Here is a breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft: Stanford tight end Austin Hooper.
BIO & VITALS
Height: 6’3 ¾”
Arm Length: 33 ¾”
Hand Size: 10 ⅝”
40 Time: 4.72 (Combine), 4.68 (pro day)
Three Cone: 7.00
Bench Press: 19 reps
Vertical Jump: 33″
Broad Jump: 117″
Austin Manuel Hooper was born on November 4, 1994 in San Mateo, CA and went to De La Salle High School in Concord, CA. His father Michael played defensive end at San Diego State from 1984 to 1987, while his uncle Greg played fullback at Stanford from 1979 to 1982. He has another uncle Chip that played professional tennis throughout the 1980s.
He served as a team captain during his senior year at De La Salle, when his team went undefeated and was ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN.
He redshirted his first year at Stanford, but earned 10 starts in 13 appearances as a freshman. He finished second on the team with 40 receptions for 499 yards (12.5 avg) and two touchdowns on his way to earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors. He followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign, tying for second on the team with 34 catches for 438 yards (12.9 avg) and six touchdowns. He also blocked an extra point while working on special teams. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention and third-team AP All-American. He was also one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end.
He declared for the NFL Draft after his redshirt sophomore. Hooper was one of Stanford’s primary receiving targets in their run-heavy attack. He was often subbed out in run situations in favor of better blocking tight ends or offensive linemen, but did manage to somewhat pull his weight as a blocker. The majority of his snaps as a pass-catcher came when he was flexed out in the slot and occasionally lined up wide of the formation like a wide receiver. Also scored 29 on his Wonderlic.
2015 GAMES WATCHED
Note: scroll right to see more stats.
Key: YAC – Yards After Catch; UC – Uncatchable Pass; KB – Key Block; MB – Missed Block
|Sep 05||at Northwestern||7||5||45||17||0||1||0||0||0||1||illegal sub|
|Sep 19||at USC||5||4||79||22||1||0||0||1||0||0||N/A|
|Sep 25||at Oregon State||2||2||50||13||1||0||0||0||0||0||N/A|
|Jan 01||vs. Iowa||4||3||23||17||0||0||0||2||0||1||false start|
SKILLS: How Good Is He?
Skills are graded on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Speed (6.0): Hooper is a long-strider that can build speed when he has room to run. This makes him most effective when he’s flexed out wide of the formation or uncovered as an inline tight end. Has the speed and capability to stretch the seam vertically, but not a real threat to run past most NFL defenders due to average burst and acceleration. His short-area quickness isn’t particularly special because he tends to be a higher-cut athlete that can’t bend and dip adequately.
Hands (8.0): Has large hands that allow him to catch particularly well. Does a good job extending for grabs and catching the ball away from his body. Will drop some passes on occasion, but they are relatively rare and more have to do with concentration issues.
Blocking (3.5): An underwhelming blocker that is effective at times because he can get position against a defender, but rarely moves opponents off the ball. Struggles to create push upon initial contact and has a tendency to get knocked back himself by collegiate linebackers and linemen. Tends to play too high and lacks balance as a blocker, causing him to get overextended and whiffing on many assignments as an inline blocker. Less effective inline and will likely struggle to block NFL-sized defensive ends and linebackers. Most of his better blocks come out in space or when he’s on the move, usually matched up against a smaller defensive back. Comfortable acting as a lead blocker in the hole, pulling across the line and making trap blocks from time to time as an H-back.
The first GIF shows Hooper’s effectiveness against smaller defenders:
The second shows his struggles as an inline blocker:
Body Control (7.0): Has good ball skills and does a nice job adjusting to and attacking the ball in the air on a fairly consistent basis. Can extend for high passes, timing his jumps well and can make the low, diving grab going to the turf. Does a nice job positioning himself in traffic to box out defenders.
Here’s a GIF showcasing his ability to adjust to the ball in the air:
Route-Running (6.0): A capable route-runner that has room to grow like most collegiate pass-catchers. He lacks ideal quickness and burst to really gain separation from opposing defenders and thrives on effective body positioning and using his large frame to box out defenders. Shows ability to make sharp cuts on outs and ins as well as option routes but he won’t be a mismatch for athletic NFL linebackers and safeties. Does a nice job finding soft spots against zone coverage, settling in and making the grab.
