2023 NFL Draft Prospect Watch: Detailed Scouting Report for Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker

Fresh off of the program’s first victory vs. Alabama in 16 years, Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker forever etched his name in the hearts of Volunteer fans everywhere Saturday. See why Hooker is an NFL Draft darling with this detailed scouting report.

Hendon Hooker Was Always Destined For Greatness

Hendon Hooker grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. The youngster first began throwing the football around at a very young age, a sight that his father, Alan, loved to see.

Alan is a member of the Hall of Fame at North Carolina A&T. He served as the starting QB for the program in the 80s and is one of the best signal-callers to ever come through the school.

The elder Hooker taught Hendon everything he knew about being a quarterback. Idolizing his old man growing up, Hendon wanted nothing more than to follow the same path as his dad.

Hendon has a younger brother, Alston, who really did follow in their father’s footsteps. Alston Hooker enrolled at North Carolina A&T, and the current redshirt freshman is waiting for his chance to take the reins.

Hendon’s mother, Wendy, and sister, Nile, are two of his biggest supporters. To say that the Hooker family shares a tight bond would be a profound understatement.

On the gridiron, Hendon Hooker stood out every game. Football was not the only sport Hooker played at an elite level, as he starred for the basketball team during his four-year run at Dudley High School.

A stellar high school career resulted in Hooker earning a four-star rating from ESPN. After spurning offers from the likes of Oregon, Notre Dame, and Clemson, Hooker signed his letter of intent with the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Hendon Hooker Spends Four Seasons At Virginia Tech

Hooker redshirted as a true freshman in 2017. The following season, the raw quarterback failed to see much action yet again, but the VaTech offense utilized a small set of plays for Hooker as a runner.

In 2019, as a redshirt sophomore, Hendon Hooker was finally named the starting quarterback for Virginia Tech early in the season. In eight starts, Hooker threw 13 touchdowns to only two interceptions while also rushing for nearly 400 yards.

Hooker’s accuracy and overall technique left much to be desired when digging into his film from the VaTech days. Although his trademark risk-averse play style was on display early, Hooker looked unrecognizable on the old tape.

Hooker completed 61.1% of his passes as a first-year starter. That rate is not the worst thing in the world, but most of the completions lacked proper ball placement and touch, hurting his receivers’ chances of creating after the catch.

All in all, Hooker flashed potential to be an elite signal-caller in college football. On the slip side, he also showed that he was far from a finished product.

Entering the 2020 season, Hooker started seven games and showed improvement in a few key areas. The Hokie QB saw his completion percentage jump by more than four points (65.3%), and he became a bigger threat as a runner.

Hooker rushed for 620 yards and nine touchdowns in year four. He averaged over five yards-per-carry and was a handful for opposing defensive coordinators to game plan against.

Following a 5-6 campaign in 2020, although NFL Draft eligible, Hendon Hooker announced his decision to enter the transfer portal. Thanks to the extra year granted to collegiate athletes who participated in the COVID-riddled season, Hooker entered the portal with two years of eligibility remaining.

Ultimately, Hooker chose the SEC. The veteran quarterback committed to the Tennessee Volunteers but lost the starting gig to Joe Milton before an early season injury opened the door for Hooker to take the mantle.

With the Volunteers, Hooker unlocked more of his pass-game potential. Much of this newfound progression can be attributed to the new head coach that joined Hooker in Knoxville.

Josh Heupel Unlocks Next Level of Hendon Hooker Development

Josh Heupel, a former CFB starting quarterback two decades ago, signed on to lead the Tennessee program heading into 2021. Heupel won the BCS National Championship with Oklahoma in 2000 as a player.

The on-field experience resulted in a brilliant understanding of offensive concepts, which Heupel parlayed into assistant stints from 2004-2017. Finally, Heupel earned the title of head coach for the UCF Knights in 2018.

The young head coach led the program from 2018-2020. In his first year steering the ship, Heupel guided the team to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. LSU ended their run by handing the Knights a 40-32 defeat, but a statement was made nonetheless.

For the next two seasons, UCF went 16-7 and was bowl eligible in 2019 and 2020. Heupel’s name sat at the forefront of most coaching carousal conversations, but Tennessee sent an offer that the brilliant offensive mind could not pass up.

Following the injury to Joe Milton, the Heupel-Hooker pairing hit the ground running in their first season together. The 6-6 record was enough for the team to qualify for — and win — the Music City Bowl vs. Purdue.

While the team failed to become a top program in year one, Hendon Hooker started looking like an NFL quarterback in his first season with the Vols. Hooker tossed a career-high 31 touchdowns to a minuscule three interceptions.

