The 2016 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching and one of the trickiest positions to fill is that of a tight end. For every Rob Gronkowski in the league, there are ten Vance McDonalds. Former Stanford Cardinal Austin Hooper is somewhere between my Gronk-McDonald comparison. He wasn’t a featured target with only 74 career receptions in two years of work, so film work is a bit limited. I reviewed his 2015 game against USC, a 2014 Notre Dame game, and his career highlights to get a better idea of what skills and attributes he will deliver to the next level. These are my thoughts:
TE-Austin Hooper, Stanford 6′ 4″ 254 lbs.
Cons: If the former Cardinal is going to be used as a traditional in-line tight end, he will need to add some weight to his frame (could probably safely add fifteen pounds without affecting speed). Hooper will need this power/bulk to become a better short yardage player getting off the line and to maul defenders in tight spaces. This could also assist him on contested passes, which he struggled to win consistently in the Pac-12. The tight end dropped around eleven percent of his targets and doesn’t give a lot of mystery with his route running (looks very deliberate, doesn’t sink hips). I also expected a little more wiggle after he secures the reception and he needs to improve his catch radius.
Pros: The tight end is very athletic for a man his size with a strong Combine performance: 4.72 40-yard dash, 7.00 second three cone drill, and put up nineteen reps on the 225 lbs. bench press. Hooper has good acceleration, gets off the line of scrimmage well, plays on-line or in the slot, and can use his balance and agility to separate from linebackers while having a little harder time with safeties. Even though there isn’t much mystery to his routes, quarterbacks will know exactly where to throw the pigskin so he can catch it in stride. The former Cardinal is more quick than fast, catches the ball at its highest point usually in stride, and uses spins in the open field to get free from the defense. Hooper can change directions quickly and can make impressive bucket catches deep down the field near the sidelines. He blocks well in the running game down the field and does a good job lowering his pads both as a runner and a blocker.
Overall impressions: Hooper is not the next Zach Ertz even those they are both Stanford grads; he might be closer to Colby Fleener in regards to being an athletic tight end. I don’t see the physicality needed to play an inline position. That isn’t to say he couldn’t improve, but the tight end looks to be more of the Joker variety (split out wide/slot). In a weak TE draft class, Hooper should be a top four selection at his position, but I wouldn’t reach for him before the top fifteen runners and receivers got picked along with the premium quarterbacks and defensive players.
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