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Stanford in the NFL: Week 6

Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (above) led all tight ends in the NFL with a 90.6 game grade by Pro Football Focus. The 2016 third-round pick out of Stanford leads the NFL in receptions among tight ends so far this season. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

“Lacks suddenness and crisp feet in his route work underneath. Hands need work. Was late getting hands ready and had nine drops over two seasons for drop rate of almost 11%. Catch radius just average for his size.”

Austin Hooper entered the NFL as a third-round pick for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, coming off of a First-Team All-Pac-12 season where he was a finalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top collegiate tight end and amassed 34 catches for 438 yards and six touchdowns. The paragraph above was a snippet from longtime NFL head scout and analyst Lance Zierlein, published on the NFL website a few weeks before the 2016 draft. 

As of the end of Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season, Austin Hooper leads the NFL in receptions by a tight end with 42 and is second in the league in receiving yards with 480. He’s second in that category only to four-time Pro Bowler Travis Kelce, who has led the way for AFC tight ends for nearly half a decade. Hooper has racked up more receptions and receiving yards this season for the Falcons than the team’s all-world wide receiver Julio Jones, a 6-foot-3 behemoth who holds the team’s all-time receiving record and was the fastest player in history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards. 

Hooper is not only Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s go-to target, he’s arguably one of the best players at his position in the NFL. This past Sunday, the former Cardinal star torched the Arizona Cardinals secondary with 117 yards and a touchdown, reeling in all eight of the targets Ryan threw his way. Hooper’s 90.6 Pro Football Focus grade for the game led the NFL last week by a wide margin.

Hooper is rarely the star among Stanford players in the NFL; that honor usually goes to Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey who had a slow but solid performance against a Tampa Buccaneers team that did their very best to contain him. He picked up 31 yards on 21 carries and 26 yards on four receptions, but scored a one touchdown each on the ground and through the air. 

Another solid but unspectacular performance came by the way of Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Blake Martinez, who Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine called the “nerve center” of their defense earlier this season. A fourth-round pick out of Stanford back in 2016, Martinez has done nothing but rack up tackles on tackles on tackles for the Packers defense over the past few years; Packers and Detroit Lions fans saw nothing different on Monday. Martinez led the Green Bay defense with 5 tackles, and helped to hold the Detroit rushing attack to only 56 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. 

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro continued his streak of dominant line play this season, keeping Devlin Hodges upright in his first career start for the team. The third-stringer didn’t get sacked once thanks to DeCastro and company and handed the ball off to a running back group that amassed 124 yards and a touchdown against a fierce Chargers defensive line. DeCastro has still not allowed a single sack this season, and has only been called for one penalty all year.

San Francisco 49ers fans saw a flash of what they’ve been expecting for years from 2017 first-round pick Solomon Thomas on Sunday, as the former Stanford star brought down Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff for an eight-yard loss. Thomas was stout against the run and added another quarterback hurry to his totals against a struggling Rams offensive line. He earned a solid 77.8 game grade from Pro Football Focus and now has 6 sacks on his career.

Every week is a new opportunity to shine for Stanford’s small but mighty contingent of starters in the NFL, and next week will be no different.

Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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