Football

NFL Draft Countdown: Arkansas tight end emulates Jason Witten

Special to the Star-Telegram

Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry has a clear vision of who he wants to become in the NFL.

“I’ve watched a lot of Jason Witten,” Henry said. “I really try to model my game after him. He’s a great one. It’s kind of hard to do that, especially a Hall of Fame tight end like him, but I’ve watched a lot of film on him in the off-season, to try and put bits and pieces of his game and put those in my game.”

The college game is turning into a spread-offense game. Sadly. We were one of the few offenses that were a run-first, pass-second almost, balanced offense.

Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry

Henry has many catches to go and many things to learn before he reaches Witten’s level.

He played receiver in a spread offense at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark. But Henry was recruited as a tight end, a four-star recruit who drew offers from Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford among others.

He followed in his father’s footsteps in playing for the Razorbacks.

“I think it really just helped setting guys up,” Henry said of playing receiver. “Different route running. I was able to work with a lot of guys that have gone to the NFL and played — Keith Jackson, Anthony Lucas, who was my receivers coach in high school and played at Arkansas, was an All-American, went to the league, ended up getting hurt.

“I was able to work with a lot of guys in high school with the receiver-type things that really helped me transition faster to the college game. They really helped me in the passing game just setting guys up, using my body and attacking the ball in the air.”

Henry showed off his receiving skills in 30 starts in a three-year career, catching 116 passes for 1,661 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2015, he earned first-team All-America honors and won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

“The college game is turning into a spread-offense game,” Henry said. “Sadly. We were one of the few offenses that were a run-first, pass-second almost, balanced offense. True pro style, I would say. It was a big opportunity for me and all the other tight ends who were with me at Arkansas. We really enjoyed the whole process of it.”

He is a competitive blocker, but too easily overpowered at the point of attack ...

CBSsports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler

Though Henry insists he is a willing blocker, his blocking needs work. He more likely begins his career at the joker tight end, in the Owen Daniels mold, according to CBS draft analyst Dane Brugler.

“He is a competitive blocker, but too easily overpowered at the point of attack, leading to him getting beat or penalized,” Brugler said. “Although he’s not a reliable inline blocker at this point in his development, Henry knows how to get open and has the best hands and route-running athleticism at tight end in this draft class.”

Henry, 21, projects as a second-rounder. No tight end is expected to go in the first round.

“I believe the tight end is a big part of the NFL,” Henry said. “I believe I bring something that’s different than a lot of guys would bring. This versatility, I’m going to be able to play every down. That’s something I believe. I’m going to be able to stay on the field consistently. I’m not just a first-down guy. I’m not just a third-down guy. I can play all three downs. It’s a big part of the NFL. That’s why I believe I’m worthy.”

Overview

It is the weakest position in this class, with no tight end expected to be drafted in the first round. Arkansas’ Hunter Henry is the top name, but while he’s a talented receiver, his blocking needs work. The middle rounds offer the likes of Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee, Ohio State’s Nick Vannett and Stanford’s Austin Hooper, but overall, this group of tight ends lacks difference-makers.

Cowboys’ needs

Jason Witten, 34, made it through a number of minor injuries last season, playing all 16 games for a 12th consecutive season. It was the first time he’s shown signs of wear and tear from a 13-year career. Gavin Escobar likely enters his final season in Dallas after not living up to expectations as a second-round pick in 2013. He tore his right Achilles’ tendon in December and likely won’t be ready to start the season. The Cowboys re-signed James Hanna for his blocking, and Geoff Swaim will continue to develop behind Witten and Hanna.

Top five

Hunter Henry, Arkansas, 6-5, 250, 4.68: The three-year starter finished with 116 catches for 1,661 yards and nine touchdowns.

Nick Vannett, Ohio State, 6-6, 257, 4.89: He was only a one-year starter and made only 55 catches for 585 yards and six touchdowns in his four-year career.

Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky, 6-6, 249, NA: Higbee, who began his career as a receiver, missed four games and parts of others with a left knee injury that he continues to rehab after surgery in December.

Austin Hooper, Stanford, 6-4, 254, 4.70: Stanford has seven active tight ends in the NFL, and Hooper, projected as a fourth-rounder, becomes the eighth.

Thomas Duarte, UCLA, 6-2, 231, 4.68: The three-year starter made 97 catches for 1,626 yards and 17 touchdowns in his four-year career.

Sleeper

Temarrick Hemingway, South Carolina State, 6-5, 244, 4.71: He had 93 catches for 1,056 yards and seven touchdowns in his career.

Top Texas ties

David Morgan, UTSA, 6-4, 262, 5.02: Morgan, projected as a sixth-round pick, made 85 catches for 1,104 yards and eight touchdowns in his career.

The Cowboys fall to 4-9 after a 28-7 loss in Green Bay on Sunday (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

NFL great Jerry Rice reached out to congratulate Jason Witten on joining 1,000-catch club. Video by Drew Davison.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten crosses over the 1,000 career reception mark in win against Redskins (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from CBS Sportsline draft analyst Dane Brugler.

NFL Draft

April 28-30, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago

Schedule: Round 1, 7 p.m. April 28; Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. April 29; Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. April 30.

TV: ESPN and NFL Network.

Draft order:

1 Los Angeles Rams

2 Cleveland Browns

3 San Diego Chargers

4 Dallas Cowboys

5 Jacksonville Jaguars

6 Baltimore Ravens

7 San Francisco 49ers

8 Philadelphia Eagles

9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

10 New York Giants

11 Chicago Bears

12 New Orleans Saints

13 Miami Dolphins

14 Oakland Raiders

15 Tennessee Titans

16 Detroit Lions

17 Atlanta Falcons

18 Indianapolis Colts

19 Buffalo Bills

20 New York Jets

21 Washington Redskins

22 Houston Texans

23 Minnesota Vikings

24 Cincinnati Bengals

25 Pittsburgh Steelers

26 Seattle Seahawks

27 Green Bay Packers

28 Kansas City Chiefs

29 Arizona Cardinals

30 Carolina Panthers

31 Denver Broncos

Note: New England forfeited 29th overall pick.

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