Tony Gonzalez finished out his career with the Atlanta Falcons earning three straight seasons of 850-plus yards receiving, with at least seven TDs each year.
The Falcons haven't had a tight end come close to duplicating those numbers since Gonzalez walked away in 2013. The nearest an Atlanta TE has come to matching the future Hall of Famer was the Jacob Tamme campaign of 2015, in which he went for 657 yards and one TD. For the most part, the Falcons have moved the ball with replacement-level production from the tight end position.
The Falcons hope Austin Hooper can change that dynamic in 2018. The 2016 third-round pick has improved his stats each season, corralling 49 passes for 526 yards and three TDs last season. Could this season be his breakout campaign?
During the offseason, Hooper stayed in the Atlanta area to work more with quarterback Matt Ryan. The early reviews are positive for the tight end.
"Hooper's been like a dog this offseason -- over and over, he'd catch everything Matt threw and bring it back," coach Dan Quinn told Peter King of NBC Sports.
There is plenty of room for the 23-year-old tight end to grow. He's coming off a season in which he had just two games of 50-plus yards -- none after Week 4.
The biggest role for the 6-foot-3 Hooper should be in the red zone, where Atlanta struggled mightily in 2017. The Falcons seem destined for a positive red zone regression in 2018, and Hooper could be a huge part of that success as a big-bodied target opposite Jones.