Spotlight: Chad Henne

posted by Jason Wood on Jun 21st


Jason Wood's thoughts

It's fascinating how some teams have a perception about them that are hard for fans to dispel. For example, ask most NFL fans to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive approach, and you'll probably hear things like "power running game" or "ball control" or "smash mouth." While all those terms would certainly fit with the nature of the Steelers throughout their storied history, it certainly hasn't been an accurate depiction of their recent years. Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers passing attempts have grown from 442 to 506 to last year's 536, while the rushing attempts have fallen from 511 to 460 to last year's 428.

Why am I talking about the Steelers in a Chad Henne Spotlight? Because that perception holds true for the way many football fans, and fantasy owners, view the Miami Dolphins. I've heard repeatedly that Chad Henne has little to no fantasy upside because of his system. Few argue that the young Michigan Wolverine has the requisite skill set to develop into an above average fantasy producer, but instead argue that OC Dan Henning and HC Tony Sparano won't take the reins off him because of their offensive approach.

That may be true, but the numbers argue against it.

Yes, it's true that the Dolphins put a premium on running the ball. Last year they ran the ball 509 times (3rd in NFL) for 2,231 yards (4th) with 22 rushing TDs (1st). When Ronnie Brown went down to injury, 32-year old Ricky Williams became an impact player again, turning in a Top 10 fantasy season in his own right.

But just because the Dolphins are committed to, and effective at running the ball doesn't mean Chad Henne is hamstrung by the system. Did you realize that the Dolphins attempted 545 passes last year? That may not seem like much but it ranked 14th; higher than the Saints (4,355 yards passing), Giants (4,019 yards), Steelers (4,148 yards) and Chargers (4,338 yards) to name a few. It was only five fewer attempts than the Cowboys (4,287 yards), and nine fewer attempts than the Vikings (4,156 yards), Packers (4,180 yards) and Eagles (4,089 yards).

Let's be clear about something, discounting Chad Henne's fantasy prospects because of a perceived lack of opportunity is simply flawed logic. The Dolphins want to have a balanced offense, and expecting them to remain in the middle of the pack in attempts is hardly a stretch.

The question fantasy owners have to then ask is, can Chad Henne do MORE with each attempt? As a team in 2009, the Dolphins averaged just 5.5 yards per net attempt; ranking 23rd. Henne was only slightly better (5.7 NY/A), but still well below the level he needs to be in order to become a relevant fantasy QB. The other issue Henne must contend with is his TD/INT ratio. Last year, in 13 games started, he threw just 12 TDs in 451 attempts (2.7%) and 14 interceptions (3.1%). That's not good enough.

But the good news is that Chad Henne had an uninspiring supporting cast last year.

Davone Bess -- Bess caught 76 receptions and some referred to him as a "poor man's Wes Welker", but that really wansn't an apt comparison. Davone Bess generated just 324 yards of YAC (Yards After Catch) compared to Welker's 721 yards. Simply put, Bess was a sure handed security blanket but someone that isn't going to do much with the ball in his hands.

Greg Camarillo -- Camarillo was 2nd on the team with 50 receptions. He only averaged 11 yards per catch and somehow managed to score ZERO times. That put Camarillo in rare and uninspiring company. He became only the 11th player since the 1970 merger to have 50 or more catches in a season without scoring a touchdown. Much like Bess, he's simply not a dynamic playmaker.

Ted Ginn Jr. -- Ginn was supposed to be the big play guy, but mustered next to nothing, and was promptly traded to the 49ers. His 38 catches were 3rd best on the team.

Ricky Williams (35), Brian Hartline (31) and Anthony Fasano (31) were next on the team in receptions, and only Hartline averaged (16.3 yards per reception) over 12 yards among the top six pass catchers. Combined, the WRs and TEs caught 11 TDs in 248 receptions. As a team, the Dolphins generated a paltry 1,402 yards after the catch.

Enter Brandon Marshall.

The Dolphins moved aggressively to acquire the enigmatic playmaker from the Denver Broncos. While he's only one cog in the wheel, he's likely the keystone to unlocking the Dolphins passing attack. Marshall has dominated opposing defenses with the likes of Kyle Orton throwing him the ball. He's caught 100+ receptions for three straight seasons, and has scored 23 touchdowns over that span. Not only can Marshall catch anything thrown his way, anywhere on the field, but he's also able to make plays once the ball is in his hands. He ranked 5th in the AFC in YAC last year, as an example.

Bringing Marshall into the fold should allow Henne to show modest to marked improvement in his PER ATTEMPT productivity. Since Marshall isn't known as a major deep threat (career 12.3 yadrs per reception), it would be presumptuous to expect Henne to vault into the 7.0 yards per attempt range that most elite fantasy passers are known for, but it's hardly unreasonable to think he can't improve into 6.5 yards per attempt range. And with Marshall in the mix, his TD% rate should improve, while his INT% rate will normalize because he won't be forcing the ball as much as he did a year ago.

Simply put, the addition of a dominating WR like Marshall stands to give Henne a puncher's chance at a breakout season. At worst, it makes him a good bet to put up respectable QB2 numbers for a team that's secured one of the elite QB1s earlier in their draft.

