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Hendon Hooker draft profile

Is Dak Prescott an elite QB? He has a $40 million salary. He's been to multiple Pro Bowls. He had nearly 5,000 passing yards in 2019. Dak is in his 7th NFL season and closing in on the age of 30, but still has jarring inconsistency that is more similar to a younger, inexperienced QB.

Dak had a rough outing in Dallas's regular season finale. He completed 14 out of 37 passes (38%) for 128 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Dan Orlovsky was very critical of him, breaking down the pick 6 Dak had against Washington. On that play, the defense was in zone coverage, with the CB sitting on top of the WR's outbreaking route, reading the QB's eyes. As Orlovsky pointed out, there were multiple other targets that were open and against that coverage look it didn't make any sense to even attempt the throw to challenge the CB. Instead, Dak tries it anyway as the CB drives on the route, cutting in front of the WR. Dak's pass isn't accurate, too far to the inside, and it becomes a TD for the opponent.

I really liked Dak after his 2014 season in college. I wasn't as high on him as a prospect after his 2015 year. When I saw this pick 6 and how it happened, it made me think "That's exactly what I saw Dak do in 2015 while at Mississippi State." Why does he have plays like that at this point in his career? Dak has 15 INTs this season in only 12 starts with a career high 3.8% INT rate. Not quite as bad, but drifting towards Jameis Winston territory, where you throw for a bunch of yards and TDs, but also too many INTs. Is Dak just trying too hard to prove how good he is or is something else off?

For years, I thought I was wrong about Dak. But, perhaps the truth is that at the end of the day, I really don't have a great handle on what makes any QB (not just Dak Prescott) successful in the NFL and what makes another one fail. Why was Geno Smith so much more effective in 2022 compared to the early part of his pro career?

If we can't be confident in our ability to accurately evaluate QBs, drafting QBs becomes little more than taking a shot in the dark. The Rams finished 2022 with a backup QB who was formerly a number one overall selection. Baker Mayfield was released, because you could say he was beaten out by a former UDFA, PJ Walker. Mayfield finished with a 50.6 PFF grade on the season, 36th out of 38 qualifying QBs. Mike White was a compensatory 5th round pick in the same draft as Mayfield. I don't believe in White as the solution at QB for the Jets, but given the choice between White and Mayfield, which of those 2 guys is the better QB? Normally, that shouldn't even be a valid question to compare the number 1 overall pick to a late 5th round player.

Dallas only drafted Dak as a fallback option after failing to land the QBs they liked better in that draft. Dallas tried to trade up for Paxton Lynch, offering multiple picks to Seattle, but were outbid by Denver. Early in the 4th round, Dallas tried to trade up to get Connor Cook, but once again they were outbid, this time by the Raiders. When the Rams waived Nick Foles, Dallas wanted to sign him, but Foles only wanted to play for Andy Reid. Dallas also tried to trade for Josh McCown. It was something of a "right place, right time" situation for Dak, because if things had gone the way Dallas preferred, Dak likely never becomes a Cowboy and presumably ends up in a worse situation instead of stepping into a great situation when Tony Romo got injured. In Dak's rookie season, Dallas had the 2nd ranked OL in the NFL. With Ezekiel Elliott, they had arguably the best rushing attack in the league. Dak had veteran, reliable receiving weapons in Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley.

Over the last 30 years, the most successful QB drafted by the Rams was a number one overall pick (Goff) and probably the 2nd most successful QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) was one of the last picks in the draft, taken in the compensatory section of the 7th round in 2005. Two of the best QBs the Rams had over that time period (Warner and Bulger) weren't drafted by the team or signed as UDFAs. Warner was cut by the Packers and bounced out of the NFL entirely. Bulger was a 6th round pick who got waived by the Saints. As best I can tell, Bulger might have been the 5th string QB when he got cut. The Rams were his 3rd NFL team.

Like Dak and Dallas, if the Rams hadn't had Mike Martz, Bruce, Holt, Faulk, and Pace, I bet no one would remember Warner or Bulger today. They probably would have either bounced out of the NFL or just been career backups. Even in a more optimistic take, maybe they would have eventually won opportunities to start, but it would have been on a bad team and they wouldn't have looked very good.

