It is safe to say that things did not go quite as expected for tight end Austin Hooper in 2020.
Hooper joined the Browns in free agency on a four-year, $42 million contract, with $23 million guaranteed, that for a brief period made him the league’s highest-paid tight ends.
The veteran was coming off a four-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons that saw him average 73 receptions for 723 yards and five touchdowns over his final two seasons with the Falcons, earning a pair of trips to the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately for Hooper and the Browns, he posted some of the lowest numbers since his rookie season, finishing with:
- 46 receptions for 425 yards (both his lowest totals since his rookie season)
- an average of 9.5 yards per catch (the second lowest of his five-year career)
- a catch rate of 65.7 percent of his pass targeted to him (the lowest of his career)
- just four touchdown passes
Not all of that was necessarily Hooper’s fault, however, as he dealt with coming to a new team and new coaching staff while the league dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. He also missed a game with a neck injury and two games following surgery for appendicitis.
The appendectomy came after Week 6 and disrupted his season, Hooper told The Beacon Journal’s Marla Ridenour:
“I felt like I was in a really good spot until my appendicitis. I feel I was playing the best ball of my career, and ... that kind of threw a monkey wrench in my flow of the offense and my flow of confidence. I came back after internal organ surgery. I’d be lying if I said I was fully confident in running across the middle again with stitches in my stomach.”
Much like wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who recently talked about how being able to train properly this past offseason should pay dividends on the field, Hooper is looking to rebound from a trying initial season with the Browns, he told The Beacon Journal:
“It’s been good to let that heal up over an offseason, get my neck together, make sure my vertebrae is all good to go so I can put my face in people. That’s where your confidence gets, knowing your body is physically able to do everything you’re asked.”
Hooper may never hit the same numbers in Cleveland that he did in his final two seasons in Atlanta primarily because the Browns have so many weapons on offense, along with two other capable tight ends in David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.
Entering his second season with the Browns healthy and in the same offense should benefit Hooper, and he can still be a solid member of the offense, especially if he can get his yards per catch back up into the double digits and increase his catch percentage so it is more in line with what he did from 2017 through 2019, when he caught almost 78 percent of the passes thrown his way.