With the Cleveland Browns moving on from Austin Hooper, what should the tight end room look like in 2022?
When the 2021 season ended, it was obvious that the Austin Hooper experience had run its course. A necessary evil when he was signed in 2020, the veteran tight end’s lack of production combined with his contract had become an albatross around the franchise’s neck. That came to an end when the franchise officially announced that Hooper would be a post-June 1st designated cut.
Now, with Hooper gone, how will the Browns approach rounding out their tight end room? Obviously, David Njoku is going to be their primary weapon at tight end. The team made that apparent when they franchise tagged the dynamic tight end.
Njoku’s skill set combined with a newly revised wide receiver room could equate to the team playing much more 11 personnel than they have the past two seasons. By attaining more speed on the outside, Njoku would be a huge beneficiary of the space that would be created. In an efficiently spaced offense, Njoku could feast operating over the middle of an uncongested field.
Which Cleveland Browns tight end benefits most from Hooper’s departure?
Even with Njoku’s inevitable uptick in usage, Harrison Bryant would be the main benefactor of Hooper’s departure. In his two previous years, Bryant’s opportunities came when the Browns were in 13 personnel. In his limited opportunities Bryant has shown the proclivity for getting open in the second level and coming down with tough catches. Bryant’s work down the seam and in the red zone make him one of the better number two tight end threats in the league.
However, Hooper’s departure will leave a hole in the tight end room that will need to be filled. As of this article, Miller Forristall and Nick Guggemos are the only other tight ends currently on the roster. Neither Forristall nor Guggemos appear to be in line for playing time with the Browns anytime soon.
The team also decided not to tender Stephen Carlson, so he is now in the free-agent pool too. There are a few free agents that would make sense for the number three tight end role, but no names that would wow anyone, e.g.: Mitchell Wilcox, Dominique Dafney, and Kaden Smith.
The Browns best opportunity to add quality to the tight end room will be in the upcoming NFL draft. While the team is unlikely to add a day one or two pick to the room, there are going to be plenty of quality players available on day three this year.
Jeremy Ruckert, Cole Turner, and Nick Muse are all names to watch when the Browns head to the podium in April. Jelani Woods is a prime candidate from a physical standpoint, but unfortunately, Woods falls far outside of the age guardrails set by the Browns front office. Given the lack of depth of the tight end room, the Browns will get at least one tight end from the 2022 class.
Hooper’s departure is a classic case of addition by subtraction. With Njoku and Harrison’s snaps increasing, it will be interesting to see who grabs ahold of the number three role. Chances are, they are not on the team yet.