Come NFL draft season, I do my best to break down a prospect as an individual player and list their strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to the QB position in particular, I wonder if those attributes are necessarily as important in the big picture as we might think. I'm not sold that Jalen Hurts is really an elite QB, but this year he is in a great scheme that fits his skill set, with an outstanding offensive line, surrounded by very good skill position weapons (AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, Goedert, Miles Sanders.) I thought their 3rd string RB, Boston Scott, looked pretty good in the last game. The talent level and experience on that OL with Lane Johnson, Kelce, Landon Dickerson, Mailata, they are tough to handle. PFF ranked them as the best OL heading into the final week.

Football is a team game. If a team is talented enough and has good coaching, to some extent a QB's flaws can get covered up. If a team is bad enough, even a pretty good QB can struggle, like Stafford did this year with the Rams. Stafford received a 67.0 PFF grade, ranking 26th out of 38. Put Stafford on the Eagles and see if the results would have been the same.

System Quarterbacks

With that preface, what should we make of Tennessee QB, Hendon Hooker? He had a very strong 2022 and was considered to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at one point before suffering a season ending ACL injury. His critics, however, primarily focus on the very QB friendly offensive scheme used by the head coach for the Vols, Josh Heupel. Is Hooker just a system QB with inflated stats (see e.g. Andre Ware?)

It is hard to gauge how NFL scouts and executives feel about Hooker. Prior to Hooker's injury, there was 1st round buzz building around him. On the other hand, I've also seen articles speculating that pro scouts don't like Hooker. Back in September, PFN suggested that Hooker was only a Day 3 prospect, a developmental backup. In October, MMQB quoted an NFC executive who described Hooker as just "a quality backup." Hooker could have entered the 2022 draft, but one reason he reportedly stayed in school was he got negative feedback from NFL scouts.

After his strong 2022 season, did Hooker do enough to boost his stock and break into the 1st round? Or, will he slide deep into Day 3, going lower than Dak Prescott, who was a compensatory 4th round pick? A comparable 2022 prospect in terms of that level of draft uncertainty is Sam Howell, who in many early mock drafts was a low 1st round pick, but lasted all the way until the top of the 5th round. Howell had a 2nd round grade from Lance Zierlein. Howell was a good runner with a strong arm. Daniel Jeremiah ranked him as the 48th overall prospect. Howell started for Washington in the game where Dak was stinking it up.

I didn't struggle much with assigning Hooker a draft grade. I see him as a very similar prospect to a QB I wrote about back in 2021, Kellen Mond from Texas A&M. Mond was drafted by the Vikings near the very top of the 3rd round in 2021. I had a 5th round draft grade on Mond, comparing him to Dak Prescott. The Vikings waived Mond after only 1 season. Sean Mannion beat out Mond for the 2nd string job in 2021. Kevin O'Connell became the new Vikings HC in 2022, but apparently wasn't impressed by Mond. So, the Vikings traded for Nick Mullens and dumped Mond. The Browns picked him up and he's listed as their 3rd string QB.

My grade for Hooker is exactly the same as the grade I had on Mond. But, will Hooker's pro career more closely resemble Mond's or will he become the next Dak Prescott?

Background

Name: Hendon Hooker. Turns 25 years old later this week. Had degree in public relations. Was master's student in agriculture leadership, education and communication. Bonus senior, 6th year senior.

School: Tennessee. Transferred from Virginia Tech in 2021.

Size: Per NFLDraftBuzz 6'4'' tall, 218 pounds, 10.5'' hands, 33 3/4'' arms, 79'' wingspan. 4.77 sec (40 time). Per Sports Illustrated 6'3 1/4'' tall, 218 pounds, 4.66 sec (40 time).

Dad was college QB at North Carolina A&T, younger brother is QB at same school. Was 3 to 4 star recruit.

Religious. Co-wrote a faith based children's book.

Suffered a torn ACL (left leg) against South Carolina on an option running play, non-contact injury, his knee buckled as he faked the pitch.

Redshirted at Va.Tech in 2017. By the end of his redshirt freshman season, Hooker was only the 4th string QB. The following year, Hooker made 8 starts and in 7 of those games he didn't throw an INT. On the other hand, they didn't throw the ball very often (he only had 3 starts with more than 20 passing attempts.

In 2020, Hooker got covid. This led to a brief health scare, as doctors thought he might have a heart issue that would require surgery, but Hooker was cleared after additional tests. A different QB, Braxton Burmeister, was the starter early in the year, but later gave way to Hooker, who was up and down on a team that finished 5-6.

In 2021, Hooker transferred to Tennessee, where former Rams QB coach, Chris Weinke, would have been his position coach, but Tennessee's staff got fired after he committed. The new HC became Josh Heupel. If Heupel never became the HC and Weinke and the rest of the old staff had remained, I wonder if Hooker will still be viewed as a draft worthy QB today. He might only be a late round to UDFA type of prospect.

