FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With a "Monday Night Football" showdown against the New York Giants before heading into the bye week, let's take a closer look at tight end Austin Hooper and how he could potentially be a crucial player for the Atlanta Falcons in this matchup:
1. Hoop, there it is: The Stanford alum is projected to have his best season to date. In 2017, Hooper posted 49 receptions for 526 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Through six games, the third-year veteran has 30 receptions for 273 yards, including two touchdowns, marking the second-most receptions on the Falcons. Hooper is currently projected to finish the season with 80 receptions for 726 yards.
2. Heating up: Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, quarterback Matt Ryan connected with Hooper for a 9-yard touchdown reception, marking his second red zone touchdown of the season. Through six games, Hooper has been targeted six times in the red zone with four receptions, including two touchdowns. His 66.7 percentage ranks second among tight ends with four or more targets in the red zone. With the possibility of wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu not playing, there is a high probability that when the Falcons offense gets down inside the Giants' 20, Hooper will be the go-to weapon.
3. QB-TE connection: In the last two Sundays, Ryan found Hooper nine times in each game (18 total), posting 77 yards against the Steelers and 71 yards against the Buccaneers. That marks the most receptions by a tight end in the NFL the last two weeks. Although there has not been a standout performance by a tight end against the Giants defense, the connection between Ryan and Hooper is apparent and should be again this week.
4. Tight target: To go further into Ryan and Hooper's connection, the Falcons quarterback has a 116.8 passer rating when targeting Hooper, the second highest among any tight end in the league with at least 30 targets and a huge increase compared to last season's 98.0 passer rating. As Ryan continues to have a stellar season and with the Giants' defense allowing 236.3 passing yards per game, let's keep an eye on what Hooper may do.