News & Analysis

How to replace Hunter Henry on your dynasty roster

Dec 3, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) reacts after a first down catch during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Denial is a brutal beast. Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers head coach, knows this. After Hunter Henry limped off the field during team drills Tuesday, Lynn was quoted as saying, “He’s fine … We just held him back because we can.”

Shortly afterward, team officials confirmed that Henry had torn his right ACL and is expected to miss the entire 2018 NFL season. What I’ve learned from life experience and formal education is that in the wake of personal tragedy, any reaction is essentially acceptable. So, this is your free pass. Before you read the next paragraph, go scream into a pillow, or hammer a gallon of ice cream all by yourself, or call that buddy you haven’t talked to in years just to catch up, because after all, life is precious and we can’t predict the future.

Let’s get real about this situation. The timing is terrible. It’s terrible for the Chargers, who are in the midst of a final run with aging star quarterback Philip Rivers. If they had foreseen this injury, perhaps they would’ve signed a priority free agent or added some depth at the position in the draft. It’s terrible for Henry, who will miss what would have been his best chance at a true breakout season after spending his first two seasons in a frustrating committee with Antonio Gates. It’s also terrible timing for dynasty fantasy football owners – with one caveat. If you are in the middle of a massive rebuild, losing Henry is probably a blessing. Your team is more likely to avoid accidental wins and that means better 2019 draft capital for you.

What about owners expecting to compete? Many were no doubt counting on Henry to carry their squads as a legit fantasy TE1 this season. This was the year the touchdown specialist would see real volume. Did you already trade away your veteran depth in anticipation of Henry’s impending breakout? You probably aren’t alone. Or perhaps even worse, you identified Henry as a must-have for your team and you recently bought him amid the offseason hype.

Let me shine a beam of hope your direction. If you are lucky enough not to have already completed your dynasty rookie draft this offseason, then replacing Henry should be very easy to do. (Everything that follows is as of this moment, until and unless the Chargers sign a replacement tight end — a return for Gates, or one of the myriad unsigned veterans). The simple solution would be to position yourself in the early second round and draft Mike Gesicki, who landed in a plush Miami situation where red-zone passing is plenty and vacated targets are numerous. Gesicki and Henry could become a fierce tandem on your squad for years to come, or you could decide to cash out on Gesicki after he sees an Evan Engram-esque value rise over the course of his rookie season. Another easy solution for replacing Henry during your rookie draft is to send your second- or third-round pick for an aging veteran you can rent for a season until Henry returns. This is where I want to focus in, because there are a number of names who can be had on the cheap that could save your season.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

Walker is an example of a classic buy target for competing teams in dynasty. He’s old and he’s got a young dynasty favorite behind him on the depth chart (Jonnu Smith). This combination almost always drives a player’s price down. However, Walker is also as close to a lock as you can get to be a fantasy TE1 again in 2018. Walker has put together a streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 100 targets, 60 receptions, and 800 receiving yards. During this streak he has given fantasy owners three top-five PPR finishes and never finished worse than TE8 at season’s end. In 2017, Walker was 43 PPR points clear of TE12, so there is plenty of room for him to give up some looks to young players like Corey Davis and the aforementioned Smith and still be a fantasy TE1.

What can you buy Walker for right now?

It looks like a late-second-round pick is very much in play, as over 50 percent of responders to this poll say they prefer rookie pick 2.08 to the aging fantasy stud. If you have a dynasty team sitting in a title window, adding Walker for this price as a bridge to Henry’s return is a no-brainer.

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

Olsen is a target for many of the same reasons as Walker. There isn’t a bona fide replacement plan at the position on the roster yet, but Olsen has been very busy building awareness in the media of his desire to become a sports anchor following his playing days. Like Walker, Olsen has been the picture of productivity when healthy over the past few seasons. Prior to 2017, Olsen had a five-season streak of at least 100 targets and 69 receptions. He also had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2014 to 2016. Over those five seasons, Olsen never finished worse than PPR TE7.

Olsen is likely to cost you a little more in trade than Walker because of his name value, but his ceiling is also a little higher than Walker’s. He’s a good pivot with your mid-second-round rookie pick if the Walker owner won’t budge.

Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders

Gross, right? Get over it. Cook posted the second top-12 PPR season of his career in 2017, three long seasons after his last relevant performance. Dynasty owners became so sick of waiting on Cook to breakout that they failed to realize how much potential he had to carve out a major role in Oakland last season. A year ago, Cook was considered to be borderline roster-worthy. Now, he’s not going to be found on any waiver wires, but he’s still not thought of very highly.

Dynasty owners currently prefer rookie pick 3.01 to Cook at about a 4-1 clip, so it’s possible you could even buy him for less. In these situations, I prefer to just overpay, because being stingy over an under-the-radar player like this sometimes causes the other owner to do some more research and they can be scared off. If your attempts at Walker and Olsen are fruitless, pivot down to Cook and offer the owner your 2018 and 2019 thirds and don’t take no for an answer.

I know losing Henry is a bummer. After the initial shock wears off though, there are some savvy moves to be made that can put your 2018 season back on track. Get to work.

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