Heupel as a player was the very definition of a system QB. He had big numbers for Oklahoma, but wasn't blessed with arm talent or great athleticism. He finished 2nd to Weinke in the 2000 Heisman Trophy voting. Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson finished behind them. Heupel was drafted in the 6th round by Miami, but had a very brief career.

We briefly touched on Heupel's offense back when Jacob Harris was drafted by the Rams, because Heupel was UCF's coach. Harris often lined up all the way on the far sideline when the ball was on the opposite hash and ran an extremely limited and simplistic route tree. I noted that Dillon Gabriel, the QB for UCF, had way more passing yards per game that season than Trevor Lawrence. Gabriel transferred to Oklahoma in 2022 and will play for the Sooners again in 2023.

Hooker did not initially win the starting QB's job for the Vols. Joe Milton (a transfer from Michigan) was the starter to begin 2021, but looked shaky and then got injured in the 2nd game of the season, opening the door for Hooker. After Hooker's 2022 injury, Milton started the final 2 games, including beating Clemson in the bowl game.

Hooker lit up the scoreboard in 2021, both with his arm and his legs. He had 31 passing TDs, with only 3 INTs and added over 600 rushing yards. He was on pace to have an even better 2022 season at the time of his knee injury.

2019: 61.1% completions, 1,555 yards, 13 TDs, 2 INTs, 5 fumbles

2020: 65.3% comp, 1,339 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 620 rush yards (5.2 ave), 4 fumbles

2021: 68.0% comp, 2,945 yards, 31 TDs, 3 INTs, 616 rush yards, 5 TDs (3.7 ave), 10 fumbles

2022: 69.6% comp, 3,135 yards, 27 TDs, 2 INTs, 430 rush yards, 5 TDs (4.1 ave), 6 fumbles, 85.8 PFF grade.

NFLDB says he has a quick release, live arm, throws tight spirals. Impressive accuracy on the move. Smart, high character, natural leader. Impressive runner, ideal height. Holds ball too long. Sloppy mechanics on the move. Lacks touch to drop the ball in the bucket. Work in progress with mechanics, stands flat footed. Wasn't in a pro style offense.

Sports Illustrated prior to 2022 season said he can throw with effortless flick of wrist, arm talent to reach all parts of the field. Dual threat. Misses big plays with overthrown passes. Lacks touch. Loses pocket presence, scrambles if 1st read taken away. Poor ball security as runner. Flat footed in pocket. 4th round grade.

TDN (Joe Marino) implied that Hooker's draft stock dipped due to his injury, questions about his scheme, age, and injury. Has sturdy frame, big hands, drives ball outside the numbers and downfield. Good mobility. Clean lower body throwing mechanics. Was in spread offense with incredibly wide WR alignments creating manufactured space, with little in progression style passing, and predetermined throws.

PFN in September credited Hooker for having such a hot start to his season, but didn't seem sold on him, discussing in detail a number of mechanical issues with his throwing motion. Great arm strength, off script ability. Can anticipate 2nd window throws. Makes backshoulder adjustments, can throw WRs away from contact. Composed in pocket. Stares down targets. Indecisive. Inaccurate on short throws. Both upper and lower body mechanical problems. Inconsistent release point, misaligned shoulders, inconsistent footwork and hip rotation.

Josh Edwards (CBS) compared Hooker to Jacoby Brissett.

ESPN 5th QB, 68th overall (early 3rd rd)

CBSSports 5th QB, 66th (early 3rd)

PFF 5th QB, 49th (2nd rd)

Drafttek 5th QB, 61st (late 2nd)

Draftcountdown 4th QB, 73rd (3rd)

PFN 5th QB, 45th (2nd rd)

NFLDraftBuzz 4th QB, 28th (late 1st)

PFN Sim 5th QB, 34th (early 2nd)

NFLmockdraftdatabase Sim 6th QB, 48th (2nd rd)

Based on the draft boards, I'd say he's the consensus 5th best QB prospect, with an average draft slot in the 2nd to 3rd round area.

Strengths

Has big hands, if NFLDB stats are accurate. Dak Prescott has 10 7/8'' hands. Mond has 9 3/8'' hands. So, if you think hand size matters for a QB, Hooker's hands are closer in size to Dak's hands. I don't know if hand size is that important, Joe Burrow only has 9 inch hands, but I also thought that Jared Goff with his tiny Burrow sized hands didn't look comfortable throwing the ball with gloves on up in Green Bay on Sunday night, offering up some off target wobblers. So, if you are a team that plays in wet or cold weather (not the Rams), hand size might be more of a consideration, especially around playoff time in January.

