by Ray Kuhn
I didn’t see it coming, not even a little bit… Even as it was happening I had my doubts… Perhaps that was a me problem?
After being drafted in the third round four years ago by the Falcons, Austin Hooper has incrementally improved each season and that culminated into him receiving a four year, $42 million contract with Cleveland this off-season. With $23 million of that deal guaranteed, it is clear that the Browns were serious about their investment. After his performance in 2019, it was warranted as it was readily apparent that he took the next steps in his progression.
Appearing in 13 games last season Hooper caught 75 passes for 787 yards and 6 TD, so the question is can he take things a step further in 2020? Is a 1,000 yard performance possible?
After he caught 71 passes in 2018, for 660 yards and 4 TD, Hooper’s success should have been more believable. He became a key part of Atlanta’s offense and eclipsed the century mark for yardage in two games. With a career high of eight receptions of greater than 20 yards, he became more of a big play threat. He will never be an explosive option thanks to a below average 6.8 yard mark for his average depth of target last season.
Hooper has proven to be a legitimate red zone target, and there is no reason why that shouldn’t continue in his new home. Between that and his efficiency, 78.1% catch rate and a drop rate of just 3.1%, we are looking at a legit TE1.
There is still one more issue to sort out, and that is the presence of David Njoku. Still just 23-years old, Njoku battled injuries for essentially all of last season as he caught five passes for 41 yards. Even after signing Hooper the Browns still appear to be committed to the former first round pick in some type of role.
Hooper is more of a traditional tight end than Njoku, and with the lack of a third receiver in Cleveland the latter could find himself in that role. At this point I’m taking a wait and see approach with Njoku, while looking at Hooper as a “safe option” at the tight end position.
In early drafts Hooper is the seventh tight end being selected with an ADP of 92. While Cleveland’s new addition has proven to be a capable option, I’m not sure there’s really much more we can expect. As far as ceiling’s go, the tight ends going directly after Hooper, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry, have higher ones.
Depending on how you build your team there is nothing wrong with Hooper’s predictability. For as talented as Cleveland’s offense might be on paper, there has to be some questions about how many more targets are possible for him than the 97 he had last year. While that puts a cap on his reception and yardage projections, double digit touchdowns are possible if Cleveland takes advantage of his red zone skills.
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: