Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper puts two feet on the floor as he gets out of bed each morning. He uses tooth paste when he brushes his teeth. When it rains, and he needs to walk somewhere, he tries to remember his umbrella. In these ways, he’s just like future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. But in most ways, he’s nothing like Gonzalez.
Gonzalez left a big wake after he retired. Jacob Tamme was a fantastic stopgap, but Hooper was the future. And so far, if we’re brutally honest, he hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations. Hooper earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 61.9 last season. (29th among NFL TEs; “below average,” according to PFF’s metrics.) His 526 receiving yards (10.7 yards/reception) and 3 touchdowns didn’t blow our socks off. That’s just not the sort of production you want from your starting tight end.
So why should you take a deep breath and stay tuned? To start, we know how Hooper is approaching the offseason. (According to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, Hooper is already back in Atlanta, participating in throwing sessions with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.) That’s initiative. What’s more, if we’re pointing a finger at Hooper, we have to point a second finger at offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sark has endured his fair share of flack, but head coach Dan Quinn gave him a vote of confidence after the divisional round loss in January. Quinn thinks Sark will get the offense going in 2018, and that includes getting more production from the tight end position. That’s a double-edged sword for Hooper; it puts him in a do or die situation. If he doesn’t produce now, the Falcons may move on. (And we know they’re already entertaining their options in free agency and the draft.)
There’s a scenario where everything clicks for Hooper. In my mind, that scenario isn’t far-fetched. Not at all.