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Roster impact of the Detroit Lions selecting QB Hendon Hooker

Projecting how and where quarterback Hendon Hooker fits on the Detroit Lions roster.

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Tennessee v Florida Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

After two trade-backs with the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, the Detroit Lions ended up with the No. 68 pick in the 2023 NFL draft and they selected Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Storybook year

Hooker was one of the feel-good stories of the 2022 college football season. After spending four seasons at Virginia Tech (starting 15 games) Hooker transferred to Tennessee in 2021 and started 11 games. In 2022, he took advantage of the extra year of eligibility given to college players to offset games lost due to the COVID pandemic, and it would prove to be an incredibly wise decision.

Josh Heupel’s offense at Tennessee is based on spread concepts that are very quarterback friendly. The scheme is designed to give free releases to their top receiver targets and open windows for a quarterback to throw through. While the scheme is designed to make a quarterback’s life easier, the signal caller still has to understand the concept and have the arm talent and accuracy to get the job done—which Hooker did at a high level in 2022.

The highlight of Hooker's season had to be in mid-October when he led Tennessee to an upset victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Hooker was magical on that day, throwing for 385 yards and five touchdowns, and displaying immense leadership. Unfortunately, Hooker was unable to finish his storybook season, because a month later he tore his ACL.

Traits

Hooker has a smooth, quick release and is highly accurate and on time with his throws. He was one of the best deep ball passers in college football and plays with an urgency to keep the offense moving.

His scheme at Tennesse was heavily spread-based. It included RPOs, play-action, and rollouts that helped him move the pocket and reset the line of scrimmage. When he is in the pocket, he is very comfortable, but when it collapses, he has the athleticism to escape and the speed to pick up yardage in a hurry. When in the open field, he is an elusive runner, bringing another dynamic to his overall game.

One of his most appealing traits for his long-term purpose with the team is his leadership skills. Hooker is described as a “first-in, last-out” type of player and one that holds his teammates accountable with high football character.

“Leadership is very important to me,” Hooker told the Detroit media after being drafted by the Lions. “I think that me being a servant leader and genuinely enjoying people succeeding, I enjoy seeing people succeed in any way that I can help them on their journey and vice versa. I’m always going to be there for questions or assistance. That’s something that my teammates, my previous teammates, know about me that I’m going to be a good friend and a good teammate no matter what’s going on. Leadership. It starts at the quarterback position. However, my role and leadership position on the Lions goes, I just want to come in and soak up how to be a pro and how things are ordered, so that when my number’s called and I am in a leadership position, I’ll be prepared for it.”

Obstacles

Hooker has three “red flags”, the first of which is his age. He is currently 25 years old and is about three developmental years behind other NFL quarterbacks his age. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about this, but it will force him to be more diligent in his learning process.

Second is his ACL injury. Hooker told the media that he is currently taking things “day by day, continuing to control what I can control and keep a great attitude and work. That’s all I can do.” While Hooker is willing to be patient, he has posted his progress on social media, which has been very encouraging.

The Lions are also planning on taking things slow with Hooker, even likening his injury situation to that of Jameson Williams’ ACL surgery last season—even though Hooker’s injury happened about a month before Williams and is therefore ahead in the recovery process.

“Yeah, you don’t put a timetable on it,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said of Hooker’s injury timetable.” Again, the same thing we talked about with (Williams) Jamo, you kind of just let it play itself out. We’re very, very happy with what the medicals were. When we went over it with our medical staff in our meetings, that made us feel even more confident about where he’s at, and we’ll just see how it goes. But we feel really confident about it.”

Third on the concerns list is Hooker’s ability to transition from a quarterback-friendly scheme. At Tennessee, the offense asked him to make simple half-field or high-low reads, some of which were even pre-determined. NFL offenses are much more complex and take time to learn and adjust to.

SB Nation’s Mark Schofield is one of the best quarterback analysts in the game and he published an article outlining the scheme obstacle facing the Lions and Hooker. It’s worth your time to read it in its entirety, but here’s an interesting excerpt

“That’s the challenge that lies ahead for the Lions, and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Bridging the gap between Heupel’s system, and what Detroit did this past season with Goff. As I discussed in this piece diving into Goff, Johnson put his quarterback in a position to succeed with some layered route concepts, creative use of play-action designs, and some half-field reads.

“Those elements, in particular the half-field reads, will ease the transition for Hooker.”

Schofield’s conclusion:

“The Tennessee quarterback might have slid because of those (scheme) concerns, but he might have landed in a great spot for those concerns to be eased, thanks to how Johnson constructed the Lions offense a season ago.”

Roster fit

Hooker is going to need time to physically recover from his knee surgery and to learn the playbook. During that time, the Lions should expect Nate Sudfeld to be the placeholder as QB2 on the roster.

“Obviously, he’ll be a rookie,” Holmes said of Hooker’s readiness. “He’s going to have to transition into playing in a different type of scheme. We’re really excited about his upside. How NFL-ready are a lot of quarterbacks that you acquire, and that’s just part of the normal development process. And again, it’s just a testament of I think we have the right situation for him just to come and sit back, see how Jared (Goff) and Nate (Sudfeld) do things, and just develop.”

Once healthy and up to speed, Hooker has a chance to earn the coveted QB2 job. That may happen in 2023, or it may not be something that happens until 2024. Ideally, by his second season Hooker will not only be established as QB2 but also serve as insurance if the Lions choose not to, or can’t re-sign Goff.

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