Coming off a disappointing season, Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons are looking to bounce back with one of the best rosters in the NFL. The team saw a great defensive surge last year but also had a small setback on offense. Thankfully, the team maintained almost all of their team as well as added a few pieces through the draft and free agency. For the 2018 season, the Falcons have set their eyes on the Super Bowl and there are a few players poised for breakout seasons to help achieve that goal. The first candidate for Falcons breakout player of the year is the third-year tight end Austin Hooper.
Over the next few days, I’ll be going over three of my top candidates for a breakout year with the Falcons
Atlanta Falcons Breakout Player Candidates: Austin Hooper
The Falcons have a plethora of offensive weapons this year. From Julio Jones to Devonta Freeman to Calvin Ridley, it’s easy to forget about the main target at tight end for Matt Ryan. Hooper is entering into his third year in Atlanta after a successful career at Stanford. Last year, he racked up 526 receiving yards and three touchdowns while posting a catch rate of 75 percent and hauling in 49 receptions. That might seem like he had a very poor year but in reality, he was middle of the pack when considering him against other tight ends in the NFL. The addition of Ridley will help Hooper immensely as it lessens the expectations but also will take more attention away from Hooper.
If you take a look at Hooper’s stats the last two years, he’s improved in every statistical category (stayed the same in touchdowns) from 2016 to 2017. He certainly shows the speed, athleticism, and route-running to have a good year but his biggest problem is his hands. He can catch the ball well but he still has a hard time catching in traffic and coming down with the ball through contact.
His off-season preparations are part of the reason why he’s due for a breakout year. This year, he sacrificed free time during the summer to practice privately during the summer with Matt Ryan. He’s also worked a lot this summer on his blocking as “The tight end role is everything,” Falcons tight end coach Wade Harmon said. “He’s a run blocker, he’s a pass protector, he runs routes, he could be split out like a receiver, he could be in the backfield like a back – he could be all over the place. Second to the quarterback, he has to learn more than anybody. A quarterback obviously has to learn the most, but [Hooper] is involved in everything.”
“He’s done a great job, he really has,” Matt Ryan said. “Your third year is always a time when you start to get comfortable within your routine, within the offense. I think continuity within the offense is huge. He’s got a clear understanding of what is expected of him, of how we’re going to use him. I think all of those things make you more confident and comfortable as a player. He’s looked very good in the spring. I think he’s had really good practices and OTAs, he’s looked good in the individual periods. I’ve been impressed with Austin this offseason.”
As for Hooper’s stats, he has an opportunity for a better jump year-to-year than he did in 2017. This year, I would probably have him at about 55 receptions for 600-650 yards and five touchdowns. While those seem like pretty modest numbers, that would be a top 10 season out of all tight ends in the NFL (according to last years statistics).
Words of praise from an MVP quarterback and a great coach certainly bode well for him as well as his off-season preparations. “There’s a lot of stuff in my game I want to clean up,” Hooper said. “It’s just little things every single day that you can constantly improve on. The hay is never in the barn, you’ve just got to keep grinding day in and day out.” He certainly still has work to do before week one in Philadelphia but his willingness to work coupled with his natural talent should have Falcons fans excited for Hooper this season.