FOXBORO, Mass. — Hunter Henry thus far has been everything the New England Patriots hoped they were getting when they signed him during the offseason — and arguably more.
Henry’s numbers in Sunday’s 54-13 beatdown of the New York Jets weren’t gaudy (two receptions for 23 yards) but he did score a touchdown for the fourth consecutive week. His emergence as a red-zone threat has been a major development for a work-in-progress offense led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
So, too, has Henry’s availability. When New England signed the star tight end, many feared Bill Belichick spent too much money on a player with a long injury history. Those fears seemingly were justified when Henry suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to miss part of training camp and all of the preseason.
But the 26-year-old hasn’t missed anytime during the regular season, and by the week further develops his chemistry with Jones.
“I think it’s just continuing repetition,” Henry said during Sunday’s postgame news conference. “I keep telling you guys this every week, but you can’t take for granted the reps, the practice reps. I was out for summer camp and even when I was in there, it wasn’t really with Mac.
“That trust, that chemistry, all that stuff has got to continue to build and then game reps are huge, too. I think he realizes he can trust me. I’m going to be in the right spot when he is ready to throw it. That’s just going to continue to build and I’m looking forward to it.”
Fans might look at Henry’s numbers and yearn for Rob Gronkowski-like production — an unrealistic ask of any tight end. However, Henry’s current stats more or less are in line with his career averages.
Henry is averaging 11 yards per reception through seven games; his career average is 11.8. His 38 yards per game are a bit below his career average of 42.0, but not dramatically so. Henry currently has four touchdowns, putting him on track to top his career high of eight. He also has a career-best catch percentage of 75 percent.
One area Henry could stand to improve in is his blocking. His pass and run blocking grades on Pro Football Focus currently rank among the worst of his career. But he’s not bad, and is more than willing to block when asked to do so.
“Anything I can do to help this team, man, I wanna be able to do,” Henry said during a postgame interview with NFL Media’s Mike Giardi. “If that’s scoring touchdowns, that’s blocking, that’s setting other guys up, man — just trying to come out here and get wins.”
While Henry has been good, he (and the entire offense) would benefit greatly from fellow high-priced tight end Jonnu Smith rounding into form. The veteran got off to a good start in Sunday’s game — two catches for 52 yards — but later suffered a shoulder injury and did not return. If he and Henry eventually form the one-two punch they’re capable of forming, the Patriots’ offense could reach a higher level.
For now, New England can bank on Henry showing up every week and being a reliable, productive option in the passing game.