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Better known for his abilities on the basketball court at New Castle High School, Hooker tried out for the football team as a junior and major college programs like Ohio State started to take notice. He redshirted in 2014 and struggled to adapt to the demands of major college football, almost quitting and transferring to a smaller college closer to home to play basketball - Urban Meyer credits Hooker’s mother (Angela Dennis) for not allowing him to quit. Hooker stayed in Columbus and trusted the coaches, playing in all 13 games as a special teamer in 2015 with plenty of hype coming from his performance in practice. With Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell leaving for the NFL, Hooker became a starting safety in 2016 as a sophomore and emerged as an All-American, leading the Big Ten with seven interceptions. He finished third on the team with 74 tackles and 11 passes defended to earn First Team All-American and All-Big Ten honors.
Despite starting for only one season in Columbus, Hooker quickly created NFL buzz. When evaluating the safety position, scouts are looking for three main traits: range, instincts and tackling skills. And Hooker has the ability to be above average in all three areas. His change of direction skills, play speed and overall range jump off the film, both as a centerfielder in the deep half of the field and downhill in run support. His ballskills and ballhawking instincts to anticipate, read and break on the ball separates him from most college safety prospects. He needs to clean up his tackling mechanics and pursuit angles to be a better finisher, but he has the skill-set to develop into a reliable NFL tackler. Overall, Hooker has special traits to be a disruptive NFL playmaker in the secondary and top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Because of hip and sports hernia surgeries after the 2016 college season, Hooker was unable to work out at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis but participated in the medical re-check in April and was given positive reports.
STRENGTHS: Gifted athlete with impressive blend of burst, body control and reflexes. Outstanding play speed, covering a lot of green. Magnet to the ball due to his cover awareness, field vision and range. Transfers weight to smoothly open his hips, turn and run without gearing down. Impressive lower body explosion and leaping skills. Unique timing/anticipation to break on the ball and make plays most defensive backs don’t. Elite ballskills with the innate ability to find, judge and disrupt the catch point. Long arms and strong hands to finish interceptions - finished second in the FBS with seven pick-offs in 2016. Playmaker with the ball in his hands with 181 yards (25.9 average) and three touchdowns on interception returns in 2016 (had another return for a score that was called back due to a phantom penalty). Explosive tackler and doesn’t need a runway to create momentum. Fast angles working downhill with range to clean up plays his teammates miss. Uses his length to lasso ballcarriers out of his reach. Experienced on special teams coverages.
WEAKNESSES: Wild pursuit angles dent his batting average as a tackler. Lowers his pads with an accurate strike zone, but needs to clean up his mechanics when breaking down to be a better finisher. Trusts his eyes and follows the ball, but vulnerable to misdirection and play fakes. Aggressive style in the secondary can lead to incorrect guesses. Limited experience as a blitzer. Room to get stronger and improve his functional strength. Inconsistent physicality and leverage taking on blocks near the line of scrimmage. Basketball was his first love and still young in football years - only one season as a collegiate starter.
NFL COMPARISON: Ed Reed -- When it comes to range and ballhawking instincts at the safety position, Reed is the supreme prototype. And while high praise to mention such a young player in the same breath as the futuere Hall of Famer, Hooker's skill-set is very similar with his athleticism, anticipation in coverage and ballskills. The comparison doesn't mean that Hooker is destined to have the same career as Reed, but the talent is very comparable.