Austin Hooper has potential ... just not in 2016

Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former Stanford tight end Austin Hooper.

Alright everyone, let's say it together: rookie tight ends rarely produce in fantasy football. But the best thing about rookies is that they eventually become second-year players. Still, why not take a look at one of the top prospects at the position to see if there is a future for Austin Hooper -- especially in a weak tight end draft class?

Strengths

» Big, broad frame he uses to "box out" defenders
» Excels at making contested catches
» Can run routes as in-line tight end or slot receiver
» Willing and able blocker in the run game

Stanford has earned a reputation in recent years for sending quality tight ends to the NFL and on the surface, Hooper appears to be next in line. At 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds, he has the look of an NFL tight end. He also plays like it at times. It's most noticeable when he sets up in the middle of the field and displays a big target for his quarterback. The middle of the field is generally where Hooper made his living with the Cardinal with his ability to line up as both a traditional tight end or as a slot receiver.

In a way, one of Hooper's negatives led to a positive. He doesn't particularly excel at beating man coverage but he did turn out to be pretty good at making contested catches. It's a skill that could prove to be necessary at the next level. What will also prove pretty handy will be Hooper's ability to block in the run game. That shouldn't come as a surprise for a player who spent his collegiate career playing in a power rushing offense. Regardless it's a skill that could help him get or stay on the field more often as a rookie.

Weaknesses

» Struggles to get open versus man coverage
» Takes a while to get to top speed
» Will need to be more physical against defenders

Much of Hooper's production came against zone defenses or on plays where he benefited from the defense's confusion. Despite lining up as a slot receiver, he lacks the foot speed to cause a problem for defensive backs or athletic linebackers. That means he rarely had a lot of easy catches against man coverage. That's where Hooper's ability to make contested catches will be more necessary than a lot of scouts would like.

What could help Hooper gain some more space against defenders would be to get a little more physical. It was surprising how frequently he was given a free release in college. He's not likely to be so fortunate in the NFL. That might be the biggest obstacle facing Hooper ... unless he can somehow add a lot more foot quickness in the next year.

Ideal fantasy fits

You might have heard that rookie tight ends aren't big fantasy producers. It's even harder when there isn't a big market for the position in the first place. The movement among tight ends during free agency lessened the need for some clubs to pursue the position in the draft. However, the Falcons have been in search of help since Tony Gonzalez retired. Hooper's blocking skills could also help in an offense that could lean increasingly on the run. Jared Cook's move to Green Bay opens up a slot with the Rams -- though you could have suggested that a spot was open even with Cook on the roster. The 49ers have tried to shoehorn Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell into a starting tight end spot, but that hasn't totally worked. Maybe they take a chance on a guy who played college ball locally?

Early fantasy draft projection

Hooper isn't likely to have his name called until the third day of the draft. But for fantasy managers, it won't really matter. Any production he offers you this season will be pretty minimal, which makes him a non-factor in redrafts. He's not likely to be much of a commodity in dynasty drafts, either. If you're feeling quite saucy, you could take a chance on him with your final pick ... but don't. Just don't.

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Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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