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Scouting Austin Hooper: The Element of the Big Play

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The Falcons added firepower to their offense with Stanford tight end.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With their third round pick, the Falcons selected Stanford tight end Austin Hooper. Hooper has the make up of a player who can step in right away to compete for playing time with Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo.

Outside of Julio Jones and the occasional burst from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta lacked a player who could be a source of big plays. Austin Hooper can provide that and a bit more.

Hooper was one of the better athletes at tight end in this class; for a team that's looking to get faster on both sides of the ball, this was a nice get. He's shown the ability get over the top of defenses and beat coverages deep for big plays.

Hooper wasn't ultra-productive over his career at Stanford (74 catches, 937 yards, 8 touchdowns), but the traits he flashed showed a future starter capable of being extremely productive.

Tight ends in Kyle Shanahan's offense have to show strength, toughness, and the ability to earn a quarterback's trust over the middle of field. Jacob Tamme's games versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins are perfect examples of this. The tight end acts as a safety valve in the middle of the field.

This was an area that Hooper excelled in as well. He was routinely fearless over the middle of the field no matter how many defenders were directly in front of him.

Here's another example from Stanford's game against Notre Dame. It was a short gain that didn't reach the first down marker, but he held strong after receiving the big hit and completed the pass.

Catches over the middle wasn't the only area where Hooper's receiving was proficient. Not every catch is going to be made through a window; being able to fight for the ball is a necessary trait and Hooper displayed that with one of the most spectacular catches of the season versus USC.

An impressive part of this play is how natural Hooper looks split out wide. He smoothly beats the zone redirect by the corner, zips downfield, and makes the incredible catch. His versatility within Stanford's offense was a major component for the Cardinal and it should directly translate to the NFL.

Hooper brings a legitimate redzone target for Matt Ryan and will put pressure on defenses near the endzone. Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Jacob Tamme, and now Austin Hooper (on paper) sounds like a group that should play well within the 20 yard line.

On a team that runs outside zone as a staple of their run offense, the tight end can often find himself in a position where he has to execute key blocks to seal linebackers on the edge, or kick them out to the sideline. Technically, Hooper isn't a great blocker, but he gives great effort in the run game.

Hooper consistently brings the competitive toughness that Dan Quinn consistently preaches about. That was a recurring theme with the players that the Falcons brought in this offseason, and Hooper is another player who fits that mindset.

The biggest issue that Hooper needs to clean up is his blocking technique. At times he can get overaggressive with his blocks and lose balance against heavier and more athletic defenders. Still, it's better to have a player you need to dial back instead of try to reach new levels of physicality.

A strong argument can be made that Hooper was the best value pick of the draft for the Falcons. He's brimming with potential and already has some polished, nuanced skills to be productive right off the bat. Hooper probably won't begin the season as the starting tight end, but no one should be surprised if he holds the starting spot by the middle or the end of the season.

Stay tuned for a breakdown for newly drafted linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.

What do you think of the Falcons selection of Austin Hooper?