The Footballguys staff was asked to mention their most significant rookie tight end for the upcoming season. Most significant can have a lot of meaning, so - in this case - it means we just asked our guys to pick the rookie tight end they most wanted to write about. Here are the results.
Player Receiving 9 Votes
Austin Hooper, Atlanta
Fahey: Kyle Shanahan knows how to get the most out of his tight ends. In the Atlanta Falcons play action heavy, misdirection approach, the tight end is often the receiver put in position to catch big plays while left uncovered. Shanahan hasn't had the combination of quarterback and tight end to get the most out of his approach but Hooper and Matt Ryan will give him a chance. Hooper gets the nod over Hunter Henry primarily because of his target share. He should feature more than the San Diego other receivers.
Feery: The Atlanta Falcons entered the draft with a glaring need at the tight end position, and walked away with the consensus No.2 player at the position. Hooper has his work cut out for him to adjust to NFL life and creep up the depth chart, but there’s simply not too much standing in his way. Jacob Tamme and Levine Toiolo currently occupy the spots ahead of Hooper, and the rookie could find himself with a big role this year if his NFL transition goes smoothly. Early reports indicate that the team expects Hooper to help tremendously with their red zone offense, and there could be plenty of targets headed his way as well. The Falcons are hoping that Mohamed Sanu is the complement to Julio Jones that they have been looking for, and that second-year pro Justin Hardy can keep a firm grasp on the WR3 role. Beyond that trio of wideouts, there’s a pretty significant drop off for Falcons pass catchers, and Hooper could find himself in good position to make a solid impact in his rookie campaign.
Harmon: Jacob Tamme was solid last season and could hold onto his job, but Austin Hooper might be the rare rookie tight end who pushes the starter. Hooper looked like a refined prospect on film, so perhaps he can beat the long odds tight ends face to contribute early. The Falcons curiously gave big money to Mohamed Sanu in free agency, and he’s their only proven asset behind Julio Jones in Atlanta.
Howe: It takes a truly transcendent talent (like Vernon Davis in 2006) to spark my interest in a rookie tight end. Even highly drafted TEs struggle to find the field and embed into the passing game as rookies, and very few meet early fantasy expectations. But I’m semi-intrigued by Falcons rookie Austin Hooper, who excelled at the combine and landed on arguably the NFL’s most talent-deficient TE depth charts. Hooper’s athleticism (a 4.72 40-yard and 7.00 three-cone drill at 6’4” and 254) and college touchdown production (8 TDs on 74 catches) suggest he’s at least a match in talent to the likes of Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo. He could easily carve out a situational role as a rookie, or potentially steal the starting gig from Tamme and flirt with a 40-catch, 6-touchdown line.
Magaw: The third rounder from recent tight end factory Stanford will also receive competition from second rounder Hunter Henry (SD) and fourth rounder Tyler Higbee (LA). In Hooper's favor, he is a more polished blocker than the latter and could be a more dynamic threat down the field, with the ball in his hands and in the red zone than the former (Henry will be behind Hall of Famer Antonio Gates to begin his career, and Higbee will at least initially be constrained and have his upside capped by Jeff Fisher's preferred run first offensive scheme). This is another one of the top intersections and marriages of prospect, scheme and opportunity in the draft (with RB Ezekiel Elliot). The Falcons have had a gaping hole at the position since the retirement of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan is a solid vet QB (albeit coming off a down season), serial Pro Bowler Julio Jones will draw primary coverage, the Falcons don't yet have an established second WR with free agent Mohamed Sanu replacing long time star Roddy White and running back Devonta Freeman will distract defenses coming out of the backfield. Having a young, inexperienced and struggling defense in the NFC South going against opposing Pro Bowl QBs Cam Newton and Drew Brees as well as the ascendant Jameis Winston could be a recipe for a lot of intra-divisional shoot outs.
Simpkins: Since Tony Gonzalez’s retirement, the Falcons have been floundering at the tight end position. That should come to an end this year after they selected Austin Hooper in the Draft. It was simply a great intersection of need versus best available talent. Hooper is arguably the most complete and fundamentally sound tight end in the class. With very few viable receiving options outside of Julio Jones, Hooper will capitalize on higher-than-normal target volume. He has a chance to make a fantasy impact in his rookie year, a rarity among first year tight ends.
