Austin Hooper Fantasy Impact in Cleveland

NFL
Written by Joshua Lefkowitz
March 18, 2020
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Austin Hooper Fantasy 2020

Austin Hooper was the most sought after free-agent tight end during the 2020 free agency period, especially after the LA Chargers used the Franchise Tag on Hunter Henry. It was clear that Hooper was going to sign a monster contract and set the market for other big-name tight ends, to which he accomplished just that. Hooper’s four-year, $44 million deal, with $23 million in guaranteed money, slingshots the 25-year-old pass-catcher to the top of the tight end totem pole, cementing himself as the highest-paid tight end in the league. The biggest surprise is not the dynamics of Hooper’s contract, but who signed the 2016 third-round pick to this massive contract, and why. Following a severely disappointing 2019 campaign, the Cleveland Browns desired to fill a much-needed gap in their offense and signing Hooper fills that void and inspires promise for Cleveland once again.

Austin Hooper has agreed to terms on a 4-year deal with the Cleveland Browns that will re-set the TE market in guaranteed money and APY. Hooper will make $23 million, all guaranteed, over the first 2 seasons, and $10.5M per year over 4.

Hooper is a clear upgrade in comparison to Ricky Seals-Jones (2019 TE41), Demetrius Harris (2019 TE44), and 2017 first-round pick David Njoku, who missed all but four games during the 2019 season. Njoku’s career has not taken off as some expected, which made finding an improvement necessary and Njoku expendable. Over the last three seasons, Njoku posted 93 receptions for 1,066 yards and nine touchdowns, compared to Hooper’s 195 receptions for 1,973 yards and 13 touchdowns during the same time span. Despite the fact that new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski often uses multiple tight end packages, allowing Hooper and Njoku to coexist in the same offense, it would not be surprising to see the Browns ship Njoku for a mid-round draft pick. The Browns also roster Stephen Carlson and Pharaoh Brown, which would further ease the decision of moving on from Njoku.

Fantasy Impact

Austin Hooper has proved to be among the league’s most consistent and reliable tight ends over the last few seasons. In 2019, Hooper posted 787 yards from 75 receptions, bringing in six touchdowns and earning his second straight Pro Bowl selection. Despite missing three games due to injury, Hooper proved to be highly efficient. His True Catch Rate of 97.4% ranked second among all tight ends, detailing his reliability as a pass-catcher. Hooper was the sixth-ranked tight end in PPR scoring with 191.7 total fantasy points in 13 games. Out of his 97 targets, he accounted for just one dropped pass all season.

Hooper excelled along-side superstar wide receiver Julio Jones and up-and-coming wideout Calvin Ridley, a challenge he will once again face being paired with the stud receiving duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The Browns should favor Hooper in the Red Zone, an area of the field where he is accustomed to seeking attention. In 2019, he was targeted 18 times in the Red Zone, which was fourth amongst tight ends. Hooper’s addition to the Browns’ offense could positively impact his teammates by drawing attention away from them and generating focus towards himself, creating more one-on-one opportunities for Beckham to go deep on the outside, and opening up the middle of the field for Landry out of the slot.

Prediction

Baker Mayfield.jpgThe Cleveland Browns are stacked with offensive weapons, which will hinder Hooper’s fantasy production. He will have to compete for touches with Landry and OBJ, as well as Kareem Hunt, a versatile running back who hauled in 37 receptions in just eight games. Nick Chubb also seeks some action in the passing game, snagging 36 receptions in 2019. I believe Hooper will be a reliable option at times for Baker Mayfield, especially when Landry and Beckham Jr. face tough matchups, but Hooper will lose Red Zone opportunities to Chubb, who finished fifth in the league with 52 Red Zone touches, further negatively impacting Hooper’s fantasy production.

It’s hard to envision Hooper finishing inside the top-10 of fantasy tight ends while having to compete against fellow Pro Bowl teammates for touches. I do believe Hooper’s productivity will drop considerably in 2020 compared to his Pro-Bowl 2019 campaign as he carves out his role in a new offense with several hungry mouths to feed. I think Hooper will be drafted too early in most fantasy drafts, eventually leaving owners disappointed at the end of the 2020 season. Despite being the highest-paid tight end and receiving back-to-back Pro Bowl selections, Austin Hooper’s fantasy production will not mirror his top-six campaign from last season, and he will finish outside the top-10 among fantasy tight ends in 2020.

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Joshua Lefkowitz

Josh is a Fantasy Football writer with 10 years of experience in competitive leagues. His professional background stems from the fast-paced world of sports media, with experience working for NFL Films and Thursday Night Football. His first-hand familiarity with the NFL gives him an interesting perspective in the world of fantasy football. Concurrent with his fantasy football analysis, Josh is a published sport and fiction writer. Josh resides in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.