Hunter Henry was the top-rated tight end entering the Scouting Combine. Nothing changed, even though his decision to skip most of the physical testing aggravated scouts.
“WTF,” one scout texted.
But at a position that the spread-offense-obsessed collegiate ranks no longer are producing in quantity, Henry remains the top tight end in the draft and the lone potential first-rounder. At 6-foot-4 7/8 and 250 pounds, he is an imposing figure. He doesn’t always use it as a blocker — not that he’s awful — but he’s the most accomplished pass-catcher at the position, with the John Mackey Award-winner catching 51 passes for 739 yards (14.5 average) and three touchdowns as a junior in 2015.
“Henry has the size that makes him an imposing presence when he challenges a deep secondary,” longtime NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas said. “He is taller than most tight ends and has impression explosion and burst to get to the top of the route. He has the frame to add more bulk without it affecting his quickness, but there are major ‘red flags’ appearing on some draft boards over his blocking issues. He is a much better receiver than any of the other first/second-day tight ends in this draft class, the type that opponents need to game plan, as he is equally effective going over the middle or running up the seam.”
While another Mackey Award winner from Arkansas, D.J. Williams, bombed with the Packers as a fifth-round pick in 2011, that was a different player, different coach and different scheme. Henry, who is 2 3/4 inches taller than Williams, thrived in Bret Bielema’s pro-style system at Arkansas. Scouts don’t have to look hard to see Henry doing the types of things he’ll be asked to do in the NFL, which is why Henry believes he’s worthy of being a first-round pick — potentially to Green Bay with the 27th pick of the first round in two months.
“I believe the tight end is a big part of the NFL,” Henry said at the Combine. “I believe I bring something that’s different than a lot of guys would bring. This versatility, I’m going to be able to play every down. I’m going to be able to stay on the field consistently. I’m not just a first-down guy. I’m not just a third-down guy. I can play all three downs. It’s a big part of the NFL. That’s why I believe I’m worthy.”
Henry said he’s modeled his game after that of Jason Witten, a third-round pick in 2003 who went over 1,000 career receptions this season. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, however, turned that comparison on its ear.
“Didn’t Jason Witten run the 40 when he was here?” Mayock asked. “I would have loved to see him run. I don’t know what he can run. I expected he would run. I was surprised he didn’t. Off tape, I would call him really solid. He can play in-line, he can play wing. They move him outside and he catches the ball, he runs routes. He competes as a blocker, which is rare coming out of college football.”
Henry’s been around the game throughout his life. His father, Mark Henry, was an offensive lineman at Arkansas. As a high school freshman, Hunter Henry was an offensive lineman, too. After the season, however, the football staff saw Henry’s footwork on the basketball court and realized Henry had been miscast. He wound up starring as a spread-offense wide receiver.
“I think it really just helped setting guys up and different route running,” Henry said. “I was able to work with a lot of guys that have gone to the NFL and played: Keith Jackson, Anthony Lucas — who was my receivers coach in high school and played at Arkansas, was an All-American, went to the league, ended up getting hurt. I was able to work with a lot of guys in high school with the receiver-type things that really helped me transition faster to the college game. Really helped me in the passing game just setting guys up, using my body and attacking the ball in the air.”
In 2015, Henry caught 70.8 percent of his passes. According to Thomas’ breakdown, Henry had no drops (tied for the fewest in the draft class) and had five passes batted away (lowest percentage among the top tight end prospects).
“I had the best year of my career this year,” he said. “I believe I went against the best every single week in the SEC, played against some elite guys this year and the past three years. There are a lot of guys playing on Sunday that I’ve competed against and I’ve won many reps against. I believe I’m ready for the next jump.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.