NFL Fantasy: Is Austin Hooper a must-start?

Each week, we’ll review a few players being discussed as must-starts. Do 128 yards and a touchdown make Atlanta’s tight end a must-play?

Admit it. When you heard a tight end had 18.8 fantasy points in Week 1, you expected to hear it was Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham or maybe Jordan Reed, didn’t you? When you heard it was Austin Hooper, how many of you had to think for a minute what team he plays for? 

Such a tight end must be played weekly, don’t you think? Sounds good, but let’s look a little deeper before we drop anybody from our roster. 

How he did it

Austin Hooper (of the Atlanta Falcons, by the way) had his big NFL fantasy day on only two plays. 

The first play was a wild scramble by the Falcons. The Chicago Bears’ defense was getting pressure on Matt Ryan all day. This play was no different and it came from both sides. Ryan dodged left and then right as other Bear defenders tried keeping up with the equally scrambling likes of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel, not to mention Devonta Freeman. Half went deep and half came back to Ryan. Then in the middle of the field stood the forgotten tight end… all alone. 

Guys get open on scramble plays. That wasn’t such a surprise. What did surprise fans and the Bears was the speed with which Hooper took off for the Chicago end zone. With a little help from his teammates, he made it for an 88-yard touchdown.

You would think the Bears would pay more attention to him after that. But on the Falcons’ final drive in a tight game, Hooper broke out from the line and no defender went with him. This time, Hooper raced for 40 yards before being forced out of bounds. Atlanta would get a field goal to pump their lead to six points, preventing the Bears from trying a game-tying field goal as time expired. 

On a day when Chicago’s defense did a great job keeping Atlanta’s multitude of offensive weapons under control, Hooper saved the day. 

Can he do it again?

If Hooper does it again this week, it will be in front of a national television audience in a rematch of last year’s NFC championship battle against the Green Bay Packers. It is also the first regular season game in the Falcons brand new retractable-roof stadium. It would be an even bigger deal than saving the game last week. 

Green Bay, of course, has other plans for Mr. Hooper. Part of the Packers’ defensive masterpiece against the Seattle Seahawks last week was holding their star tight end, Jimmy Graham to three catches on seven targets, good for only eight yards. Hooper had more yards than that before he got his first visual on a Bear defender.  

There is a bigger issue than Green Bay’s defense. It is the Atlanta offense. Will Hooper’s big day make Ryan look for him sooner? And how can the team squeeze in some plays for him among the other Falcon receivers? Hooper was the TE31 last season, averaging 1.4 NFL fantasy points per game. Will Jones, Sanu, Gabriel, Freeman, and Tevin Coleman share the ball with their tight end this season? 

The verdict is…

I am not counting on it. Atlanta had a highly unusual offensive experience last week. Whether all the credit goes to the Bears’ gameplan or a Super Bowl hangover, I expect them to revert to their normal attack with their traditional players. 

If you are replacing an injury and want to look for lightning twice, why not? But on one unusual week of NFL fantasy football, do not send established players like Hunter Henry or Jimmy Graham to the waiver wire for Hooper. He is absolutely not a must-play. 

If you have any questions about who to play next week or about anything related to NFL fantasy football, send it to us at [email protected]. We’ll publish answers every Wednesday throughout the season.

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Pat Opperman


Pat recently retired from real life to watch sports and write. Look for references to games and events from ancient times as memories of an earlier Age of Sport tend to pop into his head.