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PFF warns not to overpay Austin Hooper

The analytics site claims Hooper’s stats are inflated, ranking him well below other free agent tight ends.

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Austin Hooper is about to get paid. His future with the Falcons looks dicey at best as the team remains in cap hell. Despite missing three games, Hooper had 75 receptions for 787 yards, 6 touchdowns, and a Michael Thomas-esque 10.5 yards per reception. At only 25, Hooper has earned a big deal.

He comes in at 17 in this free agency ranking while Spotrac projects his market value at 5 years, $49.9 million. However, analytics website Pro Football Focus tells buyers to beware. In fact, he slots in between Jimmie Ward and Breshard Perriman in their free agent rankings. Ouch.

[Hooper’s] more of a dependable, complementary piece rather than a mismatch creator. Since 2016, Hooper has gained 75.5% of his receiving production on targets defined as holes in zones or underneath the defense (think drag routes, flat routes) — by far the highest percentage in the league. Add to it that Hooper has just a 58.9 receiving grade against single coverage since 2016, and it’s clear that his production has largely been a product of the situation in Atlanta.

This may be a bit blunt from PFF, but not terribly unfair. Falcons fans saw future free agents like George Kittle blow up in their matchup. Both Hooper and Kittle are great players, but Kittle has been a much better mismatch and a beast in the run game.

At the same time, Hooper typically runs those underneath routes, similar to other tight ends with established outside pass catchers like Vance McDonald, Mark Andrews, Kyle Rudolph, and Michael Thomas.

PFF, however, ranks Hooper as the third best tight end in free agency. Hooper slides in at the 37th best player, behind Hunter Henry at 15 and Eric Ebron at 30. Both of those players will certainly be cheaper thanks to injuries and age, respectively.

I think there is better value in Henry and Ebron, but substantially more risk. It is tough to guess what Henry or Ebron will make on the market, but if the Falcons are trying to save $3 million per year, they should find that money elsewhere and take the dependable, complementary piece that has become so instrumental in Matt Ryan’s game. Also, we have seen Thomas Dimitroff try to replace great tight ends before.