Prototypical height and weight for an NFL QB. Can't test due to injury, but probably would have run a good 40 time. Some of his statistics and measurables remind me of Geno Smith, who was an early 2nd round pick in 2013. Geno played with Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin in a spread offense at West Virginia and early on in the draft process was mocked as the potential number 1 overall pick in that draft. Geno is a "draft bust" as far as the Jets are concerned, but he's still in the NFL and in his early 30's was a good starting QB in 2022.

Zach Wilson was the number 2 overall pick in 2021. If we lined up all of their respective stats, measurements, attributes and skills, is Hooker that much worse than Wilson as a prospect? Not saying Hooker should be a top 10 pick, just throwing the question out there, because sometimes I wonder why one guy gets picked early and another one doesn't.

Displays good touch on deep go routes. Nice spiral on deep balls.

Had some good throws into tight coverage on a variety of intermediate routes.

Does a solid job in pocket of moving his front foot to make adjustments to the angle of his intended pass as he goes through a progression or reacts to the positioning of a defender. Against zone coverage, he sees the LB drop under the WR's route, adjusts and throws the WR open to the outside of the LB. Left arm tucked to body as he throws.

Mobility and athleticism to escape pressure and turn potential sacks into completions or scrambles for good yardage. The RB makes a mental error, blowing his assignment in pass protection, but the QB escapes in time, and completes the pass for a first down. The LG is beaten in pass pro, QB feels it, runs up the middle for 15 yard gain.

Smooth acceleration as a runner, can eat up chunks of yards when he sees green grass. Can be used on designed QB runs and draws.

Stunned Alabama in 2022 with dramatic, clutch 4th quarter comeback victory.

Humble, grounded personality with some leadership intangibles. Was a backup at times in college, not one of those hyped recruits who always started and has never been a backup in HS or college, then gets to the NFL and doesn't know how to handle being on the bench.

Stats improved every season in college.

Weaknesses

Huge jump in his stats after he transferred from VT to Tenn. Got a ton of yardage against blown coverages from the opponent. Inflated passing numbers due to scheme creating many easy completions and also helped rushing total, because there were huge voids for the QB to run into once he got past the LOS.

Gimmicky scheme. RPO based, all shotgun snaps. The WR splits are so super wide (and in college football the hashmarks are wider) that it stretches the defense horizontally to the max. This results in enormous passing windows. Many of the plays have extremely simplistic, predetermined reads. Frequent vertical go routes going up the seam or the sideline unlocked the coverage, creating many very easy big play opportunities with simple reads for the QB.

Stares down primary targets, not skilled at manipulating defenders with his eyes. Not an anticipatory thrower, tends to wait to see the WR come out of the break first before throwing the ball. His late throws outside the numbers are dangerous and could become INTs in the NFL. The risk/reward calculus is way off, because like Dak's pick 6 against Washington, the defender has a potential opportunity to score a TD, but on the short comeback route, even if the WR catches it, the offense gains maybe 5 to 7 yards.

QB looks to the left after the snap. The WR to the right, who is probably the 3rd target in the progression, gets behind the coverage and is open for a potential long TD, but the QB's eyes stare too long to the left, so he never gets to his 3rd read, he just takes off scrambling once he decides he doesn't like the routes on the left side. Would have had WR open in corner of end zone, but didn't anticipate it and throws the ball out of bounds.

The deep post is wide open, plenty of space for the throw. QB comes off the route too quickly looking for a more difficult throw and shorter route to the outside.

The TE on a chip block releases into his route. The LB in the middle drops deep to cover a different receiver and the TE will pop wide open over the middle into the vacated space. After reading the right side of the field, QB never even looks at the TE, he just takes off running, picking up huge yardage on the ground, but IMO this "highlight" play is actually a big negative play from an NFL evaluation perspective.

Accuracy problems, and has particular issue with missing too high. LB blitz creates pressure in his face and he sails ball too high over the middle. Has WRs running wide open over middle on intermediate routes, but his ball placement is too high, impacting YAC and making the catch more difficult. High misses tend to become INTs in the NFL.

Doesn't consistently get fluid and complete rotation on his throws. His release point sometimes drops lower. Lackadaisical footwork in his dropback. Stiff upper body. Feet are too wide at top of drop.

