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5 Qs with Tennessee blog: Can Hendon Hooker become an NFL starter?

What is Detroit Lions’ quarterback Hendon Hooker’s realistic ceiling?

Missouri v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

After trading down multiple times, the Detroit Lions took Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker with the 68th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

For me, this was a confusing pick at the time. Hooker is not only coming off an ACL injury, but he’s also on the verge of turning 26 years old this upcoming season. If he winds up playing out the entirety of his rookie deal, he’ll be 30 years old at that time. I have some concerns.

With that said, Hooker was one of the best quarterbacks in the country before the injury took him out and he’s coming to a team that has a lot of good coaching resources for him to continue that play in the NFL. With Jared Goff here, I just don’t know when, or if, that day will ever come.

We needed to know more about Hooker, so we reached out to Ryan Schumpert of Rocky Top Insider to get the scoop. Here’s what he had to say:

1. What are your overall thoughts on Hendon Hooker?

“I don’t have enough good things to say about Hendon Hooker and what he did in his two seasons at Tennessee. He was simply fantastic and is reason number one that (Tennessee head coach) Josh Heupel has been able to turn things around so quickly. What are my overall thoughts on Hendon Hooker the future NFL quarterback? I’m not really sure. The questions about transitioning from Tennessee’s offense are very fair as no quarterback who ran a version of the Art Briles Baylor offense (which Tennessee runs) has had real NFL success. Still, there’s plenty of reasons to believe he’ll be successful.”

2. Hooker seems like the riskiest pick in the draft due to injuries and age. Are we looking too far into this?

“I don’t think so. Hooker seems like a guy that needs a year to adjust to an NFL offense and get fully healthy before being a starting quarterback. That’s why I thought throughout the draft process that Detroit was a solid landing spot for him. But an already older player having to sit out the first year of a four-year contract is cause for some hesitation. Does it mean he can’t be a productive player? No, but I imagine it is a reason he fell to the third round.”

3. What are Hooker’s strengths?

“Not to go fully Disney movie on you but he’s just a good dude. He lost the starting job in his first fall camp at Tennessee but he never pouted or did anything but be a great and encouraging teammate. That brings me to a more tangible strength and that’s leadership. Everyone in the football facility at Tennessee had tremendous respect and belief in Hooker. It will be easy for his teammates to embrace him and believe in him.

On the field, he throws a tremendous deep ball. He doesn’t have the insane arm strength that Anthony Richardson or Will Levis has but it’s still a strength. He’s a really good decision maker. That’s in checking into the right play in Tennessee’s high tempo offense, having a good internal clock and knowing when to leave the pocket and keeping the ball out of harm’s way. Hooker threw 58 touchdowns to just five interceptions in his two years at Tennessee. That decision making gives me confidence that he can adjust to a pro style offense and is why I was surprised that his (new cognitive NFL test that I forget the name of) was so low.”

4. What are Hooker’s weaknesses?

“On the field, there are very few. He struggles to throw the ball on the run and that is a real concern for me. In college, he was good enough of an athlete to run for a few yards and just avoid negative plays when the pocket broke down. In the NFL he’s going to need to make tough throws while extending plays. That, as well as the big picture questions about him adjusting to a new offensive scheme, are really his only real shortcomings.”

5. Can Hooker be a starter in the NFL someday?

“I think he can. He has the talent, mindset and self belief to do it. Would I confidently bet on it? Probably not because of the questions we’ve already discussed. I’ve said throughout the draft process that I see his ceiling as being Dak Prescott and his floor as being a backup for a decade. That’s why I didn’t think he should go in the first round but do believe Detroit got great value in drafting him where they did.”

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