The sustained success of Henry compared to the relatively small sample size of quality Higbee play is worth paying attention to, and Henry’s ability to find the end zone at a significant clip makes him a higher-floor option.

If the history of raw production doesn’t appeal to you, let’s look at opportunity. Higbee shares snaps with Gerald Everett, who PFF ranked third among Rams offensive players last year – behind Higbee and Robert Woods. Until Week 11, Everett out-snapped Higbee and received more targets before injuries set him back. Higbee earned an expanded role, but it’s hard to imagine the team completely forgetting how productive Everett was for them early on. Everett is also in a contract year and should be motivated to perform.

Contrast that to Henry, who has virtually no competition at the position and saw 78% of the team’s offensive snaps last season when he was healthy. Henry had 76 targets, compared to just 13 for the second-ranked tight end on the team, Virgil Green. Henry was on pace for 101 targets and should be featured heavily again this year.

The switch to Tyrod Taylor at quarterback shouldn’t hurt Henry. Taylor’s only touchdown pass last year went to a tight end – albeit Virgil Green – and Charles Clay had over 500 yards in each season in Buffalo in which Taylor was the starter. There’s no reason to think Taylor won’t find success throwing the ball to Henry, just as he did with Clay.

If Justin Herbert takes over, Henry will be a safe check-down option for the rookie. Herbert’s two primary receiving tight ends at Oregon last year – Jacob Breeland and Spencer Webb – combined for 44 catches, 614 yards and nine touchdowns last season, with Breeland third on the team in touchdown receptions. Regardless of when the Chargers make the move from Taylor to the rookie Herbert, Henry should remain a constant in the offense, with significant targets in play.

If we’re being honest, Higbee and Henry are both quality options, and both are going in the late-sixth, early-seventh round in redraft leagues. Both are young, talented players entering their primes and produced solid numbers at a position of fantasy scarcity. But only Henry has shown he’s the best player at his position on his own team and that he can produce whenever he steps on the field. Higbee is more of a recent breakout player with a few concerning unknowns. For my money, I’d rather bank on Henry being the safety valve for the Chargers, than hope enough targets continue to find their way to Higbee in the Rams’ offense.

The Case for Tyler Higbee

Jennifer: Tyler Higbee ended the season as TE8 in half-PPR points, thanks in part to a 522 yard, two-touchdown explosion over the final five games of the season. The Rams tight end led all players at his position in that time frame with a whopping 17.1 half-PPR points a game, which was over three points more than the next guy in line per contest (Jared Cook).

Sure, Gerald Everett was sidelined with a knee injury from Week 13 on, propelling Higbee to that lead tight end role both as a blocker and a route runner. In turn, Higbee saw 85% or more of the snaps down the stretch of the 2019 season. However, we can’t deny what he did with his opportunity, as the 27-year old led all tight ends in receiving yards (542), receptions (48) and first downs while assuming the starting role.

While that level of production may not be sustainable for the course of an entire season, only the best fantasy players can offer that degree of upside in a month in the NFL. Also notable, was that his output was not the result of monster plays or touchdowns, but in actual high volume. Higbee’s 11 targets per tilt average over the final five contests is way up there in elite NFL usage.

The big question this season is what happens now that Everett will be back in the mix? What most Higbee doubters fail to remember is that Everett returned in Week 16 last season and only hit the field on four snaps, which dropped down to two in Week 17.

Even more in both of their favor, is that Higbee’s massive production last year coincided with a change in the Rams scheme to greatly favor the tight end position. Before their Week 9 bye, LA used two tight ends on just 11% of their plays, which bumped up to 32% down the stretch. The Rams offense averaged 29 points per contest in those final five games, with an average score of just 19 from Weeks 1-12. One would think they would continue with the plan that gained double-digit more points a game, meaning there could be enough work for Higbee and possibly Everett in 2020.

Hunter Henry (ADP: 6.09) is currently being drafted close to an entire round before Higbee (ADP: 7.05), which is just too rich for my liking. Both players have their upside, and also their uncertainty. Henry’s biggest knock is his injury-filled past, as he’s only played in 41-of-64 regular-season games in his four-year career. There’s also his quarterback situation, as Tyrod Taylor’s tendency to run could take away from some of Henry’s short-yardage usage. Of course, if the Chargers go to Justin Herbert sooner than later, he could check-down to Henry often.

Faced with the choice between these two tight ends, I’d rather grab Jarvis Landry or Michael Gallup with projected half-PPR totals of 171, over Henry’s 136 in the sixth-round, and roll with Higbee (138 projected points) nearly a round later.

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