The Browns addressed an area of need at tight end by signing a four-year deal with one of the NFL's rising stars at the position.
Austin Hooper, who spent his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, is the newest addition to a Cleveland offense with no shortage of talent and promise at the skill player positions. He's coming off his best season, one in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns to land his second consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
"I'm really excited. Coach Stefanski, from what I've heard about him, I just really valued his coaching style and schematically it matches what I've been asked to do before in the past, so hopefully it's a smooth transition," Hooper said. "And the amount of talent on this team, it just really excites me."
Hooper, a third-round pick out of Stanford in the 2016 NFL Draft, has appeared in 59 games with 28 starts. After catching 19 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, Hooper took on a bigger role in Atlanta's offense in his second season and continually increased his production. In 2018, Hooper appeared in all 16 games and caught 71 passes for 660 yards and four touchdowns to earn his first Pro Bowl honor.
For his career, Hooper has 214 receptions for 2,244 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"The nature of the position is block someone 40 pounds heavier than you or outrun someone 40 pounds lighter than you," Hooper said. "It's a position that definitely takes some time but I definitely feel like I've gotten a lot better in terms of timing my routes and in terms of just stemming into certain routes, and finer details and points of route running. And in terms of line of scrimmage, I've honestly just grown into my body and just understanding leverage at a different level because some of the best athletes on the field are typically those guys on the edge. They present a good challenge week in and week out."
Production and participation from the tight end position was a hallmark of Stefanski's offense in Minnesota. This past season, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith accounted for 95 targets, 75 receptions, 678 yards and eight touchdowns. They also played a valuable role in a rushing attack that was one of just three in the NFL that accounted for more run attempts than pass attempts while finishing sixth overall.
"I'm really excited to add Austin into the fold," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I just think his skill set fits so perfectly in what we want to be offensively. He's a very smart young man. You can see in the way they've used him over the years in Atlanta, he's got a legit skill set in all areas of the field. Had a ton of production and just excited to add the person and the player."
Hooper joins a tight ends room that currently includes former first-round pick David Njoku, Stephen Carlson and Pharaoh Brown. Though he dealt with injuries and other struggles throughout the 2019 season, Njoku is just a year removed from posting 56 receptions, 639 yards and four touchdowns.
"Versatility is a big word for us when it comes to our offensive attack," Stefanski said. "To have multiple tight ends allows you to do so many different things. I was fortunate last year to have multiple tight ends and deploy them in varying ways. Definitely excited to add Austin to an impressive room already."