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Should QB Hendon Hooker be drafted in the first round?

We take a look at whether the Tennessee quarterback should hear his name called in the first round.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2023 NFL Draft is fast approaching and this year’s quarterback class is intriguing. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud both have a strong shot at being taken by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 1 pick, while Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis could also hear their names called in the top 10.

And then there’s Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, whose positioning in this draft will be something to watch in the first two days. After suffering a torn ACL towards the end of UT’s season last November, he was considered a Day 2 selection that a team could stash away while he rehabs. According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, however, he is rising up boards with several recent mocks have him creeping into the tail end of first round. We’ll go over if a team should take a swing at the Vols signal-caller.

Should Hendon Hooker be a first-round pick?

Scouting report

At 6’3”, 217 pounds, Hooker began his collegiate career at Virginia Tech before transferring to Tennessee prior to the 2021 season. The strong-armed QB thrived as the starter in Josh Heupel’s vertical spread offense, throwing for just under 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2021. In 2022, Hooker made himself a household name as the Vols experienced a long-awaited return to national prominence. Through 11 games, he completed 70% of his passes for 3,135 yards, 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He had a strong chance to win the Heisman Trophy before tearing his ACL in a late-season loss to South Carolina. He still ended up taking home SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

According to NFL analyst Lance Zierlein, Hooker’s strengths include good footwork, staying on schedule, and patience in the pocket along with sneaky athleticism. Some knocks include him playing in an offensive system where he didn’t have go through many progressions. Heupel’s offense places extra weight on the receivers establishing separation to get open and Hooker’s job was made easier with the likes of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman burning past defensive backs.

Interested teams

A number of teams have shown interest by hosting Hooker for a pre-draft visit in the past few weeks. That list includes the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Raiders own the No. 7 pick in the draft and are doing their due diligence with each QB prospect. Meanwhile, the other franchises mentioned own mid-late first-round picks.

There seems to be a lot of smoke with the Lions, who own the No. 6 and No. 18 picks this year. While they should be thinking about locking down a quarterback of the future, they are in a position where they don’t have to rush one out there with Jared Goff currently holding things down as the starter. They could effectively redshirt him for the 2023 season, allowing him to simultaneously heal and absorb the system.

Verdict

If a team like the Lions, Saints, or even the Minnesota Vikings are patient and are cool with sitting him down for a year, then they should absolutely take a mid-late first-round flyer on Hooker. The upside of what he could be when he’s healthy outweighs the cost of what you’re giving up to take him in the first round.