An unexpected tragedy struck the NFL yesterday with the announcement of Charger’s tight end, Hunter Henry, suffering a season ending ACL tear. The tear came out of nowhere as it was prompted just by participation in typical, non-contact drills. A good percentage of ACL and MCL tears can happen during these non contact drills, which on the surface, look to be harmless. The no contact ACL injuries make one feel helpless because, before the leg plants on the ground, the ligament is already displaced. Once the leg plants, all of the potential energy that was coveted in mid-air explodes and then boom! It’s puzzling to hear one’s ACL can be displaced while in mid-air but it happens. Many factors such as body imbalances, extra force being put on the ligament, poor knee flexion, and sharp cuts are all variables which factor into the equation of a busted ligament. Unfortunately, Henry will have to sit out the whole season and will probably be at a full recovery within 10-12 months.
This catastrophe couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Chargers; they had just moved on from future hall of famer Antonio Gates and looked for Henry to fill the veteran’s void. Losing a respectable target, for an aging Phillip Rivers, is frightening for Chargers fans because that consistent threat is gone. Throughout his career, Rivers has always had his greatest success when high-percentage, underneath throws to tight ends are open. Not only is the completion rate significantly higher, but it also opens up the deep ball and moves the chains. With a big bodied tight end, Rivers has a larger margin for error because of a more extensive catch radius. In other words, having a big-bodied route runner to catch balls in traffic is invaluable.
Hunter Henry was one of the most impressive, young tight ends last year. Standing at 6’6” and weighing 250 pounds, he was able to block respectably while catching the ball proficiently. His route tree was more diverse than just short routes, which Antonio Gates was able to do so well in his later years. He has speed that is capable of taking the top off defenses. The Chargers can attempt to plug his void by addressing it in free agency or play style reform. The options on the free agent market are very limited and filled with old veterans. The current options which look most feasible right now are Coby Fleener and Julius Thomas. Alternatively, the chargers could attempt to fix the problem by not adding a single player. Instead of investing their money on a washed up veteran, they could attack defenses differently. Going with a five wide receiver set or a four wide receiver set with greater responsibility assigned to Melvin Gordon for pass blocking can provide temporary fixation.