Austin Hooper Became a Grown Man
Coming into the NFL at 6’4, 250 pounds, there aren’t too many people that were going to dwarf Austin Hooper, but this is a different breed of athletes we are talking about. And in Hooper’s first two professional seasons, he didn’t always appear to belong.
There were flashes, like in his rookie season when he came up with a ridiculous snag to put the Falcons up 14-0 in the Super Bowl, or on the opening weekend in 2017, when he literally buried a Bears defender into the ground.
— History of Sports (@BeforeFamePics) September 10, 2017
The issue has been finding that level of consistency. That was until 2018.
This past season, Hooper became Matt Ryan’s safety blanket in the middle of the field. On critical third downs, Hoop was usually a go-to target, and he came through more often than not. In year three, Hooper had more catches (71) than he had in his entire career (60) and he set a career-high in catch-rate % at 80.7. It was undoubtedly a breakout campaign from the Stanford product and something the Falcons can look forward to going into 2019.
The emergence of Foyesade Oluokon
Sure, he may have played his college football at Yale, but one glance at Oluokon and it’s easy to see he was born to play football. He’s quickly put on the size necessary to be an NFL linebacker and has become one of the surest tacklers on the team.
With all the injuries on the defense, Oluokon became an integral part at the second-level replacing Deion Jones. In 16 games including seven starts, he racked up 91 tackles. There’s no denying he found himself mixed up in coverages at times, but after all, he is a rookie.
He ran a sub 4.5 40-yard dash coming out of college and there were talks about him possibly transitioning to safety at the next level. After one year, it’s obvious he was born to be a linebacker and that he was a steal in the sixth round of last year’s draft. With Duke Riley being so disappointing in his first two seasons, it’s nice to have a player like Oluokon pan out and step up in his place.
Julio Jones did not forget how to catch a touchdown
Even though he’s been the most consistently great receiver of his generation, Julio Jones has had trouble racking up touchdowns. Only once has Jones finished a season with double-digit touchdown receptions, and he had just three in 2017 despite accounting for 1,444 yards in 16 games. The situation reached a boiling point when Jones failed to haul in a touchdown in the first seven games of this season.
Then this happened.
Julio Jones FINALLY scores a touchdown.
First TD since almost a full year. pic.twitter.com/oGaG4eG5YS
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 4, 2018
Yea, it might have been in garbage time and meant very little as far as the result of that game, but Falcons fans know how meaningful that play was. Jones went on to score a touchdown in the two games following and had eight touchdowns in the season’s final nine games, the most in the NFL over that span.
Damontae Kazee led the league in interceptions
Damontae Kazee is a player I’ve been high on since the Falcons drafted him in 2017 and was someone I thought might be able to contribute a lot more in his second year. Now, nobody could have predicted the bevy of significant injuries the Falcons would suffer, but Kazee made the best out of a terrible situation.
Stepping in for Keanu Neal and then Ricardo Allen, he became the most reliable player in the Atlanta secondary and finished tied for the league-lead in interceptions with seven. He added 82 tackles to those seven interceptions, showing his willingness to get physical, something that will always help you earn playing time on a Dan Quinn defense.
According to Quinn himself, both Neal and Allen are set to be healthy and ready for the start of next season. They will have the opportunity to retain their starting spots, but there is no doubt, the Falcons are going to have to find a place for Kazee on the field in 2019, and that’s a fantastic problem to have.