Hooker Theory

Apologies for not keeping up with the frequency of posts, but I hope you can understand that wedding planning and keeping up with my second-favorite team – the Dayton Flyers – throughout March Madness have eaten a lot of my free time.  Sadly, Dayton is done and I’ll miss the great group of seniors:  Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis, Kendall Pollard, and most notably Scoochie Smith.  It’s been a fun rid.  Forgive me for waxing poetic, but the team was awful my four years in the Gem City.

Back to football and back to the Miami Dolphins.  We’re under 40 days away from the 2017 NFL Draft, and I thought that it’d be fun to delve into a pet theory I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks.  The number 13 is considered unlucky by virtually everyone other than Miami Dolphins fans.  Obviously, Dan Marino wore it best.  Miami took Laremy Tunsil with the 13th overall pick a year ago, and the team believes he’s on a Hall of Fame path.  Jake Scott, a safety on the 1972 undefeated team and MVP of Super Bowl VII also wore number 13.  It’s where the Draft meets need, and the position of Jake Scott, safety, that I want to focus on today.

Usually this time of year I’ll buy a draft magazine just to have one.  One of my favorites is Nolan Nawrocki’s Draft Preview.  Nolan used to write for NFL.com and previous to that, wrote for Pro Football Weekly where he studied under Joel Buchsbaum, the Godfather of Draftniks.  He grades players on a scale of 4.0 – a free agent capable of being invited to an NFL camp, on up to a maximum score of 9.0 – a generational talent like Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders. His top player last year was Laremy Tunsil, who graded out at 7.5 a few notches below 8.0 – A perennial All-Pro like Anthony Muñoz – and was the top player of the draft ahead of Jalen Ramsey (6.97) and Joey Bosa (6.94).  As you all remember, the infamous gas-mask bong video surfaced and Tunsil’s Twitter account was hacked and caused him to spiral to the 13th pick where the Dolphins scooped him up.  Tunsil landed on the NFL’s All-Rookie team, as a left guard, and now has the opportunity to make #67 stand out at left tackle, his natural spot, in the wake of Branden Albert being traded to Jacksonville.  In short, Miami arguably landed the best prospect in the entire 2016 class with a fortuitous stroke of luck – bad for Tunsil, good for Miami.

I haven’t purchased Nawrocki’s guide this year, and I imagine Myles Garrett, the DE from Texas A&M, is probably at the top of the list.  It’d take a ransom payment that the Dolphins don’t currently have to move up into the first overall pick to take Garrett.  Let’s cross that off the list assuming there aren’t any gas-mask videos that have yet to surface.  But, what about some of the other top talents? One of the guys I’ve seen ranked in the top 2-3 prospects on a consensus basis has been Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, and my pet theory is that I wonder if Miami would make a move to get him if the right circumstances are met.  Those circumstances being:

1) The need.

2) The fall.

3) The art of the deal.

The Need:  Football’s a violent sport and injuries are the consequence of that.  It’s an unfortunate thing that happened to Isa Abdul-Quddus last year, it really is.  He played the best football of his career for Miami in his first year as a full-time starter in the NFL registering 78 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, and generally good overall play, especially when he and Reshad Jones were together the first 6 games.  But, IAQ’s football career sounds like it’s going to be cut short.  It’s a damn shame, but it is what it is.

So far, Miami’s addressed the safety position by giving an RFA tender to Michael Thomas and bringing in veteran Nate Allen on a one-year contract.  Michael Thomas is what he is, a valuable leader and special-teamer, but not someone you want on the field on defense.  Nate Allen enjoyed two nice seasons in Philadelphia in 2013 and 2014.  An injury reduced him to 5 games for the Raiders in 2015 and he only played 4 games on defense in 2016.  He fits, but to me, he falls into the category of player you’re looking to upgrade on if you can.  Enter Malik Hooker.

Miami, in my opinion, has a need at FS.  If you listened to or watched Mike Tannenbaum at the Senior Bowl, he talked about Miami wanting to have long, press-man corners on the perimeter.  They already have Reshad Jones, and locked him up with a well-deserved 5-year extension worth $60M (worth every penny, by my viewpoint for what he does for this scheme).  But, I think under Matt Burke, Miami will need someone who can play deep and help over the top, especially if there’s going to be more press-man played on the outside.

For my money, Malik Hooker is the best safety prospect in the 2017 Draft Class and no finer example of him helping over the top is more clear than from his last game as a Buckeye against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl Playoff.

Hooker GIF 1

Look how effortlessly Hooker drops from the near hash and breaks to the far sideline and adjusts on the ball to make the interception in the endzone, ending the Clemson drive.  I chose this play for a few reasons.  First, it’s an incredible play and shows the range of Hooker and how easily he adjusts and tracks the ball.  Second, Ohio State is playing man-to-man with a safety near the box.  Miami tends to use this look to help against the run, particularly when in base and big-nickel defenses, so there’s some similarity there.

