2023 NFL Draft Week 7 Prospect Pack: Hendon Hooker and Bryce Young Impress

Hendon Hooker was electric in his victory over the Crimson Tide, but he had help. In this week's 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Pack, we explore that pivotal game.

As we move on from Week 7 of the college football season, let’s dive into the 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Pack from this past weekend — headlined by a host of Tennessee and Alabama prospects who impressed on opposite sides of the ball in Knoxville.

2023 NFL Draft | Week 7 Prospect Pack

Two Exceptional QB Prospects Highlight Alabama-Tennessee Classic

The Alabama-Tennessee game was always going to draw the eyes of QB-needy NFL teams. The presence of Bryce Young demands that much. But with his performance over the near entirety of the past two seasons, Hendon Hooker has made it impossible to look away from his tape as well.

Saturday’s classic between the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers wasn’t just a must-watch because of Young, but also because of Hooker. Young remains a bonafide first-round QB prospect with elite upside. Hooker, meanwhile, with his strong play, is slowly making questions about his age and his schematic translatability irrelevant.

Hooker passed his most significant test yet in Week 7 against Alabama, completing 21 of 30 passes for 385 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception in a monumental 52-49 victory. As Hooker continues to produce at a historic clip, some of his best traits are shining in the spotlight. The 6’4″ QB has tremendous feel and toughness in the pocket, but he also has starting talent, with quick evasive twitch and easy velocity generation.

From 2021, Hooker’s accuracy has visibly improved. He still misses high sometimes, but he’s accurate in the short and deep ranges, and can throw with both pace and touch. Against Alabama, he not only made quick decisions but also showed he could work high to low and land on his checkdown, as well as anticipate throws over the middle of the field.

Hooker’s age as a 25-year-old rookie will be scrutinized no matter what. But looking at the comparable lack of production and consistency from Will Levis, who’s just one year younger, perhaps a more serious conversation needs to be had about how the two compare.

Levis undoubtedly has first-round talent, but managing the offense and delivering under pressure seems to come much more easily to Hooker. One year isn’t enough to offset that. For that reason, perhaps we’ll see Hooker gain more steam as a potential QB3.

QB1 and QB2, of course, are spots reserved for C.J. Stroud and Young, in whatever order you may choose. At this point, it’s a matter of preference. Young’s size will remain a question mark, much like Hooker’s age.

But especially with the struggles of Alabama’s offensive line, Young’s unshakable toughness and poise have been very visible, along with his special creation capacity and short-area quickness.

From a team outcome perspective in Week 7, Young fell short. But evaluators will look back on his performance against Tennessee as just more confirmation that his size shouldn’t dilute his overall stock. Young has “it” — especially under pressure, he’s a master of creation and improvisational freedom, and his ability to always stay level-headed in the midst of adversity is truly rare.

Early on, the perception of the 2023 NFL Draft QB class is that it was strong. Prospects like Young fed and continue to feed that perception. But Hooker is the newcomer. Not in the sense that he just arrived, but in the sense that — we’re now at a point where we can truly look at him as an early-round signal-caller. He’s proven he has what it takes to be in that conversation, and the 2023 QB class is even better because of it.

Hooker, Tennessee Had Help From Other Rising Prospects

Hooker was the star of the day as Tennessee upset Alabama, but he had help from a host of other quality 2023 NFL Draft prospects on the Volunteers’ roster. Offensively, Jalin Hyatt was a key component for the team’s success. And as he produces at such a high clip, the true junior’s 2023 aspirations are slowly becoming more and more real.

Hyatt is a bit lighter than the Volunteers’ larger targets like Cedric Tillman and Bru McCoy. But Hyatt wins with his game-breaking speed and acceleration. He was able to slice and dice Alabama’s secondary with his brutal long-track acceleration and throttle quickness.

Beyond that, Hyatt’s speed gives him appeal in multiple ranges as well. The Tennessee WR can be a deep threat, or he can splice across the formation and destroy tackling angles as a RAC threat.

Hyatt took the top off Alabama’s defense, and Hooker got him the ball. But to have the necessary time in the pocket, Hooker also needed help from his offensive line. That’s where right tackle Darnell Wright came in.

