Hooper, who is entering his seventh NFL season, brings a vertical tight end threat to the Titans offense that hasn’t been there in years past, and ever since he walked into the building, Hooper has been motivated to get comfortable with his quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Staying on the field working together after #Titans practice:— AtoZ Sports Nashville (@AtoZSports) July 29, 2022
QB Ryan Tannehill
TE Austin Hooper
TE Chig Okonkwo
and TE Coach Luke Steckel
The real value Hooper brings to the Titans though, isn’t really something you can put into a box. It’s not all one quantifiable stat.
What truly separates Hooper from the tight ends the Titans have had in the past is Hooper’s versatility. He has the capacity to fill many roles in an offense, and that allows him to be of consistent value, regardless of play or formation.
Hooper said himself in Tuesday’s press conference that he has a history of demonstrating versatility, and that it allows him to fit into any new situation nicely:
“I’ve proven I can do whatever’s asked of me. My job is just to be a tight end and earn my role here to the best of my ability.”
– Titans tight end Austin Hooper
The nicest thing about Hooper, is that you know he’s capable. That actually might mean his role is determined by the success of others more than himself.
Here’s a snippet of a piece I wrote on Hooper last month that he referenced in his response, and speaks to his role within an offense constantly changing:
Don’t mistake that for Hooper being one-dimensional, though. During final season in Atlanta (when he made the Pro-Bowl), Hooper took 51.5% of his snaps without a hand in the dirt, either in the slot or out wide, per Pro Football Focus. With an equal balance, he was at his most productive as a pass catcher, posting 787 yards and six touchdowns during the 2019 season.
When Hooper landed in Cleveland in 2020, his role changed significantly. About 66% of Hooper’s snaps came on the line with a hand in the dirt, via PFF. That ranked him top-five in percentage of inline snaps amongst all tight ends. As a result, his receiving production took a hit. The Browns may have struggled to use him as a pass catcher, but with Hooper inline, he was a big part of the reason the Browns finished top five in rushing yards in both seasons he was in Cleveland.
The Titans have a proven block-first tight end on their roster in veteran Geoff Swaim, who that can keep inline. That gives the Titans flexibility to use Hooper as a vertical weapon or slot option if they need.
That pass-catching role also could be filled by Chig Okonkwo, a rookie from Maryland that possesses a unique combination of size and speed. If Okonkwo flourishes early, Hooper can take a heavier percentage of his snaps with a hand in the ground.
Simply put, Hooper gives Tennessee options.
For a guy coming into a new system trying to get on the same page with a new quarterback and new coaches, that certainly makes the process a lot easier.
Don’t read too much into Hooper’s numbers as a sign of a decline. The only reason he caught less passes in Cleveland was because they needed him to do more blocking for their run-heavy offense.
If anything, his constant shifting shows that his value in 2022 could be at an all-time high.
Image via George Walker IV / Tennessean.com-USA TODAY NETWORK