The Pittsburgh Steelers are after a tight end. Now that Heath Miller has retired, there is a clear lack of depth at this position. Stanford TE Austin Hooper may be who Pittsburgh is looking for. After meeting him, and from him showing knowledge about Pittsburgh's problems, there is an understanding that he may be the missing piece of the team's offensive puzzle.
His physical stats are a little sub-par however. He is 6-feet 4-inches and 254-pounds, a little on the small side. This could be a hinderance when actually being picked by anyone, but Hooper himself doesn't seem too worried saying in an interview at the combine, "I grew up playing defensive line my whole life until I came to college, so the physical side of the game of football isn't something that scares me in the slightest." Further to that, he could add another ten to twenty pounds of muscle onto his frame with little to no repercussions to his speed. He may not be the biggest tight end, but that is no reason to write him off.
While Hooper should be peaking interest is due to his on field stats. In the last season he had 34 receptions for 438 yards. That's a fantastic 12.9 yards per reception. Match that with 6 touchdowns and no fumbles, it is plain to see that he has VERY sure hands. Even then, he is a valuable member of the line, he can block and will latch onto the defensive line when he is tasked to - this shows that his time playing defensive line up until college was well spent. He can read what the defense is going to do before they do it.
His highlight reel shows all of the above. He is a great receiver and can use his speed creating yards after the catch. He can adapt his routes as he reads the defense and reacts to the defensive pressure to ensure he gets to the ball. He uses his weight and size against the defense to gain an extra yard or two after after the tackle before hitting the ground. This is something all great tight ends do - Heath Miller and fellow Stanford alumni Coby Fleener both do/did this.
What does this all mean for the Steelers? It means that by drafting Hooper they can guarantee a rookie who can become an asset to their offense. Pittsburgh can play Matt Spaeth as their primary tight end, giving him mostly blocking duties, then rotate Jesse James and Hooper for more versatile roles. This, plus the benefit of an NFL weight room and training, Hooper will become the full package before long. This is actually a luxury Pittsburgh can afford, Spaeth has another year left on his contract. This means that Pittsburgh will end up with not one, but two quality tight ends.
Touchdown VS. USC (2015)
Here's Hooper's touchdown against USC. Watch how he is able to take a simple drag route which should be a simple first down into a touchdown for Stanford. His use of his size and his use of the space around him is fantastic, and something which would add a new dimension to the Steelers' offense in 2016 if he were selected by Pittsburgh.
Blocking VS. Notre Dame
Here he is on the far right of the line (no. 84), creating a pathway for the quarterback to score a touchdown. He seals the line, blocking the linebackers from disrupting the quarterback run. This blocking is so good that it opens up the channel for the touchdown. This shows that Hooper IS a capable blocker.
When it comes to the draft, Hooper is listed as a second round talent. Hunter Henry is still likely to be drafted higher, and Pittsburgh are not likely to draft a tight end in the first round, more likely a cornerback or a lineman. However, when the second round comes, Austin Hooper may well be the perfect player to draft.