Austin Hooper was a part of the infamous 2016 draft class that produced stars like Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. The tight end out of Stanford was selected in the third round and had a promising rookie campaign, including a long touchdown catch in the first half of the Super Bowl.
That play alone had Falcons fans thinking Hooper could very well be the tight end of the future, something they haven’t had since Tony Gonzalez retired. His usage rate skyrocketed in year number two, as he saw over double the number of targets and recorded 30 more receptions. However, outside of a tremendous opening week performance against the Bears that included this ridiculous stiff arm, Hooper was far from a consistent target.
He dropped several balls, some that went off his hands and resulted in an interception. When he did catch the ball, he was usually brought down by the first defender that got to him. Following his 128 yard showing against Chicago, Hoop did not have a game over 50 yards receiving and only recorded two more touchdowns.
It’s safe to say that simmered down expectations exponentially, and even had some questioning whether the Falcons would draft another tight-end or bring one in via free agency. Fortunately, those questioning Hooper were not members of the organization. Atlanta opted to stick with the Stanford product as their main receiving tight-end option, resulting in serious dividends.
Hooper is on pace to mash all of his career-bests. Through seven games, he’s become Matt Ryan’s safety blanket in the middle of the field, hauling in 33 passes for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the past three weeks alone, he has 21 receptions for 196 yards and a touchdown. Not to mention, a lot of these numbers are going to be deflated because of the number of weapons at Ryan’s disposal.
It’s plays like these and the one in Chicago that are becoming a lot more common.
— Jimmy Clarke (@JimmyClarke) October 23, 2018
As you can see, cornerback B.W Webb of the Giants has Hooper completely blanketed. However, this is a major mismatch with a 6’4″, 260-pound tight end on a much smaller defender. A good tight end, even if he doesn’t appear to be open, is open in this situation. Ryan recognizes it immediately and trusts his third-year tight-end to go up and make a play.
This is just another piece of the Falcons offense that seems to be marginally better than the year before. Hooper is blossoming into one of the better tight ends in the league and is still only 23 years old. Sure, Super Bowl windows don’t last forever, but with young talent like Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper and Ito Smith following the likes of Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu, it’s hard seeing this offense not being near the top of the league for quite some time.