NFL Draft Prospect Hendon Hooker’s 2021 Film Assessment

The most impressive area of improvement came in the accuracy department. The 2021 tape still featured several poorly timed passes, but as is evident by the 68.8% completion rate, there were far fewer compared to Hooker’s VaTech tape. The Vols offense also features a number of quick-hit plays, which naturally keeps the QBs percentages up.

4 Key Games Scouted (2021):

•Game 1: vs. Pittsburgh

Stats:
15-of-21, 188 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
9 rushes for 49 yards

The Good

-The Vols o-line allowed constant pressure; Hooker got sacked three times, but it could have easily been more.

-Arm strength holds up from sideline to sideline; threw a strike to Cedric Tillman with good zip to the boundary.

-First TD came on a WR screen, and the receiver took it ~50 yards after the catch.

-Footwork in the pocket is borderline elite.

-Hooker demonstrated an innate ability to read the defense pre-snap; uses multiple audible calls.

-Hooker’s best throw came midway through the 3rd quarter as he stood tall, took a big hit, but completed the pass to his receiver over the middle of the field.

-Hooker scrambled 20+ yards on a key 3rd & 10 late in the 3rd quarter, showcasing his dual-threat capabilities.

-Hooker’s 2nd TD came on a crafty play design by Josh Heupel; a nifty PA toss for six.

-Hooker nearly completed a miraculous comeback victory, showing a poise and maturity that you would expect from a fifth-year player.

The Bad

-Due to the early pressure, Hooker got caught falling back in the pocket a few times rather than working up the field.

-With 14:23 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Hooker rolled out to his left and coughed the ball up for a turnover.

-Very few completions went farther than five yards downfield; Heupel called a lot of quick hitters.

-The final sack for Pitt can be traced back to Hooker holding the ball too long.

-Hooker’s second turnover came late in the 4th quarter; it ended the day for the Volunteers. He never saw #9 sitting on the route.

•Game 2: @ Kentucky

Stats:
15-of-20, 316 passing yards, 4 TDs
11 rushes for 47 yards

The Good

-Hendon Hooker hit a WR screen for a 75-yard touchdown on the very first snap of the game.

-Hooker did the work with his arm on the next drive, connecting on a 72-yard bomb to Velus Jones Jr. for six points.

-Early in the 2nd quarter, Hooker hit another long pass downfield, this time to Jalin Hyatt.

-Hooker showed arm strength that is capable of making any throw necessary in the NFL.

-The Hooker-Tillman TD in the 4th quarter came on a perfectly timed fade route to the back pylon.

The Bad

-Following a massive play by Hyatt, Hooker fumbled while trying to hand the ball to his RB on the next snap.

-Most of the completions this game came without a defender within five yards of the WR, leading to some easy pitch and catch.

-As well as Hooker played, there are a few glaring issues with his game against Kentucky: ball security and holding the ball too long.

-Not every sack taken is the fault of Hooker, but three of the five sacks fall at his feet. The worst one came with 6:25 left in the 4th quarter; his lost yardage resulted in a missed FG.

•Game 3: @Alabama

Stats:
19-of-28, 282 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
13 rushes for 27 yards

The Good

-Hooker’s base is consistently wide and results in exceptional footwork in the pocket.

-A heavy dose of RPOs keep the Crimson Tide defense on their toes; Hooker makes great reads throughout the game.

-Hooker shifts his pass protection and calls audibles multiple times; looks reminiscent of what you see from NFL QBs.

-Throw of the day came on one of the first plays of the 4th quarter. Hooker hit Cedric Tillman in stride on a vertical route; 45 air-yard (70 total yards) dime for a TD.

-Hooker possesses arm strength in droves; he has moments when he’s full of confidence, that is where Hooker is at his best.

-Although the turnover was ugly, Hooker impressed NFL scouts during the game with his athleticism, big arm, and fearless demeanor inside of the pocket.

The Bad

-Ball placement is shaky in this game; Hendon Hooker left throws short and long numerous times.

-Later in the game, Hooker turns the ball over after miscommunication with his receiver. Alabama returns it for a pick-six.

•Game 4: vs. Georgia

Stats:
24-of-37, 244 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
17 rushes for 7 yards

The Good

-The lone touchdown on the day came on a sweet little play-action read, accounting for the only TD pass of the day for Hooker.

-His base and footwork continue to be picturesque on a vast majority of his reps.

-Hooker is so crafty and a great improviser. He gives his team a chance when the play breaks down, even if it ends in no gain.

-Hooker’s understanding of what the defense is running and using audibles to combat it is something NFL scouts will love to see.

-The arm strength of Hooker is not in question; even on WR screens, Hooker puts the ball on his pass catcher quickly.