Hooker can also play the run and has ample size to hold up well.  He’s 6’1” 206lbs, roughly 10lbs heavier than Isa Abdul-Quddus’ listed weight from a year ago.  On the play below, you’ll see him start from normal safety depth and creep up to go on a run blitz.  He shoots the gap with perfect timing and drags Wayne Gallman allowing his teammates to come in and pop the ball free.

Hooker GIF 2

We’ve also seen him read and react on a play very well.  Here, he starts off on the far hash with a deep 1/3 assignment.  He reads the dig route coming in toward him, reads the QB’s eyes and makes a house call with a pick-6.  It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

Hooker GIF 3

***Videos courtesy of DraftBreakdown and JustBombProductions***

If there’s one thing to nitpick about Hooker’s game, it’s that he isn’t the greatest open-field tackler.  Some of that is poor technique and some of it is taking improper angles, but I think both issues are correctible.  It may not matter much to the Dolphins’ brass in their evaluation of him, especially if they go to more press-man as he’ll be the guy they ask most to help over the top.  They already have Reshad Jones in the fold to play in run support from the box, or even if they split their safeties.

To sum up Hooker, he’s my 2nd rated prospect in the entire Draft behind Myles Garrett.  Point blank, I said it.  He’s a stud.  Miami has a need there.  I don’t think you can trust Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens or the still-developing A.J. Hendy.  Nate Allen would be an average or below-average starter in my opinion, and he’s on a one-year deal.  If you get Hooker, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making Nate Allen this year’s Bacarri Rambo.

The Fall:  You’re probably wondering why you’d read any further at this point if Malik Hooker’s so good, there’s no way he’ll last until Miami picks at 22.  You’re totally correct.  I doubt he’s there.  So, Miami needs a “fall” to happen with Hooker.  Now, I’m in no way advocating you make a gas-mask video or hack anyone’s Twitter account.  So, how would Miami put themselves in a positon to draft Malik Hooker? There’s a number of factors.

1) Safeties don’t tend to go super early in the Draft.  Even Ed Reed, who seems to be the player most people compare Hooker to, when 24th overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.  The first safeties taken the last seven Drafts are listed below.  Only two have gone in the top 10 since 2010.

2010 – Eric Berry – 1st round, 5th overall – Kansas City Chiefs

2011 – Rahim Moore – 2nd round, 45th overall – Denver Broncos

2012 – Mark Barron – 1st round, 7th overall – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2013 – Kenny Vacarro – 1st round, 15th overall – New Orleans Saints

2014 – Calvin Pryor – 1st round, 18th overall – New York Jets

2015 – Damarious Randall – 1st round, 30th overall – Green Bay Packers

2016 – Karl Joseph – 1st round, 14th overall – Oakland Raiders

Even 2015 All-Rookie Team member, 2016 1st Team All-Pro and NFC Defensive Player of the Year Landon Collins went in the second round in 2015.  Eric Berry is legitimately outstanding.  Mark Barron never panned out and was playing as a pseudo linebacker for the Rams last year after Tampa Bay got rid of him.

With Hooker, he might very well be a top five overall talent, but is the need there? I’m not so sure with some of those quarterback-starved teams at the top – Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.  Quarterbacks are always pushed up the board, as we saw last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.  So, there’s that.

2) Malik Hooker is recovering from not one, but two, surgeries.  He had a torn labrum, similar to Reshad Jones’ rotator cuff injury.  He also had surgery to repair a hernia.  Because of these, Hooker was not able to participate in the NFL Combine earlier this month.  As of February 1st, Hooker was supposed to miss 4-6 months of time recovering from the surgeries.  That’d put him being back in action in June or July, if the recovery is smooth.  That means missing rookie camp, OTAs, and perhaps a mini-camp.  As such, Hooker said he’s met with as many as 26 NFL teams.  So, obviously, some of those teams are doing due diligence on him, especially because of the injuries.

As that relates to Miami, they have a firm belief in their Sports Science Department; rightly or wrongly.  And, also rightly or wrongly, they’ve not been shy about drafting players under Mike Tannenbaum that have had multiple and/or significant injury histories coming out of college:

DeVante Parker – Broken foot

Jay Ajayi – Torn ACL

Laremy Tunsil – Torn biceps, fractured tibia, dislocated ankle

Kenyan Drake – Broken leg, broken arm

Couple that with the fact that we know Miami did due diligence on Laremy Tunsil last year, even meeting with him at the NFL Combine, they’ve probably met with Malik Hooker or will be doing so in the near future, especially if they foresee him slipping a bit at the top of the Draft due to those surgeries.

One thing to keep watch of, is that Ohio State’s Pro Day is Thursday, March 23rd, so it’d be highly unlikely if he did anything other than meet with teams this coming week.  That 4-6-month timeline may give some teams pause at the top of the Draft.

