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Dan Quinn looks for Austin Hooper to reach “another level” in year four

Hooper has gradually improved every season in his NFL career, and Quinn expects that to continue.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Hooper turned himself into a key cog within Atlanta’s offense last season, serving as one of Matt Ryan’s most reliable receiving options with an 80.7% catch percentage. He excelled in his role, and parlayed his improved overall play into a Pro Bowl appearance.

Head coach Dan Quinn now expects even more from the one-time Stanford tight end turned third round draft selection in 2016, especially with former Falcons offensive coordinator and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey at the helm as the new tight ends coach.

Hooper, the improvement just keeps getting better,” Quinn said “Now, he’s ready to go to another level, and I’m looking forward to seeing him make that growth. The addition of having Mike here, he’s done everything that Mike has asked in terms of getting him ready. That connection has been good.”

Mularkey added to the expectation of his new primary TE piece: “I think he can be that way (one of the elite tight ends in the NFL) if he continues on the path that he’s taken since his rookie year.”

For Hooper that path has consisted of yearly improvement and development, since he entered the league in 2016. Hooper has seen his number of targets, receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and catch percentage all gradually increase on a year to year basis.

The summit of his performance thus far in his career came last season, with 71 receptions, 660 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns, on an 80.7% catch percentage. Those numbers don’t jump out at you on paper, but all of them are good for top 10 in the league at the TE position, with that catch percentage being first among all TEs and fourth among all NFL players.

Hooper put in some extra work with quarterback Matt Ryan before Training Camp last offseason, and you could tell that he attained an added level of trust from Ryan throughout the regular season. Hooper averaged 5.5 targets per game and provided Ryan with a 108.3 passer rating when targeted; an improvement from the 4.06 targets per game he got in 2017, which was parlayed into a 94.8 passer rating when targeted. The 88 total targets he received in 2018 was good for top 10 among all TEs in the NFL.

Hooper was also within the top 10 at his position in total air yards (452), red zone receptions (9), red zone target share (17.6%), and target separation (1.91 yards).

If he improves on these numbers in year four, another Pro Bowl selection will likely be in his near future.