The Cleveland Browns made a big spash to open free agency by signing Falcons tight end Austin Hooper to the richest tight end deal in the NFL.
While money was no doubt an enticing factor, Hooper talked about what attracted him to Cleveland in a recent conference call.
Hooper recalled the game in 2018 when the Browns beat the Falcons 28-16.
Baker Mayfield, who was in his rookie season, completed 17-20 attempts for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“No question, being in a position that is dependent upon getting balls from the quarterback, it was definitely a part of the process for me,’’ Hooper said, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com “Playing against Baker Mayfield live, seeing his arm and seeing his competitive spirit and the way he rallies the guys around him, that is what sold me on him before I was obviously a free agent.
“This was two seasons ago now when we came up to Cleveland. I knew what he was about for a couple of years now so when the opportunity presented itself on the first day of legal tampering, I couldn’t turn it down.”
Hooper ready to contribute
Austin Hooper is coming off a season in 2019 in which he set career highs with 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns.
He made his second straight Pro Bowl and gives much of his success to former Browns and Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, current 49ers head coach.
Shanahan coached Hooper as a rookie in 2016.
“He kind of laid the foundation of my football education in a sense,” he said. “There are innumerable things that I learned from him. Better study habits in terms of like before I used to just watch but not really know what the hell I was supposed to be watching for; I would see the whole picture instead of focusing on what I need to be doing.
“There were a lot of great things that he taught me in terms of the outside zone scheme, route running fundamentals and things like that, but the foundation he laid for me of just being a professional stands above all of those.”
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is known for using 2 tight end sets often.
With former first-round pick David Njoku, the Browns will have two high-level pass catchers at the position.
According to ESPN stats and info, Stefanski’s offense used ’12 personnel’ a league-high 57 percent of the snaps.
Hooper said he also considered this to be a big selling point.
“Because more tight ends are on the field, baby – that’s all you need to know,’’ he said with a laugh. “Of course, I’m a pro tight end. It creates matchup problems. Every defense in the NFL runs nickel, meaning five DBs on the field. If you have 12 on the field and they go nickel, the general rule of thumb is they don’t have enough big guys to compete, so you run the ball. If they go bigger, generally a less athletic linebacker out there compared to a slot-corner, then you throw the ball and you have more advantageous matchups in the passing game.
“That’s kind of been the historical advantages of 12. That’s all the game of football is – matchups.”
The signing of Hooper put an instant focus on Njoku’s roster spot.
The Browns first-round pick in 2017 has been the discussion of trade rumors in the offseason after coming off a disappointing 2019 campaign.
He finished 2019 with only 5 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Hooper believes that him and Njoku will be a lethal combo when they get on the field and start working together.
“When this whole situation comes to pass, I will get to know David a lot better,” Hooper said. “I will get to understand my role within the offense a lot better and see how we both can play off each other and how we both can complement each other.”
Njoku shared a similar feeling when he responded to a fan who speculated that he would be traded after the Browns signed Hooper.
“Nahhhh man cmon I love competition,” Njoku wrote on Twitter, responding to a tweet speculating that he would want a trade more than ever. “We’ll push each other and get better together.”
Nahhhh man cmon I love competition. We’ll push each other and get better together🦾 https://t.co/nmAoz5cgl5
— Chief David Njoku (@David_Njoku80) March 16, 2020
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