Atlanta Falcons: Players that must step up in Austin Hooper’s absence

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images /

With Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper out for an extended time with a knee injury, let’s look at who will have to step up in his absence moving forward.

Going into the 11th week of the 2019 NFL regular season, the Atlanta Falcons got some concerning news surrounding one of their top players so far this year.

Following a surprising and impressive win in Week 10 last Sunday afternoon on the road in New Orleans against the Saints, news broke this week leading up to the Week 11 slate of games this weekend that the Falcons could be without stud tight end Austin Hooper for an extended period of time.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport delivered the bad news regarding Atlanta’s most reliable pass-catcher:

Hooper is expected to miss some time while dealing with a knee injury he suffered last Sunday in New Orleans and is for sure going to be sidelined for the Week 11 game against the Carolina Panthers.

After Hooper underwent an MRI in the middle of the week, Rapoport followed up his initial report by adding that the tight end could miss up to a month of action for Atlanta, a team that is already likely to be without running back Devonta Freeman this weekend while he recovers from his own injury issues.

The loss of Hooper is obviously a big blow to the Falcons and what they have been able to accomplish on the offensive side of the ball this season.

So far this season, Hooper has tallied 608 yards through the air in nine games and eight starts at tight end, almost already surpassing his career-high of 660 yards that he recorded in all 16 games in the 2018 campaign last season.

While leading the league at his position with 56 catches leading up to Week 11, Hooper is averaging 10.9 yards per reception, has recorded a season-long reception of 35 yards and has a career-best six touchdowns so far this year.

Among the rest of the receiving players in the NFL, Hooper ranks 22nd in the league in receiving yards (that includes tight ends, running backs and wide receivers in the league), while ranking tied for fourth in touchdowns, tied for 10th in catches and is 29th in yards per game (67.6).

With Hooper out for at least Week 11 and possibly over the course of a few weeks, there are a few players that could and will need to step up for the Falcons in the tight end’s absence.

The first pair of players that will need to step up for Atlanta is the wide receiving duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the outside of the field. So far this season, Jones has recorded a team-best 791 yards receiving with four touchdowns on 53 catches. Ridley, on the other hand, has recorded 36 receptions for 471 yards and four touchdowns for the Falcons.

A few other players that could see some increased roles within the Atlanta offense are backup tight ends Luke Stocker and Jaeden Graham, who are listed behind Hooper on Atlanta’s depth chart. Up to this point in the 2019 campaign, Stocker has a total of six catches for 35 yards, while Graham has added two receptions for 32 yards.

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It will be a team effort to try and fill the void left by Hooper while he is away from the field and battling back from a knee injury for at least the next few weeks. Which is a blow to the Falcons squad with their tight end experiencing a career year in 2019.