For all the Falcons fans wondering when Austin Hooper would have his breakout season, he finally emerged in 2019. Unfortunately for those Atlanta fans, Hooper will be taking his talents to Cleveland to play with Baker Mayfield and the Browns. Despite playing in his fewest games during a season, he had career highs in targets, catches, yardage, and touchdowns. Furthermore, his fantasy season would have been elite if Hooper didn’t suffer devastatingly nagging injuries. Although his ability to succeed in spite of his injuries means that he has made the improvement necessary to remain a solid fantasy TE.
In only 13 games last season, Austin Hooper had 97 targets, hauled in 75 catches, totaled 787 receiving yards, and scored six touchdowns. Consequently, Hooper generated 191.7 fantasy points with an average of 14.7 points per game. This production made Hooper the sixth-best TE in fantasy football, and thus the best tier-two TE in fantasy football. Astonishingly, he was able to achieve this success while only recording a 14.5% target share. This makes him an efficient tight end who maximizes his targets and receptions.
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Heading into next season, Austin Hooper is projected to generate similar fantasy production. He is expected to be TE6, haul in 75.1 receptions for 787.2 receiving yards, and catch 6.2 TDs. Therefore, he would score 191 fantasy points with an average of 11.9 points. Although this is taking Hooper’s injury history into account, which underestimates his potential output. Barring an injury, Hooper will slightly increase his production and be a more reliable tight end.
Austin Hooper finished 2019 with his highest receiving grade of his career at 80.5, ranking 7th among all TE's.
Hooper had only 2 drops on 93 targets all season. pic.twitter.com/w9XbN509Bh
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) January 8, 2020
Auction Value: $13
Austin Hooper’s current ADP and auction value aren’t horrible, but they are not as great a bargain compared to other tier-two TEs. Taking him in the sixth round is satisfactory, but drafting Darren Waller is a better investment because he is in a less crowded receiving corps. Although if you haven’t selected a tight end by the middle of the seventh round, this is where Hooper will be the best investment. Moreover, Hooper is a reliable asset for risk-averse managers because he is more reliable than Hunter Henry and Evan Engram due to their injury histories. Furthermore, Hooper’s $13 auction price is better than Mark Andrews’ $15 because he has a higher ceiling.
Having to compete for targets with Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will make it challenging for Hooper to reach his ceiling consistently. Given that Jarvis Landry has ranked top-ten in the NFL for targets over the last three seasons, Hooper will be extraordinarily limited by Landry’s presence. Although Hooper excelled playing with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, so this shouldn’t drop Hooper outside of top-ten TE status.
Kevin Stefanski’s emphasis on receiving RBs will also make it difficult for Hooper to produce. While he was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, Stefanski was able to maximize Dalvin Cook’s receiving skills. In fact, Cook had career highs in targets, receptions, and receiving yardage during his single season with Stefanski. This indicates that RBs, Kareem Hunt, and Nick Chubb, will poach away opportunities from Hooper.
Austin Hooper’s fantasy ceiling was up there with elite TEs like Zach Ertz and Darren Waller in 2019. Last season, he had the third-highest average fantasy points recorded by a tight end despite a significant knee injury. More importantly, his 19.8 point average between weeks three and eight signals that he has the potential to be a tier-one TE when healthy. If he can stay healthy, Hooper should still perform as a top-five TE because his efficiency only dropped off after suffering an MCL sprain.
Austin Hooper’s ceiling is most evident in the red-zone, where he was one target away from the league-high for red-zone targets. The fact that he was able to accomplish this despite his injury signals that he should be amongst the NFL’s best scoring TEs if he can stay healthy. This would lead him to have multiple explosive games because touchdown success is the best way to maximize fantasy value.
Cleveland Browns Offense
According to Football Outsiders, the Browns offense was subpar in terms of turnovers per drive and drive success rate with Freddie Kitchens as their head coach. This shoddy production, coupled with lousy play-calling, caused most Browns pass-catchers to have disappointing fantasy seasons. However, with Kevin Stefanski taking over as the new Browns coach, the offense will look completely different.
For starters, Stefanski’s system will be more run-oriented than Kitchens’ was. This will benefit players like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt because Stefanski emphasizes play-action to open up the run game. This emphasis will probably also assist Austin Hooper against man coverage, where he sometimes struggles to get separation.
Another benefit of Stefanski’s system is that he puts his tight ends in a position to maximize their red-zone targets. Despite ranking outside the top ten for red-zone targets, TE Kyle Rudolph tied for the fourth-most touchdowns amongst all TEs. This was best illustrated during the tail end of the 2019 season, where Rudolph was a highly coveted fantasy asset. Given that Hooper is a better receiver than Rudolph, he could have the most TE touchdowns with Stefanski as his coach.
Strength of Schedule
Within the AFC North, Austin Hooper will encounter some difficulty against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Steelers will most likely be his toughest contest because they are a stingy defense that ranked in the top-three for pass defense efficiency, according to football outsiders. Likewise, Baltimore will be a challenging matchup because Patrick Queen, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith make up a formidable defensive unit. Although, Cincinnati’s lackluster defensive efficiency signals that they will be a weaker defense.
Outside of the AFC North, the Cowboys, Redskins, and Titans project to be Hooper’s easiest competition because they ranked in the bottom ten in fantasy points vs. TEs. Dallas lost many talented secondary players such as CB Byron Jones and safety Jeff Heath, so their defense is likely to regress even more. Conversely, the Jets and Eagles could be two of his stricter games because they are stingy against TE fantasy points. Considering that the Jets were a top ten efficient defense, they will be one of the most surprisingly tough games.
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