Austin Hooper joined the Falcons as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 21 year old with tons of potential. Scouts worried about his hands and route running, but the Falcons saw something. They saw a guy that could one day grow into a franchise tight end. They saw a potential Pro Bowler. Three years later, Hooper has proven them right. And no one is saying anything about hands.
Hooper racked up 71 receptions (4th among TEs), 660 receiving yards (7th among TEs), and four receiving touchdowns (9th among TEs) in 2018. His Pro Football Focus ratings were solid: 68.5 overall (#23 TE), 67.5 receiving (#20 TE), 65.4 run blocking (#23 TE), and 72.0 pass blocking (#15 TE). (For what it’s worth, each of those ratings are “above average,” according to their metrics.) Hooper was incredibly efficient, showcasing a catch rate of 80.7 percent, best among NFL TEs. In short, Hooper became the safety blanket we’d hope he could be this season. The Falcons offense and quarterback Matt Ryan once again have an elite TE at their disposal.
Hooper will turn 25 in October during his fourth year as a professional. The Falcons have eased him into his current role to some degree, so he arguably has less tread on his tires than some similarly situated players. Hooper’s best years are likely ahead of him, and given the relative longevity of TEs in the NFL, Hooper may wind up sticking on this roster longer than most of his current teammates. I won’t be surprised if Hooper plays a decade in Atlanta.
Hooper’s current contract expires after next season. He has three accrued seasons and would be an unrestricted free agent if he reaches free agency. I highly doubt that will happen, given how last year played out. Hooper made the Pro Bowl during his third year as a professional and there’s no reason to doubt his ability to contribute at a similar clip going forward. Given Flowery Branch’s current financial situation, Hooper will need to stand in line a while waiting for an extension, but I can’t see a scenario where the Falcons don’t try to make it work.
Hooper is suddenly one of the most important offensive weapons in the Falcons’ arsenal. We watched him grow into an elite tight end this season. The Falcons may look to address Hooper’s extension this summer, but don’t be dismayed if they wait until the season kicks off to hash out a new deal. Hooper ain’t going nowhere.
Your thoughts, Falcoholics?