Austin Hooper remains ball of confusion for Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

Let’s get one thing right, the Tennessee Titans missed Jonnu Smith much more than most people expected in 2021.

His presence as a blocker, receiving threat, and playmaker with the ball in his hands was felt, and his absence was a big reason for the Titans being as offensively ineffective as they were last year.

That is why they signed Austin Hooper to a one-year contract in the offseason, because he was a big contributor for the Atlanta Falcons, and his performance with the Cleveland Browns was far from bad considering he was splitting duties with David Njoku. And by drafting another tight end with athletic upside in Chig Okonkwo, it looked like the Titans were going to be lightyears better at the position in 2022.

Okonkwo, while still being a project, showed a glimpse of what Titans fans can expect from him last week. For Hooper, on the other hand, let’s just say that it has not been smooth sailing so far.

Tennessee Titans desperately need to get Austin Hooper involved on offense

So far to start the season, Hooper has been targeted a total of ten times and caught 5 passes for 48 yards and 3 first downs. Base statistics of course are far from the full story, but that information is more than enough to conclude that he has been a disappointment up to this point.

Sadly that might not even be the biggest red flag, as his percentage of offensive snaps has gone down each week, only playing 36.5 percent of them in Indianapolis. To be fair, he only practiced twice last week, and both times in a yellow non-contact jersey, so that very well might have impacted his snap count last Sunday.

It still does not take away from the utter perplexity that has been his lack of involvement in this offense. Even more baffling is that really up until the very start of the season, he was looking like a slam-dunk acquisition for the Titans.

When OTA’s were taking place, Ryan Tannehill was talking about building chemistry with Hooper, and the top tight end role looked like all but his to lose. It looked more of the same during training camp, as he was still performing well and still getting lots of reps with the first-team offense.

That has obviously translated zero to the regular season, and the guy playing in his place, Geoff Swaim, elevates the Tennessee Titans in no way whatsoever. And do you want to hear something even more mind-blowing? Swaim, who has consistently been top-three in the offense in terms of snap percentage, has an even less impressive stat line than Hooper, hauling in six catches for 38 yards.

So…what in the world is going on?

With guys like Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips, you could at least use the excuse that they are rookies and still getting acclimated, but that should not at all be the case for a veteran like Hooper.

The only possible explanation for all of this is the way the Titans have run their offense, and it only adds more fuel to the “fire Todd Downing” crowd. The only times Hooper has been actually noticeable have been on obvious passing downs, and if being a pass-catcher is his clear strength, why is he not on the field on the plays that Swaim is also in? Isn’t the main role of a tight end to help the passing game, and doesn’t a better passing game also elevate the running game?

It only makes sense that this is an issue, especially given the second-half issues which consist of conservative play-calling and the same personnel on the field on run plays, which seem to always be on first down.

Ryan Tannehill has talked multiple times about Hooper’s role increasing, and Mike Vrabel has been on record saying that Swaim has been playing more because he is a better blocker, despite Swaim being below average in that department. Maybe the Tennessee Titans are waiting for Burks and Philips to further develop so they can run a more efficient passing game with everyone involved, but all of that is only speculation at this point.

The good news is that Hooper’s contract is only for one year, so if he continues to flame out, the long-term ramifications of the move are going to be nonexistent. And even if he rebounds, it is still unlikely that he re-signs due to the probable emergence of Okonkwo. But the present is the present, and the Titans need to use Hooper to their advantage, or else have $6M and his potential lurking in the waste.

The bottom line is, we are all thrown off by this, and Vrabel and company need to get it fixed.