Range (6.0): Not a threat to make plays all over the field, mostly thriving on the short and intermediate routes that are better suited for him to use his size to his advantage. A reliable outlet receiver over the middle that has some seam-stretching potential due to his size and length to extend for high throws. But he’s not going to compel most defenses to think twice about not providing safety help to defenders over the middle. Can be effective after the catch due to building a head of steam and powering through tacklers, but lacks the speed, acceleration or burst to really run away from defenders.
Click here for more information about my grading system.
Starting Prospect (5.6) – Has the potential to be a quality starter on your team but rarely will be considered a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Typically among the better complementary starters on your roster, but won’t excel or impact on a weekly basis and typically plays at a relatively consistent, above-average level. Typically can play a significant role right away but ideally will be given at least a year or two to develop before receiving extensive reps. A solid pick in the Top 75 but would be considered a reach before the middle of the second round.
NFL FORECAST: How Do His Skills Project to the NFL?
Hooper has the capability to be a solid starting tight end in the NFL, but he’s probably never going to be the type of player that really scares defenses. He’s probably ideally suited to be the third or fourth option in a good passing attack, yet he does possess the capability to be more.
The problem he’s going to face is that it’s becoming more in vogue to have tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed that create mismatches in the middle of the defense and Hooper is simply not going to be one of those players. While a good athlete, he’s unexceptional in that regard to think that most competent starting linebackers can be able to stick with him in coverage.
If he’s going to excel in the NFL, Hooper will have to win with his superior size and length, taking advantage of smaller defenders because he’s the type of player that can push them around like an NBA power forward as shown here:
While that method can certainly be effective, it’s not going to be as consistent and reliable as someone who is a truly dynamic athlete at the position. Hooper isn’t going to wreck defenses because even when he can exploit a mismatch, he’s not dynamic enough to make you pay for it after the catch.
Hooper shouldn’t have too much of an issue being at least an average starter at the next level, but whether he excels beyond that level will largely depend on his ability to build a strong rapport with his quarterback. If his quarterback trusts that he can be a reliable, winning option in traffic, then he’ll be a productive despite the fact that he never will jump off the screen as a dynamic player.
In that sense, you’re probably looking at a player comparable to someone like Zach Miller (formerly of the Seattle Seahawks). Miller was a highly productive tight end for four years with the Oakland Raiders, averaging about 56 receptions, 678 yards and three touchdowns per season during his time there. But that was in part due to the fact that he was playing on a Raiders roster that was very limited talent-wise at wide receiver.
Miller also was productive as a Raider at a point when the NFL still was a base-heavy league, which allowed him more instances of being matched up against slower-footed linebackers. Hooper won’t have that luxury, although his size could be advantageous when facing smaller safeties in man coverage as he faces more nickel defenses.
When Miller went to Seattle in 2012, his production saw a sharp decline in part because he was surrounded by better receiving talent (although few would say Seattle was loaded at that position) and his targets were nearly cut in half.
If Hooper has a quarterback that trusts him and doesn’t have the compete too much for balls with more dynamic outside threats at wide receiver, he has the potential to be an above-average producer as a starting tight end.
If Hooper is forced into a situation where he doesn’t have those things going for him, he can still be a capable NFL tight end but probably won’t ever be reliable enough to prevent his team from exploring better options eventually. And like Miller was in Seattle, he might just wind up being a competent, but unspectacular starter over the long haul.
FALCONS FORECAST: How Does He Project in Atlanta?
In Atlanta, Hooper should have a good opportunity to reach his peak potential. In that way he reminds me more of a player like Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph than Miller in terms of his potential production and impact.
Like Rudolph, Hooper shouldn’t be overshadowed by playing opposite many wide receivers in Atlanta that demand a high workload besides Julio Jones of course. Also, Hooper has the potential to be an impactful red-zone target.
His size and hands should make him a reliable target and his ability to box out defenders could become a major asset in the end zone. Yet again, it’s going to all depend on the rapport he builds with quarterback Matt Ryan. If Ryan trusts him, then Hooper should become a very effective red-zone weapon because he’ll get some jump ball opportunities even when he’s effectively covered . If not, then he should certainly contribute but may not have the gaudy numbers that he’s potentially capable of.
