Austin Hooper has been receiving endless praise this offseason — first from his coaching staff, and now from his quarterback. Head coach Dan Quinn and tight ends coach Mike Mularkey said they expect the talented Hooper to reach another level this season. Now, Matt Ryan is comparing him to the position’s all-time great — Tony Gonzalez.
“Both of them are similar in that they’ve got great length. A lot of his (Gonzalez’s) separation was due to how long he was and his body position. Not necessarily breaking people off with his route, but being in the right position with his body to be able to extend and catch. And Hoop’s very much the same way in that he’s got great length and has the ability to use his length to be able to create separation.” Ryan said.
It’s a QB’s dream to have a pass catcher, or collection of pass catchers, who can create great separation and find themselves open through the progression of the route. I previously talked in detail about how Atlanta’s WR trio gets this done, and Hooper himself is incredibly formidable in the separation department as well.
“They also catch the ball, extend it from their bodies really well, and that’s a huge advantage, specifically in third down and red zone situations where windows are gonna be tight. You’ve gotta be able to extend and have strong hands. Both of those guys do a great job of that,” Ryan continued.
Gonzalez was one of Ryan’s most reliable targets in his time in Atlanta, and he acted as the team’s safety blanket over the middle in third down and red zone situations. Hooper has reprised that role for the Falcons and has gradually earned Ryan’s trust over time.
Gonzalez spent the last five years of his career in a Falcon uniform, four of which were Pro Bowl seasons, and he helped to ease Ryan’s transition from young QB to elite franchise cornerstone.
Gonzalez tallied 4,187 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns as a Falcon. Atlanta has been looking to fill the shoes Gonzalez has left empty since his retirement, following the 2013 season, and Hooper has done a decent job of stepping in to fill them.
Hooper was top 10 among all TEs in the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, catch percentage, receiving touchdowns, total air yards, red zone receptions, red zone target share, and target separation in 2018. That resulted in a first career Pro Bowl appearance for the Stanford alum.
Of course, Hooper has a long way to go before being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the gold standard of the tight end position, but he did everything asked of him by the Falcons last season.
Austin Hooper doesn’t have to be Tony Gonzalez for the Falcons to be successful, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect that of him, he just needs to be Austin Hooper. But to be told that your game is reminiscent of Gonzalez’s, by Tony’s longtime QB, is a compliment of the highest order. After all, Tony Gonzalez is getting inducted as a First Ballot Hall of Famer.