• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Rookie Spotlight: Hendon Hooker

By Dustin Ludke

 

 

This year's draft will see quarterbacks coming off the board early and often. One name talked about as a possible late-round pick is former Tennesee Volunteer Hendon Hooker. He is recovering from an ACL injury but still led the Vols to a top-10 ranking and an 8-2 record prior to missing the final 2 games. He could not do the on-field workouts at the combine due to the knee injury but measured in at 6'3'' 213lbs. He played five seasons and enters the draft at 25 years old. Not having the buzz from the combine or a pro day, Hooker has been only talked about among college scouts but has gotten some buzz as we creep towards the draft.  By all accounts, he has knocked the interview process out of the park.

Positives

Mobility

Hooker has some get up and go to him. He rushed for a total of 2,079 yards and 25 yards in his 5-year 45-game career. Playing most of his snaps came from the shotgun which allowed him to execute more called rushing and option plays. The mobility also helps Hooker who looks a lot more accurate while throwing on the move than he does in the pocket. When flushed or designed out of the pocket Hooker's rushing upside keeps the defender's eyes occupied and allows receivers to get open. Hooker's accuracy while on the move and his rushing mobility allow him to make plays off schedule. He prefers to keep plays on schedule but his ability to hurt teams with his legs gives him an advantage in the modern NFL.

 

Maturity

Coming into the draft at 25 years old, Hooker has a level of maturity that we don't often see from draft picks. While it may be a knock against guys being older at other positions, for a quarterback maturity is a desired trait. We have seen plenty of guys come in and think they are bigger than they are and the immaturity leads to them being out of the league in 4 years. He was able to hold off Joe Milton who came to Tennessee as a highly touted transfer. As a 5-year college player, Hooker has learned under two different systems and coaching staffs and comes to the NFL further in his development than others.

 

Ball Security

Possibly the trait that will propel Hooker into having a long last NFL career is his ball security. Hooker only has 12 interceptions over his college career. He only had 5 during his two years as a Vol, compared to his 58 touchdowns. Turnover is the quickest way to lose your job at the next level and Hooker has shown that he can protect the ball and not lose a game for the team.

 

Negatives

 

Statue in the Pocket

When Hooker is in the pocket waiting for routes to develop down the field he stands so still. While calm feet are a good thing you still want to see some movement and be actively ready to slide up in the pocket or escape if needed. He has very solid footwork when it comes to his throwing mechanics his footwork is great but he lacks the liveliness you want to see. Hooker's lower body at times looks like the film is paused. Heading to the NFL against quicker, faster, and fiercer defenders, Hooker will have to avoid taking hits and he can't do that if he is so stoic. He is afforded time by playing mostly from the shotgun and will have to work on his in-pocket movement when he learns how to go under center in an NFL offense.

 

Starring down wide receivers

One of the biggest knocks against Hendon Hooker is that he will stare down his receivers. This could be because the offense was simpler than most college offenses or it could be because Hooker has trouble processing multiple reads. Watching the game film it's rare to see Hooker get to his second let alone his 3rd read. In the NFL this will lead to more interceptions and bad plays than touchdowns and positive plays. Top safeties, linebackers, and defensive coordinators will quickly pick up on this and put themselves and their teammates in a position to make plays. Hooker needs to learn how to manipulate defenders and move guys off his desired throwing windows to have success at the next level.

Intermediate throws

Hooker made a lot of throws over his career. with just under 1,000 attempts at 944 Hooker has thrown the ball plenty. Watching the game film where Hooker struggled the most is in the intermediate throws. Hooker looked really good on throws under 10 yards often hitting his backs and receivers in stride and allowing them to catch the ball in front of them and make plays up the field. Hooker also looked good with his ball placement on deep balls over 30 yards. He would put the ball in a place where only his receivers could get it and the ball did not hang up or float allowing. This kept defenders from intercepting his passes. In his college tenure, Hooker only has 12 total picks. Where Hooker struggled were throws from 10 to 30 yards down the field. When watching back game films often those throws were off target and lacked the proper velocity. At times they were too much causing the ball to sail high or not enough leaving the receiver reaching to the ground or behind on their routes to try to make the catch. Those are the types of passes that an NFL signal caller need to make to keep drives alive and win games.

 

Player Comparison: Jacoby Brissett

 

Most draft profiles will compare Hooker to Desmond Ridder. I want to explore another option, Jacoby Brissett. Brissett is a heavier player having almost 20 more pounds on Hooker. They both played for two different colleges, transferring after their sophomore year. While the rushing production in college wasn't as high for Brissett their passing style is very similar. They both prefer to keep plays on schedule but can escape when needed. They are good passers on the move and careful with the ball. We have seen Brissett be a capable starter when called upon but lack of a real opportunity has stimied his potential. Hooker might be in the same situation. Since he has to still recover from an ACL injury he hasn't been able to do pre-draft workouts like the combine or pro day. It could drop his draft stock and put him in the third round much like Brissett and Ridder were. He will most likely sit for a year and learn from a veteran and wait for his chance to secure his starting role.

 

Favorite Game

Watching Hooker against Kentucky showed why he is getting first-round buzz. It wasn't his best statistical game of the year but close. He posted 245 yards and 3 touchdowns on 19 completions and 25 total passing attempts. He added to that 10 rushing attempts for 23 yards and a touchdown. What I like most about this game was Hooker made some nice throws all over the field. To both the left and the right and at all distances. He was moving his feet in the pocket and often working to his 2nd read. He didn't do much on the ground other than the touchdown. Ten of his 23 rushing yards came on one play. It was still telling that the defense seemed to keep a spy on him to prevent him from breaking out and running. It showed he can compete and keep his level of play up despite playing a lower-quality opponent. We see that from the stars in the league so it was good to see that from Hooker

 

Best Fits

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are in a tough spot. They have a clear shot at easily winning the division and making a run but they are built around a veteran running back and quarterback. Kirk Cousins has been good for them but not great. He is in the last year of his deal and turning 35. It's time for the Vikings to look toward the future. Hooker could come in and spend a year learning the system from Cousins and be ready for the 2024 season. He would have time to develop chemistry with Justin Jefferson and any other young skills players they bring in. The Vikings hold the 23rd overall pick but then don't pick again till the 84th overall. They would have to either draft him early or make a move to acquire another pick. He fits similarly to what Cousins is but with more rushing upside.

 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks struck gold when they decided to stick with Geno Smith last year after years of being overlooked. They rewarded him with a 3-year contract but Geno will celebrate his 33rd birthday this year. They could look to bring in Hooker and let Smith mentor him. Smith has lots of years as a backup and can teach Hooker how to prepare each week even when he isn't expected to play. Geno's attitude and demeanor would be a great thing for Hooker to learn. That line between playing with a chip on your shoulder and being bitter is a fine line to walk but Geno has done it well and can teach a young QB how to do that. Hooker could be next in line of the surprise QBs that Seattle is able to find in unlikely places.

Indianapolis Colts

It's clear that the Colts are looking for a quarterback. They could be out of luck at the 4th overall pick if the top 3 guys are gone. They could in turn draft a solid player elsewhere and then scoop up Hooker in the second or move back into the end of the 1st round. The Colts could let Hooker recover and roll out Gardner Minshew who has starting experience or let them battle it out in camp. The Colts have a great running game with Jonathan Taylor so it would take pressure off Hooker and let him get accustomed to the speed of the NFL. There are decent pass-catching weapons in Indy. Not having top-end pass catchers is something Hooker is accustomed to from his time in Tennessee.