The Cleveland Browns‘ roster looks somewhat different than it did just several months ago, and one of the changes that they made came at the tight end position.
In March, Austin Hooper was released, and a few days later he signed with the Tennessee Titans.
For the past two seasons, Hooper was a nice, reliable target for former Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, and now it will be up to others to pick up the slack Hooper has left behind.
At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he made himself into a nice short and mid-range target, especially in red-zone situations.
The Browns will have to put in some work to make up what they will be missing from him moving forward.
Hooper Became One Of The NFL’s More Underrated Tight Ends
When people discuss the NFL’s best tight ends, the names Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Mark Andrews inevitably come up.
Hooper may not be high on that list, but he’s on it.
After being taken in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, he gradually emerged as a reliable tight end, putting up 271 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie.
That year, the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl, and Hooper helped them build a 25-point lead over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots by scoring a touchdown in the second quarter.
Austin Hooper: 1
George Kittle and Travis Kelce combined: 0
— 🦝yin (@BulioBurner) January 25, 2020
By 2018, Hooper became a Pro Bowler, recording 660 yards and four touchdowns that season despite starting just seven of 16 games.
The following year, he was Pro Bowl-bound again after registering 787 yards and six touchdowns on the season despite missing three contests due to a sprained MCL.
After the end of the season, he joined the Browns, and he became a key part of their revival.
In 2020, they had their best season in memory, winning 11 games and claiming a postseason victory for the first time since the 1994 campaign.
Hooper helped with 435 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, and he added 46 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s wild-card round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hooper’s Production Has Dipped
This past season, the California native appeared in 16 of 17 contests but only managed 345 yards and three touchdowns.
There may have been two culprits, as his catch percentage was a mediocre 62.3 percent, after being above 70 percent in each of his first four seasons.
Hooper also dropped six passes for a 9.8 drop percentage.
Austin Hooper is still out there doing 2020-Austin-Hooper things. These may not be easy catches but the #Browns made Hooper the 3rd highest paid TE in 2020 NFL to handle these balls. Good TEs make these catches. At this point I'd rather see what Njoku can do. #HandleTheseBalls pic.twitter.com/Ukxk8LclMr
— Lt. Roberto Shenanigans (@Rob_Shenanigans) October 4, 2021
It would’ve been one thing if the Browns were losing the 2018 or 2019 version of Hooper, but given his occasional miscues, replacing him may be a bit easier.
Can David Njoku Get The Job Done?
Over the past two seasons, Njoku, a 6-foot-4, 246-pound tight end, has split duties at that position with Hooper, but now he will be the main man there.
He is a different type of tight end, as he’s a bit more of a threat downfield, but his catch percentage was a solid 67.9 percent in 2021, and his drop percentage has improved from 6.8 in 2018 to 3.8 in 2021.
Helping to take some pressure off him will be four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper, and the possible emergence of Anthony Schwartz and/or Donovan Peoples-Jones would make things even easier.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski will also be able to call on Harrison Bryant, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end who is going into his third year.
Njoku may never end up being a Pro Bowl tight end, but the Browns may be able to make up for Hooper’s production by committee.