Wright was viewed as a potential early-round prospect in our preliminary viewings this summer, and against Alabama, he confirmed the viewpoint that he’s an underrated tackle prospect in the 2023 class.

At 6’6″, 335 pounds, Wright has shocking power at the point of attack, and he frequently was able to displace defenders in the run game, while also showing range as a pulling blocker.

However, some of Wright’s best moments on Saturday came in pass protection against Will Anderson Jr. Wright has impressive recovery athleticism and foot speed for his size. He still struggles with hand usage at times, looping into contact as opposed to loading and exerting full power.

But against Anderson and other rushers, he was often able to maintain synergy and lock out with his raw strength. For his size and mass, Wright can get very impressive depth on his initial kick.

Wright has experience at both left and right tackle, which will add some security to his scouting report. But he doesn’t quite have the elite mobility desired from an impact left tackle in the NFL. That said, he’s looked very good on the right side for Tennessee this year, and that could be where his future is at the professional level.

Defensively, Tennessee was only able to contain Young and Jahmyr Gibbs to a certain degree, but the team’s aggressive front seven frequently forced Young to improvise. And at the end of the day, they created just enough chaos to give the Volunteers’ offense the edge. One prospect on defense who shined amidst that effort was linebacker Jeremy Banks.

A former running back, Banks is a fast-flowing LB with speed, range, and explosiveness coming downhill. Despite being 6’1″, 225 pounds at the largest, Banks has surprising effectiveness as a blitzer for his size.

He’s a relentless accelerator through gaps and can instantly throttle up and attack seams. That was where he provided most of his value against Alabama, yet Banks has also shown he can pass off tight ends in space and identify underneath running backs in the flats.

Despite his size, Banks makes an impact in multiple phases. Seeing how he flew around the field against Alabama, that shouldn’t keep going overlooked.

2023 NFL Draft Running Back Class Shaping up To Be Special

In this week’s Prospect Pack, I’ll offer a final note on the 2023 NFL Draft running back class. RB is a position that doesn’t always get its due in the modern NFL. But the 2023 group has a chance to be truly special. There are blue-chip playmakers at the top of the group, and a host of truly exceptional prospects behind them.

Bijan Robinson and Gibbs rest at the top of the list. At this point, I’m not sure anything has happened to warrant a change there. Although Robinson has a size advantage, you could make a case that Gibbs can be RB1.

Watching Gibbs week in and week out, he’s an extraordinary talent. His explosiveness, agility, loose hips, and receiving utility all generate excitement, but his short-area instincts and controlled twitch might be his strongest traits. He had Tennessee defenders lunging time and time again with high-IQ and high-speed adjustments in space.

Instinct is a trait that sets Gibbs apart, and Robinson is in that esteemed group as well. The difference with Robinson is that he’s 6’0″, 220 pounds. He can scrape through contact and absorb hits, but more often than not, his style dictates that he frequently evades contact.

He’s so quick to process and manipulate space, that he puts defenders on a yo-yo string each time he approaches the hole. Add in his high-end receiving ability, and Robinson looks like a true game-changer at RB.

Those are the headliners, but the potential starters expand far beyond them. We saw Tank Bigsby allure onlookers this past week with his horizontal cut freedom, quick vision, and explosiveness in space. We’ve seen Zach Evans inspire awe with his flexibility, smoothness, and easy dynamic ability.

Blake Corum is the Muscle Hamster reincarnated with his density, burst, and dynamism. And while Israel Abanikanda was on a bye this past week, he’s arrived on the 2023 NFL Draft stage with his physicality, explosiveness, and chisel-like nature between the tackles.

We could go on for hours listing more names. Sean Tucker, Kendre Miller, Zach Charbonnet, Eric Gray, Chase Brown, Devon Achane, Roschon Johnson, Mohamed Ibrahim, DeWayne McBride. But the moral of the story is — this is the offseason to need a running back. We knew the 2023 RB group was going to be strong coming out of the summer. And it’s only gotten stronger through seven weeks.

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