The Art of the Deal:  So, let’s say we’re watching the Draft on April 27th, and Malik Hooker manages to sneak out of the top five picks.  Assuming the Jets take a quarterback at six.  At what point does Miami get an itchy trigger-finger and make the move up to get him? Looking at the teams picking after the Jets, the Chargers have a myriad of needs, especially on the O-line.  They do currently have three veteran safeties on their roster in Dwight Lowery, Jahleel Addae, and Darrell Stuckey.  That’s not to say they wouldn’t take Hooker as a best player available, and they have some inside insight on him with his former teammate Joey Bosa there.

Carolina at eight also has three vets in Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams and Michael Griffin.

Cincinnati at nine seems like the most dangerous spot.  They have George Iloka and Shawn Williams, but little depth behind them, and the Bengals have long been a team that drafts talent when it falls.  However, they have some huge needs on the O-line having lost Andrew Whitwoth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, and Cedric Ogbuhei and Jake Fisher failing to beat out Eric Winston last year at tackle.

The Bills at 10 recently signed Micah Hyde, but don’t have much else.  I’d doubt you’d see an intra-division trade, so I think this is a danger spot for Hooker to go, but I don’t think Miami would be able to do much about trading with Buffalo.

Outside of Kenny Vacarro and Von Bell, the Saints’ starters, they don’t have much to offer, but cornerback seems like a more pressing need at pick 11.

Cleveland sits at 12 and with their Moneyball approach, you may be able to swing a deal here as they look to acquire more draft picks than players.

To me, I think Miami swings into trade mode of Malik Hooker gets to within 10-12 spots of pick 22.  In other words, I think picks 10-12 are the sweet spot area to make a trade.  With Buffalo stuck squarely in the middle of that group, I think you can look at a range of 9-13 – Cincinnati to Arizona, excluding Buffalo seems like the area where Miami would be wise to facilitate a move to draft Hooker.  I think including Arizona, you’ve got a number of teams that would consider Hooker as the best player available and pull the trigger.  Philadelphia, Indianapolis and especially Baltimore sit after the Cardinals.

Obviously, it takes two to tango, so who does Miami make a deal with? Using the old Draft Value Chart, let’s look at the top of that list.  Cincinnati’s 9th overall pick is worth 1,350 points.  To facilitate that move, Miami would have to offer the 22nd pick (780 points), the 54th pick (360 points), still leaving you with 210 points to make up.  Miami’s 3rd round comp pick is worth approximately 114 points, giving you 96 points to make up still according to the chart.  That’d basically require giving up your other 5th round compensatory picks.  That’s not something Miami wouldn’t want to do as they’d be giving up the bulk of their draft.  However, if you get creative, let’s say they give up 22 (780), 54 (360) and let’s call it their second rounder in 2018, assuming Miami finishes similarly to how they did in 2017, call it the 24th pick (340 point), that total would be 1,480.  That’s 130 extra points, and that might be enough of a “sweetener” as one of those picks would be for 2018.

Going on the low end, with Cleveland at 12 (1,200 points), Miami could offer 22 (780 points), 54 (360 points) and say a 2018 3rd or even 4th round pick.  Let’s face it.  The Browns are collecting picks and if you give them two picks this year – 22 and 54 – and another in 2018, they may take that deal.  That still gives Miami five picks to play with this year – the 3rd round compensatory pick, the three 5th round picks, and a 7th round pick.  Yes, you’re essentially skipping over a decent sized pile of good players in the 2nd round until the 33rd pick in round three, but to get a player the caliber of Malik Hooker.  I’d say that’s worth it.

Hooker fills a position of need long-term, and the prospect of teaming him with Reshad Jones is very enticing.  I think there’s enough circumstantial evidence to precipitate Hooker slipping.  And, on top of that, if he falls into that range of 9-13, I think there’s a good case to make in terms of the value you’d give up to get Hooker, both on the high and on the low end.

While I try to make it a rule not to develop a full-on draft “crush”, Malik Hooker will be one name I’ll have my eye on.  He’s my top-rate safety and second overall player.  He fits a position of need.  There’s enough there that may cause him to fall and those same circumstances – surgeries – aren’t necessarily something Miami would remove him from their board for.  Finally, Miami’s got the requisite ammo to facilitate a trade should they so choose to do so and still have enough left in the chamber to do some damage in this year’s Draft.

So, while everyone’s got their reasons to go after this guy or that guy, that’s my Malik Hooker to Miami theory.  It’s not a slam dunk and ddds are that it won’t happen, but if that fall starts to, I expect Miami to be ringing some phones.

Bonus GIF – Here’s Malik Hooker dunking.  He’s #23.

Hooker GIF 4

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1 Comment

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  1. I would also like to add that two members of ThePhins.com’s Forum – pocoloco and MiamiDolphin618 – were very inspirational in putting together this piece. Pocoloco was the one that originally convinced me Miami’s front office might be willing to make such a deal and both of them have done outstanding work highlighting prospects on the forum, including Malik Hooker and other safeties.

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