Turning to a rookie tight end for fantasy help is a little like turning to the comments section of a politically-charged Internet article for rational discussion: good luck with either. And in what’s being called a thin tight end class, your odds of locating fantasy gold are even further diminished.
However, the class isn’t entirely devoid of talent and as many as four tight ends could hear their name called before the end of Day Two. Among them are the consensus top tight end in the class, Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, and the potential best pass-catching tight end of the group, Stanford’s Austin Hooper.
Both have the requisite size—6-foot-5, 250 pounds for Henry and 254 for Hooper—to play on Sundays, but as you might expect in an SEC vs. Pac-12 matchup Henry has a significant leg up when it comes to functional play strength in general and blocking in particular. Not that fantasy owners necessarily care if their tight end can block (see: Graham, Jimmy), but the ability—or at least the effort—to do so makes it easier for them to get on the field in their inaugural campaign.
Henry also gets higher marks from the scouts when it comes to route-running, despite having played in a run-based offense at Arkansas. Hooper, the latest in Stanford’s expanding line of tight ends who make it to the NFL, is somewhat limited in that capacity—not necessarily because of his offense, but because he’s coming out after just two seasons of playing time.
Both tight ends have plus hands; in fact, Henry caught 51 balls in 2015 with nary a drop on his record. While Henry uses savvy route-running to get open, Hooper is more athletic. Both skill sets lend themselves to red zone success, which either will need to be a fantasy factor.
Hooper’s game has drawn comparisons to Coby Fleener and Jordan Cameron, both of whom have had fantasy success but are dependent on situation and usage to do so. Henry’s comparisons run the gamut from Heath Miller to Jason Witten to Greg Olsen, so his ceiling is as high given the right situation but his floor is also higher thanks to his more rounded skill set.
Hooper will need to play more of a “move” tight end role until he spends quality time in an NFL weight room, and he’s not explosive enough to project stepping directly into such a role with major fantasy upside. Henry’s more versatile skill set should get him on the field more, maybe even in a three-down role that will help him pad his PPR numbers. Both are potential red zone factors, but again Henry’s tools give him an edge via quantity if not quality. Long term Henry is the better bet as well, since while Hooper has talent it’s not necessarily of the Jimmy Graham variety. Barring a dramatic disparity in where each ends up once the NFL Draft dust has settled, Henry has the clear-cut fantasy upside.
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