Moving on from a player of Darren Waller‘s caliber is never easy. After all, there’s a reason Waller became the highest-paid tight end in league history. However, if you manage to swap out Waller for Austin Hooper and immediately free up $10 million in cap while doing so, you give a team more flexibility to build a complete roster while maintaining a legitimate weapon at tight end. That’s exactly what Dave Ziegler and the Las Vegas Raiders opted to do.
Many fans remember Austin Hooper as the two-time Pro Bowler with the Falcons some years ago. In 2022, the 28-year-old proved he’s still a major threat in the passing game.
Pro Football Focus gave Hooper a receiving grade of 74.6 last season; a higher receiving grade than any Raiders tight end has earned since 2020. More impressively, Hooper showed off his sure-hands when targeted.
On 56 targets, the new Raiders tight end dropped only one pass. Furthermore, Hooper totaled the third-most contested catches at his position, tallying nine. 41 tight ends league-wide had their quarterback throw at least one interception when targeting them. Hooper was not of those 41 players. In fact, Hooper was the only tight end with at least seven contested catches who didn’t fall into that group.
Reliability at its best.
In 2019, with Jimmy Garoppolo as his quarterback, George Kittle earned the highest receiving grade at his position (95.0). Two years later, with Garoppolo once again healthy, Kittle posted the highest receiving grade among tight ends once more (91.4). Paired with Garoppolo, Kittle was able to have his most successful years as a pass catcher. Dave Ziegler is hoping Austin Hooper can share the same career-bests with his new quarterback.
Hooper is here, but don’t rule out Raiders drafting a tight end
With Hooper, the Raiders have a legitimate starting-caliber tight end. Still, expect Ziegler and the Raiders to go after a tight end in the draft – specifically in the middle rounds.
When Ziegler explained his admiration of this year’s tight end class, he mentioned the sheer depth impressing him most. For this reason, Raider Nation shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Las Vegas selects a tight end in this year’s draft; perhaps one who has merit as a blocker.
Although Hooper excelled as a pass catcher last season, he continued to show he offers little when it comes to blocking. With the Cleveland Browns in both ’20 and ’21, Hooper had the lowest blocking grade among tight ends on the team both years. In 2022, as a Titan, this grade dropped to 24.2 – the lowest among all tight ends with at least 250 total snaps.
*Top Photo: George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK