Unsurprisingly, teams with 1-7 records don't have many players performing at a high level. But there are always a few exceptions. One of those for the Atlanta Falcons is tight end Austin Hooper.
The 25-year-old broke out with a Pro Bowl season last year, but halfway through 2019, he's already approaching his numbers from last season.
Hooper has 52 catches, 591 yards and five touchdowns in eight games this season. Last year, he posted 71 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns, and again, that was a Pro Bowl year.
He's averaging 6.5 receptions and 73.9 yards per contest, which is first and second on the team, respectively. Among Falcons wide receivers and tight ends, Hooper is first on the team with a 83.9 catch percentage.
Hooper's 52 receptions is fifth-most in the league. Not among tight ends, but all pass catchers. At just his position, Hooper is first in catches and second in receiving yards. He's 14th in receiving yards in the entire NFL.
Calvin Ridley was expected to emerge as Matt Ryan's No. 2 target in this offense, but Hooper has been the perfect compliment to Julio Jones. With Jones running deeper routes and often receiving double teams, Hooper is left open underneath for short easy completions.
But don't think Hooper is simply a weapon for dink and dunk passes. The Falcons tight end is averaging two additional yards per target this season compared to 2018, and he leads Atlanta with 253 yards after the catch this season. Hooper is a safe, reliable target that can move the chains and create chunk plays. He's also already set a new career high with five touchdown receptions.
Even with the awful first half for the Falcons, it's been a treat watching Hooper develop into one of the best tight ends in the league. Now, the question moving forward will be if the Falcons can keep him in Atlanta with a long-term deal this offseason.