How the Detroit Lions Can Get the Most Out of Hendon Hooker

The Detroit Lions selected Hendon Hooker No. 68 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. We look at what the Lions must do in order to get the most out of Hooker.

The Detroit Lions may have added their quarterback of the future by selecting Hendon Hooker 68th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. With training camps coming later in the summer, the focus has shifted from the offseason to what will happen on the field.

Let’s dive into what made Hooker a quality prospect, how those skills and traits translate, and how the Lions can get the most out of the QB.

How the Lions Can Help Hendon Hooker Succeed

The biggest quarterback wild card entering the 2023 NFL Draft seemed to be Hooker. It was expected he’d be the fifth quarterback off the board, but the range where he was projected was considerable. Some thought he could go in the first round, while others thought late Day 2 was more appropriate.

Hooker had tremendous collegiate success once he transferred from Virginia Tech to Tennessee after the 2020 season. In two years with the Volunteers, Hooker totaled a whopping 6,080 yards, 58 touchdowns, and only five interceptions while completing 68.8% of throws. His numbers are better than what some produce in video games.

However, Hooker wasn’t an easy NFL projection.

The Volunteers’ offense was brilliant, and head coach Josh Heupel produced the No. 1 unit in college in 2022 despite losing Hooker for the final two weeks of the year. But the vertical scheme that relied on highly-talented receivers to create spacing was extremely favorable to Hooker, and little of it will project to the NFL. The difference in where the hash marks are in the NFL matters, and the athletic difference that Tennessee benefitted from is gone at the next level.

Hooker is also coming off a torn ACL and is already 25 years old. Lions head coach Dan Campbell has called 2023 a “redshirt year for him,” as Jared Goff is already in place. Though Hooker’s doctor has been optimistic Hooker will be fully cleared by Week 1 of this season, the Lions have no plans on actually utilizing the rookie.

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That can be a good thing, as Hooker can adjust to the NFL lifestyle and learn without pressure. Campbell felt that his age led him to be “a little bit more mature,” and Geno Smith’s breakout at 32 years old helped show that age doesn’t matter as long as the player is productive. But there were plenty of red flags around Hooker that caused him to fall in the draft.

The Lions play quite differently than Tennessee’s RPO-heavy downfield attack that manipulated space. Goff is under center often, and the Lions built their offense around a strong running game that creates plays off traditional play-action looks.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was a fantastic schemer in his first season, but there’s no reason for Detroit to abandon what works for Goff and tailor the unit to Hooker already.

Despite their physical differences, Goff and Hooker can have some similar strengths. Both are naturally accurate throwers who will aggressively attack downfield windows. Neither is particularly anticipatory but are able to quickly get rid of the ball when there’s an opening. They play up to their surrounding cast.

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The best thing Detroit can do is have Hooker pinned to Goff’s side throughout this season and learn how to master Johnson’s offense. Though Johnson may not be in Detroit long if he continues to put on a clinic each week as head coaching jobs will await him, Hooker has already said, “It’s amazing to see [Goff] operate” day to day and on the field.

Hooker was essentially a traits-only prospect despite his production. He has a strong arm, good athleticism outside of the pocket, and good accuracy throwing to all levels.

However, even he joked about the Volunteers’ scheme not requiring advanced reads, and there were numerous examples of Hooker standing with cement feet in the pocket until it was time to make his predetermined throw.

With so little of Hooker’s successful play at Tennessee translating to the NFL and him struggling to be a standout talent in a more pro-style system previously at Virginia Tech, the key to getting the most out of Hooker in the coming years is having him become a professional. He has to master the scheme, play-calling, and footwork that come with an offense that plays under center.

When it’s time to hit the field, Hooker can’t be second-guessing what he sees from defenses or be unsure of where the balls should go. If his mental development catches up to his physical traits, the Lions may eventually have a star.

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