Why the Slide?: Malik Hooker

By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?” at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.

In late September 2016 after only starting a few games in his collegiate career, WalterFootball.com was first to report that Hooker was receiving high first-round grades from NFL teams. Hooker was electric to start the season and had been a standout in training-camp practices. He maintained a dominant level of play throughout his redshirt sophomore season while totaling 74 tackles with 5.5 for a loss, .5 sacks, four passes broken up and seven interceptions – with three returned for touchdowns on the season. Hooker was the best safety in college football during the 2016 season, and that included LSU’s Jamal Adams. Hooker was far more consistent and made a lot more big plays than Adams did in 2016.

WalterFootball.com also was first to report that Hooker would be out 4-6 months after surgeries to repair a hernia and labrum injury. That caused Hooker to miss the NFL Scouting Combine and not work out for teams prior to the 2017 NFL Draft. Even with the surgeries, Hooker was projected to be a top-10 pick, yet Hooker slid in the first round. Surprisingly, a lot of safety-needy teams like the Bears, 49ers, Jets, Chargers and Cardinals passed on Hooker.

Sources with the Saints say that Hooker was a finalist for their pick at No. 11, but they ended up taking Hooker’s teammate Marshon Lattimore because they already have good young safeties and needed a No. 1 cornerback to help them with the dynamic receivers in their division.

According to sources, Hooker slid mainly because of the injury concerns. There was some concern about Hooker only having one year of playing time, while some were critical of his run support, citing a need to improve his tackling and take better angles. However across the league, Hooker was viewed as a stud, and scouts from a variety of teams felt that Hooker was one of the top-five prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. The labrum surgery and durability concerns were the biggest factor that caused Hooker to slide out of the top 10.

The Indianapolis Colts were lucky to have Hooker fall into their lap. The Colts have needed to improve their safety play for years, and he is a great fit for them. Hooker is a rare player with tremendous speed and instincts. He is a rare single-high safety prospect who is very much like Ed Reed in terms of his interception and pick-return skills. In his one year as a starter, Hooker snagged seven interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. For coverage, he has great speed, quick feet, and is extremely athletic with a rare ability to defend the deep part of the field. Hooker is extremely fast and shows it routinely as in an instant he can race over from the middle of the field to the sideline to break up passes or pick them off. He was tremendous at being the single-high safety to protect his defense vertically. He is the epitome of the rangy center fielder who shuts down the back end of the field. Those kind of safeties with Hooker’s interception skills, size, length and instincts are extremely hard to find.

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was with Ed Reed in Baltimore and will know how to use Hooker. Pagano also will be a good coach to help improve Hooker’s run defense and tackling. If he stays healthy, I think Hooker is going to become a Pro Bowler and could become a franchise building block on the defensive side of the ball for Indianapolis.

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