As NFL training camps heat up and fantasy drafts loom, learning how teams plan to use players and how players are approaching the upcoming season becomes extremely important for potential owners. Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper is a player who could have a big season but won’t draw the same price tags as other tight ends like Kittle, Kelce, or Waller. But the two-time Pro Bowler shouldn’t be underestimated: he feels healthy, and most importantly, extremely confident in his abilities.
“It’s been good to let that heal up over an offseason, get my neck together, make sure my vertebrae is all good to go so I can put my face in people,” Hooper said. “That’s where your confidence gets, knowing your body is physically able to do everything you’re asked.”
Hooper also underwent mid-season surgery for appendicitis in 2020, missing two games, and he admits the injury lingered in his mind even after he took the field again.
“I felt like I was in a really good spot until my appendicitis,” Hooper said. “I feel I was playing the best ball of my career, and … that kind of threw a monkey wrench in my flow of the offense and my flow of confidence.
“I’d be lying if I said I was fully confident in running across the middle again with stitches in my stomach.”
Perhaps as important as his health, Hooper also spent the offseason training with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield as well as attending tight end summits.
“Every year my goal is to improve, and I feel like I’m never satisfied,” Hooper said. “There are things in the offseason I made a point to address with myself and to get better. Spending more time with Baker definitely has helped me with my confidence more than anything and being in the same offense and knowing what to expect and what is expected of me.”
Although his Cleveland coaches have gushed over his improved run-blocking, Hooper, 26, still figures to line up as a real offensive weapon as he enters the prime of his career. Last season, he caught 15 passes in three October games and totaled 22 receptions through the first six weeks. In 13 games last season, Hooper finished second on the Browns in receiving with 46 receptions for 435 yards and four scores. If he stays healthy and his chemistry with Mayfield really has improved, expect Hooper to take a big leap in 2021—the kind of leap other owners in the league may not see coming.
“He did a lot of nice things for us,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He really understands in Year 2 how we plan to use him, and I do believe his role can grow.”