The reason why the rapport is so important to Hooper’s success moving forward is because of the aforementioned point that he isn’t a player that is going to regularly create mismatches against defenders. As a player that doesn’t create a ton of separation, a lot of the passes thrown his way are going to be instances where his quarterback trusts him to win in traffic. Hooper did this well at Stanford, but that isn’t a guarantee that he’ll do it well enough early in his career in Atlanta to allow him to blossom as a starter.
But there’s a good possibility he will and eventually that should allow him to surpass Jacob Tamme as the Falcons starting tight end. Tamme is a free agent after the 2016 season and it represents a natural opportunity for Hooper to start come 2017, similar to how the Falcons plugged Levine Toilolo into the starting lineup during his second season in 2014 after the retirement of Tony Gonzalez.
But despite sharing the same alma mater, there’s reason to believe that Hooper’s transition into the starting lineup will go much better than Toilolo’s. Unlike Toilolo, Hooper shouldn’t be miscast in the Falcons offense under offensive Kyle Shanahan like the former was under Dirk Koetter.
Hooper does his best work being flexed out and it’ll be worth monitoring whether or not Shanahan will regularly feature this aspect of his game, since it should allow for a much smoother transition into the NFL. It will also challenge defenses more to cover him with corners and safeties, which should allow Hooper more favorable matchups given his superior size.
Despite that size, Hooper isn’t a great inline tight end because of his limited blocking ability. He certainly has room to grow there, but at his best he’ll probably be a below average blocker.
This shouldn’t become a glaring issue in the future as long as he can compensate in the passing game. But I don’t expect Hooper to be so effective as a pass-catcher that you largely ignore his frequent appearances as a blocking liability much in the same way that occurred for Gonzalez in the past. Instead Hooper will probably be closer to Tamme in that regard, where his weakness as a blocker is a bit more apparent because the scale isn’t quite balanced.
And it’s that blocking issue that does temper my expectations that Hooper will come in and start right away for the Falcons. Toilolo started 15 games last year as the team’s blocking tight end, as they preferred to begin their games with someone who could help out on early run downs. However Tamme managed to play about 250 or so more offensive snaps over the course of the season than Toilolo, making him the true leader at the position despite half the number of actual starts.
Hooper is better suited for the Tamme’s role as an H-back, which should allow Toilolo to breathe a bit easier moving forward since his blocking skills are still going to be needed in the future.
Hooper is certainly good enough to carve into Tamme’s role as the team’s primary pass-catcher, but probably not quite poised to completely overtake the latter unless an injury gives Hooper an added opportunity.
Ultimately Hooper has the potential to be a capable second option in the passing game for the Falcons behind Jones like Rudolph has been over the years behind the likes of Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings and Stefon Diggs in Minnesota. He has the potential to be a reliable option on third downs and in the red zone, but he’s not going to be a consistent playmaker elsewhere on the field.
Instead Hooper is probably ideally suited to be the third option that can be chain-mover and red-zone threat, but plays behind Jones and another playmaker at wide receiver that can handle much of the work between the 20-yard lines.
I think we’ll probably see steady production from him that should allow him to approach 50 to 60 receptions per year with the capacity for more at his maximum potential.
He’ll definitely give the team a much more valuable option in the red zone than Tamme does, but I’m not quite sure he’s poised to carve his name in the pantheon of great tight ends that the Falcons have featured this century in Gonzalez and Alge Crumpler.
It’s a much safer bet that Hooper will be a tier or so below those guys, becoming an asset for the Falcons moving forward yet won’t have a world-shattering impact. He should be a great benefit to Ryan, whose game seems to greatly benefit from having a reliable outlet in the middle of the field.
Hooper should be successful and have a productive career in Atlanta. It may be too much to expect him to be a dominant player here, but he’s an upgrade over what the team has already at tight end and that should bear out over the next few seasons.
The biggest lingering question is going to be four years from now when Hooper’s rookie contract is up, whether or not he’s developed a strong enough rapport with Ryan that will prevent the Falcons from seeking further upgrades at the position.
I think he has the ability to develop that steady rapport and become a fixture at the tight end spot in Atlanta for the better part of the next decade.