Austin Hooper has emerged as a consistent receiving option for the Atlanta Falcons at the tight end position, but this season, the fourth year player is hoping to further cement a permanent spot in the offensive rotation as the team looks toward a playoff berth.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn believes his starting tight end is on the cusp of taking a major step forward and becoming a legitimate threat in the passing game.
“Hooper, the improvement just keeps getting better,” Quinn said, via AJC.
“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.”
The tight end caught 71 passes against 88 targets from Matt Ryan last season for 660 total yards and four receiving touchdowns in his third NFL season.
Those numbers represent an increase from the 49 catches Hooper had against his 65 targets from Ryan for 526 yards and three touchdowns in the 2017 season when Atlanta made the playoffs.
Moreover, Hooper caught nearly 81 percent of the passes targeted for him by Ryan, the NFL’s best mark at the tight end position all last season.
But the player says there are still some hurdles towards his becoming the kind of player at the position that he wants to be.
The secret to making that progress was getting on the same mental wavelength with his quarterback, putting himself in position to make the most of the situations in front of them.
“It’s evident by how many opportunities you get,” he told Bleacher Report this offseason. “Just understanding that, in this situation, Matt’s brain thinks like this, so knowing the way Matt thinks versus this specific look, then I need to use my best stuff right here.”
Matt Ryan has a number of options at his disposal throwing the football, in addition to Hooper, including Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley, but having a solid receiver at tight end gives the Falcons a match-up advantage against smaller defensive backs downfield.
With the combination of Hooper’s improvement, Ryan’s passing efficiency, and the talent of their wide receivers, the Falcons believe they can make another run for the playoffs out of the NFC this season.