Hunter Henry has been highly regarded as the top tight end prospect of the NFL draft on numerous accounts. He also won the John Mackey award for best tight end in the NCAA of the 2015 season. Arkansas was able to brag about having the best tight end in college football all season long, but now Henry has chosen to forgo his senior season to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Henry stands at 6' 5" 250 lbs, a suitable frame for a tight end. His career numbers at Arkansas totaled at 116 catches for 1661 yards and nine touchdowns over three seasons. He finished his junior year with 739 yards, a solid performance for a NCAA tight end. Scouting reports on Henry cite his biggest assets as a player being his receiving skills. We provide a film breakdown of the tight end prospect for your review.
Can go up to get the ball
Henry's receiving abilities are not overstated, he shows considerable skills when going up to get passes down the field. Here you can see him pinpoint a pass down the field and attack the ball at its highest point. Plays like these are why Henry is so highly regarded as a receiving tight end. He does not appear to be phased with defenders providing solid coverage when he goes for a pass.
Can catch in traffic
This touchdown reception on third down was one of the bigger plays of the game against Mississippi State. Notice how he is able to cut inside of the cornerback in coverage and catch a good pass from his quarterback. Henry is a solid route runner and displays solid agility with and without the ball in his hands. Announcers during Arkansas games would often joke about how Henry was more like a big receiver than just a tight end because of how good he was at getting open and making key receptions.
Run after catch
Henry has shown the ability to accelerate and make plays with the ball in his hands. Here you can see him catch a pass close to the line of scrimmage and able to turn up quickly instead of running out of bounds, gain the first down and make defenders miss in space. This is one thing Heath Miller could not do much in his career, as he was a good receiver and a great blocker, but was not a major threat with his speed or quickness to make defenders miss with the ball in his hands. Henry shows these abilities in his youth and could show these more in the NFL.
Good at extending plays with scrambling quarterbacks
One of the aspects to Miller's game was his rapport with Ben Roethlisberger and his effort to keep running with an extended play. That was a reliability which Roethlisberger could depend on for all but one year of his career in Miller. Hunter exhibits that same trait in his game at times. This play against Tennessee came on a third down and converted to keep a drive alive and put Arkansas on the other side of the field. Hunter does not easily give up on plays when going out for passes and that is something that Steelers fans could enjoy watching should he be selected by Pittsburgh.
Issues with blocking
Arkansas' running back, Alex Collins whom has also chosen to forgo his senior year, gained over 1,000 yards in each of his three years with the Razorbacks. These three years coincided with Henry's three seasons with Arkansas, and have led some analysts to conclude that Collins' success in the running game is a direct correlation with that of Henry's blocking abilities. In my time watching film on Henry's blocking abilities, I was not impressed to think that he was a great blocker in the way Heath Miller was for Pittsburgh.
Watch on the play above as he has a clear path to take on a middle linebacker, and while he is able to maneuver his assignment out of the play, he does not do so with a solid display of fundamentals. He could have gotten called for a hold here, but managed to avoid being flagged. In the NFL he will need to hone his skills in blocking.
Here is another example of Henry's inconsistent blocking fundamentals. Henry goes to engage an outside linebacker, but attacks with his head down and is easily disengaged. His assignment even makes the tackle on this play, where the running back would have had a one-on-one opportunity with a defensive back to breakthrough for an even bigger gain.
This was an example of when Henry did show good form in his engaging of a defender on a running play. He keeps his head up, puts his hands inside and turns his shoulders to keep his assignment away from the play. The only criticism here is that he does not finish his block and the linebacker was able to disengage from Henry shortly after contact. While it did not impact the play, it still is not the perfect display of run blocking. Henry looks to be able to show good form at times in how he engages defenders, but not consistently, nor does he often show that he finishes his blocks with authority.
Pass blocking concerns
One of the biggest knocks on Henry in scouting reports was his pass blocking skills. His size is good for a receiver, but his weight being only 250 lbs. has led some to question how he could perform against NFL size and athleticism. Henry shows good positioning on this play, but he does lose his base in pass protection at times and gets overpowered by pass rushers.
Draft Stock for Pittsburgh
While nobody expects Henry to be able to join the Steelers and fill the void which Miller left by being as good as the recent retiree, drafting Henry in the first round would mean Pittsburgh would be investing into their already elite offensive unit instead of improving their defense. Miller was an instant success when he was drafted in 2005 and was a significant role player for the Steelers in their Super Bowl XL championship season. He quickly became a reliable target as well as a dependable blocker.
Should Pittsburgh choose to invest their first round selection into the tight end position, and that selection be Henry, the team would definitely be getting another receiving threat, but might not have a player that can help establish the edge for Le'Veon Bell to run past in the ground game. One of the team's favored running schemes for the past few years featured the team's tight end, Miller, and guard, David DeCastro, pulling together to the weak side as lead blockers and plowing the road for Bell to attack.
Most likely, Pittsburgh wants a tight end that can fulfill that role. Jesse James showed solid instances of blocking both downfield and at the line of scrimmage in his rookie season of 2015, but might not be the player which Pittsburgh relies upon to be their starting tight end for 2016. These considerations may lead Pittsburgh to pick up a tight end in free agency who has a better history of blocking instead of investing an early pick on a tight end.
Personally I do not think Pittsburgh will invest their first round pick on Henry, let alone the tight end position. But exploring his skills for other fans to view is something which we thought would be of value to our readers to open a dialogue on the merits and follies of Henry being the hypothetical selection for the Steelers. He did not fully participate in the NFL combine, so a pro day with solid numbers could bring more attention to Henry and a cause for us to revisit this topic in time. But until then, we can only continue to speculate based off the film available to us.
EDIT: Due to the recent signing of tight end LaDarius Green, it is now an extreme improbability that the Steelers would draft Henry.