Forget fantasy: Austin Hooper wants to deal with those who keep it real

Saturday, October 13, 2018

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Coming off a career-high, nine-catch performance in last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper received plenty of praise from coach Dan Quinn, as well as from his teammates.

FILE – Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper catches a pass from Matt Ryan and goes over the top past a pair of Kansas City Chiefs defenders into the end zone during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug, 17, 2018, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

It’s fair to wonder if Hooper will build off that performance moving forward, particularly with guys such as Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and even Mohamed Sanu drawing added attention from the defense.

Hooper welcomes any talk about increased expectations. What he’s not cool with is anything related to fantasy football implications.

“My real friends don’t talk about fantasy football,” the California native said. “It will be like more the people in the street who I don’t know. That’s how I’ll tell if I’m really friends with somebody or not.

“Those who don’t know me that well always try to give me a hard time and be like, `You’ll be quiet, and then you’ll go off for one game.’ I can’t control that. I can just catch what’s thrown to me.”

Hooper enters Sunday’s home showdown (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 21 receptions for 202 yards and one touchdown on 27 targets. He has not dropped a pass and has 82 yards after the catch. Hooper also has a new habit of hurdling defenders once he catches the ball in open space.

“When you see people flying at your kneecaps, the one thing you don’t do is keep your feet planted in the ground,” Hooper said. “Like whenever I see people diving at my knees, I just get my feet off the ground instead of getting smoked. It might not look as cool, but it’s better for my long-term health.”

The Falcons seem better off when Hooper is involved in the offense. He had a touchdown and three first downs in the team’s only win of the season, a 31-24 triumph over the Carolina Panthers in Week 2. Coming into this season, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian talked about Hooper taking another step as a third-year player.

Maybe Sarkisian has a plan to utilize Hooper even more against Tampa Bay’s league-worst pass defense. The Buccaneers have surrendered 13 passing touchdowns, tied for last in the league with the Steelers. The Bucs yield 9.43 yards per pass play, which ranks dead last. They also surrender 445.8 passing yards per game, second to last in the league.

“Kind of similar to our situation, a lot of their guys have fallen down to injury,” Hooper noted. “You see a lot of younger players stepping in right now. A lot of it’s new film, and I haven’t been able to watch some of their younger players. But they’re still an NFL defense, still incredibly athletic, and have some good ballplayers at every level. You still got to give them our best effort, no matter what the rank is.”

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