The Bad

-Hendon Hooker started the game with an atrocious overthrow deep downfield. A completion would have been a walk-in 69-yard TD.

-This overthrow highlighted his occasional issue with putting proper touch on his throws.

-Georgia’s defense featured a slew of NFL Draft picks in 2021; they terrorized Hooker and the Vols o-line all day.

-Uncharacteristically, Hooker threw the ball into double coverage a handful of times, resulting in turnover-worthy attempts.

-Perhaps the worst play of Hooker’s career to this point came when he threw an interception that even Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t have caught if he was a WR for Tennessee.

-Hooker took six sacks on the day, and they are not all on the offensive line. One dropback, I counted to five seconds before Hooker got sacked, leaving plenty of time to throw it away.

-The Vols QB was pulled from the game following a fumble in the red zone, capping off the worst game of his Tennessee tenure.

Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee Volunteers Reach New Heights in 2022

As previously stated, an extra year of eligibility due to COVID gave Hendon Hooker the option to return to school rather than enter the 2022 NFL Draft. Some questioned Hooker’s decision to return, but his play in 2022 proves that he made the correct choice.

So far in 2022, the Tennessee Volunteers remain undefeated. Through six games, Hooker boasts a 70% completion rate and owns a sparkling 15:1 TD:INT ratio. Hooker is averaging a shade under five yards-per-carry; he has chipped in three touchdowns on the ground to boot.

One of the most concerning red flags for Hendon Hooker entering 2022 was his tendency to hold the ball too long as he surveyed the field. The Tennessee signal-caller still has plenty of work to do in this department, but his improvement since 2021 is worth noting.

Hooker looks much more decisive in his second year in Knoxville. The offensive line is playing incredibly well as a unit, but Hooker only being sacked nine times in six games is as much about his sped-up processing as anything.

Compare this sack total to the 2021 season, when Hooker got brought down 36 times in 13 games, and it explains why both Tennessee and their quarterback are finding success in 2022.

The squad is coming off a thrilling 52-49 walk-off victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Hendon Hooker put up arguably the best performance of his career and stamped his name as a Heisman contender. Could he become a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, too?

3 Key Games Scouted (2022):

• Game 1: @Pittsburgh

Stats:
27-of-42, 325 passing yards, 2 TDs
15 rushes for 27 yards

The Good

-Hooker brilliantly avoided a sack in the 3rd quarter by stepping up and even gained some yards in the process.

-Hooker’s zip led to some misfires, but he used it to fit some tight windows as well. These are the NFL-caliber throws that get folks excited when evaluating Hooker.

-The accuracy returned to normal the more Hendon Hooker settled his feet down.

-My favorite throw of the day ended up incomplete, but with 1:40 left in the 1st quarter, Hooker dropped a dime in the end zone to Cedric Tillman who nearly got a toe down. This throw consisted of pristine footwork, touch, and anticipation… three traits crucial for success in the NFL at QB.

-Although Hooker missed some layup throws, he made up for it by connecting on multiple long TDs.

-With ice in his veins, Hooker completed a game-winning TD while moving up in the pocket, securing the victory for his team in OT.

The Bad

-Hooker looked uncomfortable early, missing on throws that he routinely hits and even showing sloppy footwork.

-The incompletions in the 1st quarter came due to Hooker’s occasional inability to gauge touch on his throws.

-The tendency to drift backward creeps in every once in a while; every time this happens, Hooker’s throw comes out inaccurate.

-Hooker got harassed all afternoon; only three sacks were allowed, but he faced consistent pressure and did little to minimize it.

-Hooker missed two wide-open touchdown tosses in the game, throws he cannot miss.

•Game 2: vs. Florida

Stats: 22-of-28, 349 passing yards, 2 TDs
13 rushes for 112 yards, 1 TD

The Good

-Hooker delivered multiple dimes on the opening drive before Florida stripped his WR inside the 15-yard line.

-The arm talent of Hendon Hooker continues to impress me. He can flick the ball 50 yards downfield with ease, while also fitting tight windows with his fastball.

-Hooker demonstrates a strong base & quiet feet every snap.

-Superb athleticism showcased on a slew of first-down runs and his rushing TD in the 2nd quarter.

-Hooker still gets frozen in the pocket at times but he looks improved since 2021 in this aspect.

-Hooker made some impressive throws on the run, something that all new-age NFL QBs can do to some extent.

-Overall, Hooker gets through his progressions quicker compared to the 2021 tape & is much more decisive when he drops back to pass.

The Bad

-Ball placement issues reared their ugly head a few times against the Gators. Half of his incompletions on the day came due to poor timing (throwing behind/too far ahead of WR).

-Spotty ball security followed Hendon Hooker to 2022; late in the 2nd quarter, Hooker was strip-sacked on a play where he held the ball for nearly 5 seconds.

