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Report: Austin Hooper to miss ‘about’ a month with MCL injury, but team signals differently

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This is very bad news for the Falcons offense, which had been incorporating him heavily.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Austin Hooper has gone from promising-but-green rookie tight end to Pro Bowl-caliber stud at the position in the span of four years. It’s been inspiring to watch him get better year after year, and in 2019, he was heading for easily his best season ever. Now, cruelly, he may not get much of a chance to build on his stellar campaign.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Hooper is expected to miss about a month, which could knock him out until Week 15 or later. The Falcons quite obviously are going to be a lesser team without him around.

Rapoport is pretty reliable, but the Falcons and other plugged-in reporters were quick to downplay that report today in Dan Quinn’s Wednesday presser.

I’d be more inclined to trust outside reports than the team, but Vaughn McClure is also quite reliable, which gives us some hope that Hooper won’t miss more than a couple of weeks. Regardless of the timeline, this constitutes a bit of a crisis for a Falcons offense that has not been as effective this year as in years past. Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith are out at running back, Mohamed Sanu was traded away at wide receiver, and now Hooper is on the shelf as well. The Falcons still have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to throw to, but nearly everyone else is either unproven or doesn’t have a great track record of success, which means they have to hope Russell Gage, Jaeden Graham, and others are poised to take a step forward.

Graham is the obvious choice to taken on a larger role in this offense with Hooper gone. Luke Stocker will probably see his snaps increase but has not been much of a receiving option for Atlanta, while Graham has shown flashes of brilliance as a receiver. The team could simply promote Carson Meier from the practice squad if they wanted to fill out the depth chart that way, but with Hooper expected to miss about a month, they’ll probably dip their toes into free agency in the hopes of staying afloat.

Unfortunately, it’s slim pickings out there. Logan Paulsen is available and is both a steady blocker and a fine situational receiver, and Eric Saubert could be re-poached off the Raiders practice squad and probably should be given his age, familiarity with this team, and lingering upside. Otherwise you’re looking at players like Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Dwayne Allen who have at least some history of serving as productive receiving options in other offenses around the NFL. There’s no one who is going to come close to Hooper, obviously, but unless the team really thinks Graham is ready to step into a major role, they’re gonna need somebody.

We just hope Hooper heals up well and gets back into action this year, because he deserves to build on his latest breakout campaign.