Waldman: It feels like my readers can't go a week without me writing about Hooper in some capacity. He's a skilled receiver when the ball is thrown over his head in tight coverage and he has a quick enough first step that can make the first defender miss on underneath routes. I like his comfort with physical play. Both talents described above and his work as a blocker make him the best tight end in this class and a player with good odds to contribute in the compressed area of the red zone. He's also joining a team that desperately needs a tight end and Hooper has a reasonable shot of being the exception to the fantasy rookie tight end rule.
Wimer: Austin Hooper has the best shot at fantasy-worthy production this year, as he is seen as a red-zone threat for the Falcons - and starter Jacob Tamme is not good in this phase of the game. Hooper could haul in mid-single-digit TDs for his fantasy owners, making him a worthwhile bye-week filler/play him on the fly if injuries decimate your regular starter/backup at tight end sort of fantasy option. He'll likely be hot and cold (especially early in the year) and I wouldn't want Hooper for my primary or secondary tight end during 2016, but in deep-bench leagues/dynasty leagues he's worth a look in a reserve role.
Wood: Rookie tight ends rarely have fantasy relevance, and this was not a particularly compelling tight end class. In spite of muted expectations, Austin Hooper is someone to keep an eye on because he has the combination of ability and opportunity. Hooper was a fixture in the Stanford offense, and should vie for a starting position immediately in Atlanta. The Falcons have been searching for answers at the tight end position since Tony Gonzalez’ retirement, and Hooper has the natural receiving skills to finally give Matt Ryan a trustworthy option in short and intermediate routes.
Player Receiving 3 Votes
Hunter Henry, San Diego
Hicks: There is little doubt that Antonio Gates has virtually no tread left on the tires, but rookie tight ends producing fantasy quality seasons is a rare commodity anyway. This allows the Chargers to transition the Gates role to 2nd round pick Hunter Henry in future years. 2016 will be a learning year for Henry and expectations should be minimal. He has the upside to be an elite tight end in future years though so dynasty leagues need to consider him very carefully.
Holloways: Henry definitely has a lot to learn about blocking in the NFL, but he is an excellent route runner and has great hands. He landed in a good spot in San Diego and should be used often, frequently in tandem with Antonio Gates, who turned 36 recently should need to play less offensive snaps in his 14th season with the Chargers. Henry also has an advantage of playing with Philip Rivers and a successful passing offense that understands how to use their tight ends.
Miglio: Do we really need to talk about significant rookie additions at tight ends? Outside the year Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez took the league by storm, the tight end position is a factory of fantasy football sadness when it comes to rookie production. If we had to pick one for 2016 it would be Hunter Henry, who takes over the mantle of hyped Antonio Gates heir in San Diego.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Ben Braunecker, Chicago
Parsons: The incoming rookie tight ends are largely blocked by veteran placeholders, plus first-year tight ends are notoriously slow starters on the stat sheet. Hunter Henry needs an Antonio Gates injury to be more than a handcuff. Austin Hooper still has Jacob Tamme to beat out for quality targets in Atlanta. My sleeper pick is Ben Braunecker in Chicago. The Havard product has some Rob Gronkowski-like traits with the ball in the air, quality athleticism, and is already producing positive reviews in early practices. Veteran incumbent Zach Miller is a question mark as the projected starter, but Braunecker has the talent to turn it into a committee or even take the job by midseason.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles
Pasquino: Tight end is historically the most difficult position for a rookie to contribute in the NFL. So, with that said, I am looking solely for the best opportunity for a high end draft pick to see the field with regularity. The Falcons drafted Austin Hooper, but Julio Jones is the clear top target there and TE Jacob Tamme had 59 catches for 657 yards in 2015, second only in Jones in both categories. Hunter Henry will begin his first NFL season as the backup to future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates in San Diego. That leaves me with Tyler Higbee of the Rams, who could easily start in Week 1 now that Jared Cook is in Green Bay. Higbee was a big contributor at West Virginia, racking up over 1,000 yards in his collegiate career. With only Lance Kendricks to pass on the depth chart, Higbee could easily become a favorite target over the middle for rookie QB Jared Goff. Knowing that young NFL quarterbacks often look towards big targets across the middle, Higbee has TE2 upside for 2016.