•Game 3: vs. Alabama

Stats:
21-of-30, 385 passing yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT
14 rushes for 56 yards

The Good

-The best game of Hendon Hooker’s career came in a statement victory against the Crimson Tide. A true NFL Draft resume booster.

-Hooker rushed for multiple first downs on the day, continuing to use his legs to dominate and keep defenses guessing.

-Hooker connected with WR Jalin Hyatt for all five of his passing touchdowns, with three coming from 36+ yards out.

-Stop me if you’ve heard this before… Hooker once again displayed teach tape with his footwork. *chefs kiss*

-Hooker outscored Alabama 10-0 in the final four mins of the game, completing two clutch passes to set up the game-winning FG.

-Similar to Georgia in 2021, Hendon Hooker looked the part of a starter for the Tennessee Volunteers on a field full of NFL talent.

-Four of the nine incompletions were either tipped by the defender or dropped by his intended target, hurting Hooker’s completion rate.

The Bad

-The other five, including the first interception of his 2022 season, went down as overthrows.

-Each overthrow Saturday night, Hooker air-mailed his WRs by a country mile. Hooker rushed his process and this resulted in sloppy decision-making.

-The bad plays were few and far between. Hendon Hooker needs to clean these up, but returning from Tuscaloosa with only a handful of mistakes should instill confidence in the QB for the remainder of 2022.

Positives & Negatives; 2023 NFL Draft Stock

There are several things that Hendon Hooker displays at quarterback that lead me to believe he can succeed in the NFL. The positives include:

•The No. 1 trait working in Hooker’s favor is his arm talent. The Vols QB can complete passes to every part of the field and has shown an ability to fit tight windows when asked to.

•Hendon Hooker possesses top-tier footwork. His heels never click due to his trademark wide base when dropping back. This strong foundation helps Hooker deliver passes at a high clip.

•Athleticism is a major plus; Hooker creates plays with his legs and his arm when forced outside of the pocket.

•Hooker knows the Tennessee scheme like the back of his hand. He has displayed the ability to diagnose defenses before the snap and use this knowledge to adjust the play call as necessary.

•The risk-averse play style that Hooker demonstrates keeps the Vols QB from turning the ball over. In 473 passing attempts with Tennessee, Hooker has only been charged with four interceptions.

A few things hold me back from touting Hendon Hooker as a franchise QB in the NFL. The negatives include:

•Hendon Hooker gets caught looking like a deer in headlights. Oftentimes, Hooker does well to keep his eyes downfield but he shows a lackluster ability to sense the pressure while doing so.

•Hooker tends to drift backward in the pocket. It can be explained away when the pressure destroys the pocket, but a handful of times, Hooker could have stepped up rather than back. The lack of proper movement in the pocket results in Hooker throwing inaccurately off of his back foot.

•The Tennessee offense places Hooker in the shotgun position every snap. It is a very RPO and PA-heavy scheme, which is where the NFL is trending, but having minimal experience lined up under center typically catches drawback by NFL Draft scouts.

•Hooker still suffers from his tendency to hold the ball too long while searching for a pass catcher downfield.

•Hendon Hooker is an old prospect in NFL Draft age. Only eight QBs have been taken in the NFL Draft at age 25 or older; Hooker will turn 25 in January of 2023. Of the eight QBs selected, five of them went in the sixth round or later. It will be an uphill climb for the Tennessee signal-caller.

2023 NFL Draft Stock:

Hendon Hooker took his game to the next level when he arrived at Tennessee in 2021. Under the tutelage of head coach Josh Heupel, the Vols QB continues to get better in 2022.

The good stuff that Hooker puts on tape passes the eye test for an NFL QB. The bad stuff, on the other hand, are the types of things that can lead to being an NFL Draft bust.

As of Oct. 18, Hendon Hooker lays claim to a late-first round/early second-round grade in the NFL Draft. His old age is hard to look past for me.

Hooker’s inability to sense pressure consistently scares me when it comes to his NFL Draft aspirations. If Hooker holds the ball too long in college, it will take a lot of reps to coach it out of him. While he has improved in this aspect in 2022, there is a valid concern that it will continue to hamper him in the league.

All that being said, his redeeming qualities are worth rolling the dice on the red flags. Hooker can sling the ball around the field without breaking a sweat. He is a phenomenal runner, and possesses the improvisation skills that play-callers covet at QB.

The Tennessee superstar is gaining momentum as we sit at the halfway point of the college football season. If Hooker can continue smoothing out his remaining rough edges, there is a chance that he can win the Heisman Trophy. In the event that happens, Hooker could witness a meteoric rise up NFL Draft boards.