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Patriots sign Hunter Henry: Fantasy football fallout for 2021

After agreeing to pay a hefty sum for Jonnu Smith, the Patriots surprisingly opened up the checkbook again for Hunter Henry.

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) celebrates his touchdowns scored against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots made plenty of waves during the first day of the legal-tampering period, but they weren’t done quite yet. The following day, they landed former Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry on a massive three-year, $37.5 million agreement. Henry becomes the second major offseason addition the Patriots have made at the tight-end position, following the similarly expensive deal for Jonnu Smith.

Hunter Henry signing: Fantasy football impact

While two years have passed since Rob Gronkowski left New England, Henry effectively becomes his true heir as the Patriots’ “Y” tight end. That role will see Henry rarely leave the field, contributing as much in the ground game (especially on outside-zone runs) as the passing attack. In the latter, Henry has proven effective when healthy, delivering similar statistical outputs each of the past two seasons (an average of approximately 58 catches for 633 yards and five touchdowns). While those numbers don’t quite match those from the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle, they do make Henry an enticing fantasy option in a vacuum.

Of course, the Patriots complicated Henry’s outlook by also adding Smith. Both can play together, but the version of the New England offense led by Cam Newton didn’t have a ton of targets to go around. Newton finished second-to-last in 2020 in pass attempts among quarterbacks with at least 15 starts, and he appears likely to start again this year. Between that bottleneck and the additions of wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, Henry might not see the uptick in targets fantasy managers envisioned.

Unless the Patriots alter their plans under center, don’t expect Henry to outperform his recent production. That would place him outside of starting territory in standard-scoring fantasy leagues and as a low-end TE1 in PPR formats.