Positives

  • Henne is the clear cut starter this year, built valuable experience a season ago, and has all the physical tools to become a breakout star
  • Tony Sparano and Dan Henning are proponents of a balanced offensive attack, and they throw the ball more than enough for Henne to become a relevant fantasy producer
  • Brandon Marshall is light years better than any pass catcher on the 2009 roster, and having him on the field will allow other players to more naturally slot into secondary positions

Negatives

  • Brandon Marshall is still only one player, the Dolphins did next to nothing to improve the rest of the receiving corps. Any injury to Marshall and the potential for consistent improvement is all but dashed for Henne and the passing game
  • In an era where passing has become more dominant than ever, the potential to be a 3,500-yard passer still makes Henne no more than a decent fantasy QB2 in normal-sized leagues
  • We haven't seen Henne successfully take shots downfield (because he hasn't had the players) and it's possible his low yards per attempt are indicative of his comfort zone as much as the supporting cast

Final thoughts

Chad Henne is somewhat of a forgotten man among fantasy circles this year. I haven't seen too many people vilify him and almost no one has singled him out as a potential breakout candidate. While he's not someone I expect to finish in the Top 12 at his position, it certainly wouldn't shock me. More likely, if Brandon Marshall can stay healthy, Henne puts up reliable numbers that will serve an owner well who take an elite QB (e.g., Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers) early and then waits to grab a backup after most of the league has already done so. Draft accordingly.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

rzrback77 said:

My gut feeling is that Chad Henne is one of those guys that can really help your fantasy squad in 2010. Consider the following comparison of Miami's passing stats in 08 and 09:

08 - 328 completions in 488 attempts 67.2% for 3,720 yards 19 TDs 7 ints 7.62 ypa
09 - 329 completions in 538 attempts 61.2% for 3,374 yards 14 TDs 18 ints 6.27 ypa

Chad Pennington was much more efficient in 08, but Miami had 50 more passes in 09 with Henne. The anticipate pattern is that Miami is a run-first team and that is where the potential value begins.

The Miami running attack is led by Ronnie Brown, theoverall #2 pick in 2005 is entering his sixth year in the NFL. His season ended in 09in week 10 when he was placed on IR following a Lisfranc fracture. He is a restricted free agent and has not yet signed his tender. He will likely be available at the beginning of the season, but how effective will he be. Last season was the second in the last three where he ended the year on IR and you have to be concerned with his durability, particularly coming off the lisfranc surgery.

Ricky Williams performed admirably in Brown's absence, but he is 33 this month and for the final eight games of 09, he averaged almost 22 touches per game. He is entering his ninth NFL season and set out one year mid-career, will be 33 and coming off his most carries since 2003. He is definitely not the poster boy for expected durability in 2010.

Behind Brown and Williams, the Dolphins feature Lousaka Polite, Patrick Cobbs, and Lex Hilliard, who have a combined 428 carries over eleven seasons with not one season by any of them with over of 40 carries.

The WR corps for the Dolphins was not highly thought of by any means last season, but Bess and Camarillo both are solid possession receivers and Hartline developed as the year went along. In the last six games, he scored double digit fantasy points (ppr) in four of the last six games. They keep all three of these guys and swap Tedd Ginn, Jr for Brandon Marshall, one of the premier play makers at his position in the NFL.

I see a lot of potential for a much improved passing attack in Miami and lots of value with Henne, currently being drafted as QB 19 and 133 overall.

SSOG said:

2003 Philadelphia Eagles- 279/484 for 3020 with 17:11 TD:INT
2004 Philadelphia Eagles- 336/547 for 3979 with 32:11 TD:INT

2006 New England Patriots- 326/527 for 3400 with 25:12 TD:INT
2007 New England Patriots- 403/586 for 4731 with 50:9 TD:INT

Just in case someone wanted some examples of passing explosions that were driven by a change in the WR corps instead of by a change in the coaching staff. And in case any wiseguy wants to point out that New England changed its offensive scheme in 2007... do you think they would have changed their scheme if they hadn't acquired Moss/Welker? Don't you think it's possible Miami will change its scheme now that they have Marshall (and Henne's got some seasoning)?

Anyway, semantics and comparisons to Tom Brady aside, there seems to be a bit of a perception that Henne is young and developing and therefore it might be ambitious to expect him to be a starter-caliber QB this year. The reality is that 80% of QBs who finish in the top 10 at any point in their entire career will finish in the top 10 in their first two years as a starter. In other words, QBs who wind up becoming good generally wind up becoming good very quickly. Henne's a young prospect with a good pedigree (2nd rounder), two years in the league, and a lot of very good moments last year (like abusing the Jets pass defense, for starters). I personally believe he's going to wind up becoming a very good QB in the league, which means I'm more bullish than most on his prospects of being a starting QB as early as *THIS YEAR*.

Ministry of Pain said:

As a Miami fan I try not to go overboard on our own players but I think I also have a pretty good feel for what Miami is going to do this year.

1. The good news is most experts have him ranked at about #20. So if you really like Henne you probably won't have to spend a lot on him. I wouldn't want to pair him with another young QB, I would go for a solid vet and pair him with Henne and you probably have enough at QB to do some damage.

2. Miami has upgraded on offense a lot with the addition of Brandon Marshall. Henne can load up and fire the ball deep. Many say Marshall is not a long ball guy but I totally disagree and think Henne's numbers will get better just form guys being able to catch the ball down the field. Teddy Ginn was brutal at times last year despite some really nice moments along the way.

I think if Chad Henne can post some games where the stat line is something like 18/30, 225 yds, Td...this is what Miami is looking for. They turned Henne loose at the end of the year last year and he had 3 games down the stretch where he thrw it 46, 52, and 55 times...Miami does not want to become that type of team but they also lost their RB1 along the way.


Chad Henne projections

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