Head not aligned properly, sometimes leans slightly to his left, then sits back as he releases the ball, which robs him of velocity and accuracy. Even on a short slant route, he doesn't generate enough velocity on some of his throws the way you'd expect from a QB his size.

Scattershot ball placements and accuracy to all 3 levels, even on very easy throws when he's not under any pressure. Pass should lead the WR to the inside, but is on his back hip. Ball should lead the WR to the sideline on outbreaking route, but instead it leads the WR to the inside, directly into a hit from the CB. Air mails balls over head of WRs on simple comeback routes. Pass to WR in flat, his shoulders are not properly aligned, they are perpendicular to the WR, resulting in the ball placement not being precise. RB circles out of backfield about 3 yards past the LOS, the QB doesn't find a good window and tries to throw it over the DL, but it sails high and behind the RB, gets deflected into the air for a near INT. Misses wide of WR on short out pattern. Missed wide of TE on short route. Overthrows wide open WR on deep route. INT when he air mails intermediate route. Pass behind RB on dump off. Missed some throws too low. Pass to TE in flat on his back hip, not out in front.

Holds ball too long, taking sacks. Doesn't navigate the pocket well to maximize his space and time and find throwing windows. On RPO, the LB reads the RB and comes on a green dog blitz, QB has comeback route available, but holds the ball too long, taking a sack instead of throwing pass for completion. Stood in one spot in pocket, his feet glued when all he needed to do is take one slide step to his left so there wouldn't be as much congestion. On RPO, the pass blocking is very good, but QB scrambles out of the pocket to his right, directly into pressure. Lacks composure and plan when his 1st read isn't open, begins to panic and look to scramble. Has opportunity to hit WR on deep pass, but instead of taking one slide step to his left he stands in one spot, then overthrows the WR. Near INT when hit on release.

Takes extra hitches and pats the ball in the pocket, not anticipating when WRs or RBs will come open, contributing to sacks. The WR running a post route is wide open, but QB's eyes are glued on the outside WR, staring down the wrong target. The play should have resulted in a sack fumble, but QB is lucky to get away and turns it into a huge gain by scrambling down the sideline.

Doesn't have elite arm talent. Congestion in pocket, not able to step into throw, resulting in a severely underthrown deep pass. Underthrew deep ball. Totally blew a TD on severely underthrown pass to a wide open WR.

Long strider as runner. Not sudden or elusive in space. Wiry lower body, doesn't have run strength commensurate with his listed height and weight. Tight hipped, not able to consistently power through tackles or make defenders miss tackles. Takes huge hits in open field, once he gets up to speed it is like he can't stop his forward momentum. Defenders violently rip or twist him to the ground. Josh Dobbs (late 4th round 2017) was a better runner at Tennessee than Hooker.

3 years older than average draft prospect. Had ACL injury in 2022.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

5th round grade, Kellen Mond (5th round 2021, Vikings, Texas A&M)

In my view, Hendon Hooker isn't an "eventual starter" type of QB prospect. His physical tools are solid, but not elite. He has a number of mechanical issues with his footwork and throwing motion. The way he reads defenses, processes coverages and makes decisions on when, where and how to throw the football are only at a basic level, not advanced enough yet for the NFL.

If Hooker were younger, we'd call him a raw, developmental project. If it takes years for him to get additional coaching and experience, he could be around 28 to 29 years old by the time he's "ready to play" and even then his ceiling might be a QB2, not as a starter. Consequently, I have him as a Day 3 prospect, I'm not optimistic that there is enough upside to justify taking him on Day 2.

I wasn't that high on Howell last year. I didn't think Howell showed great football IQ in his interviews. Yet, if Sam Howell and Hendon Hooker were in the same draft, I would take Howell over Hooker, and Howell was a 5th round pick.

Back in 2016, I believe I had a 5th round grade on Paxton Lynch and I'm almost certain I had Lynch graded higher than Dak Prescott. If Lynch, Hooker and Dak were all in the same draft and we didn't have the benefit of hindsight to know how their pro careers would go, what would be the draft order? We could also throw Connor Cook in there for good measure. I'd probably have Dak and Hooker vying for the last slot out of that group. So, I don't know how you want to spin that. Either Hooker could be worse than Paxton Lynch or he could be better than Dak Prescott. That's the NFL draft for you.

Tennessee had an exciting 2022 football season. Hooker was a key part of their success. I'm skeptical whether it will translate to the NFL. I didn't think his tape was that good. I see Hooker as a backup candidate, I don't think there's anything special about him that screams future NFL star.