Through the first half of 2016, a Falcons tight end has stepped up nearly every week and become an important factor on offense. On Sunday, after Jacob Tamme exited the contest with a shoulder injury, Austin Hooper did just that.
The rookie out of Stanford finished with 41 yards against Green Bay on five catches, including two first-down grabs. Both of his chain-moving receptions came on a late second quarter drive that resulted in a Devonta Freeman touchdown.
"He is so California cool, it's unbelievable," Matt Ryan said about Hooper. "He's out there and he's got like no pulse. He's done a great job for us the entire year. Today, for him to step into a more expanded role and to play some more snaps — he was great. He did a great job for us. I'm really proud of what he's done. For eight games as a rookie, he really seems like a veteran out there. He's very calm and collected, which is cool to see."
Hooper's tranquil demeanor, along with Ryan's precision, has made the third round pick a valuable and steady option in the passing game.
Hooper has reeled in all 11 attempts thrown his way so far — including three that were fired 20-plus yards downfield. He has recorded 120 yards and a touchdown on such throws, according to Pro Football Focus, good for third at his position. Only Pro Bowl TEs Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen are above him in that category.
Altogether, Hooper has racked up 195 receiving yards and nine first downs this season, both of which are eighth among NFL rookies and second among rookie tight ends. What's more, his 17.7 yards per reception rate ranks top among rookies who have caught at least 10 passes.
Hooper's emergence has helped Atlanta create one of the league's most formidable tight end trios. Combined, he, Tamme and Levine Toilolo have notched 39 receptions for 500 yards — a 12.8 average — and five touchdowns, doing so without dropping a single pass.