The top free-agent tight end on the market, former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper wasted no time agreeing to terms with the Cleveland Browns. The deal’s specifics are undisclosed, and nothing is official until Wednesday.
At only 25 years old, Hooper has recorded four years of at least three touchdowns scored in an offense that has featured a wealth of talent around him. He turned the corner as a sophomore and became a reliable target for quarterback Matt Ryan, developing a chemistry that would help create one of fantasy football’s best tight ends over the last two seasons.
Hooper caught 49 of 65 targets in 2017 to produce 526 yards and a trio of scores. His third year led to a substantial jump in attention from Ryan. Hooper finished the year with a line of 71-660-4 on 88 targets, and he capped off his Falcons career with career highs in receptions (75), yardage (787) and touchdowns (six) and looks (97).
The Browns have plenty of offensive pieces in place, and now this team became that much more dangerous. A West Coast-flavored offense will be implemented by new head coach Kevin Stefanski, and Hooper gives quarterback Baker Mayfield a trustworthy safety blanket. Tight end David Njoku had a falling out last year with the previous regime, so he could stick around as a specialty player, but the Browns will likely entertain offers for his services.
Fantasy football outlook
On talent alone, Hooper has been somewhat of an overachiever in his career, but this situation isn’t all that much different for him than his Atlanta days. Hooper will have to contend with one heck of a receiver in Jarvis Landry and an elite ball hog in Odell Beckham Jr. This situation is even worse in terms of available looks in a run-based system. Furthermore, Kareem Hunt’s return will undoubtedly cut into Hooper’s targets underneath in the passing game.
That leaves the big question of how many targets can we expect to go Hooper’s way? Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 75, plus/minus five. The reasoning being only 49 targets went to Kyle Rudolph in Stefanski’s offense last year, one that had a similar distribution of talent. Granted, that 49 number was negatively influenced by Mike Zimmer’s demand to run the ball.
Presuming Hooper sees about 75 looks, his catch rate of 78 percent over the last three years, we’re talking 59 receptions. His average yardage has been fairly steady at 10.6 when the 2018 season is removed for inefficiency within the system. That translates to around 620 yards, and his touchdown rate will be the most variable from one team to the next. He projects for four scores based on his advanced metrics, but TD efficiency (15 catches per score) is super volatile.
He easily could become a low-volume, high-TD guy in 2020, but safe money says he’s basically a clone of his Falcons fantasy version. Think TE1 but with tempered expectations.