Vikings Draft Prospect: S Amani Hooker

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Sep 1, 2018; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Amani Hooker (27) intercepts a pass from Northern Illinois Huskies quarterback Marcus Childers (not pictured) as wide receiver Cole Tucker (18) looks on during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Amani Hooker

Position: Safety

School: Iowa

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 210

Hooker is a bit of an enigma as a  prospect. In some sense, he is one of the more polished safeties the draft offers, with his combination of size, technique and intelligence. However, questions about his athleticism are ultimately going to drop him into the middle rounds on draft day. 

Stats

Athleticism

Hooker tested better than expected at the combine, particularly in agility drills. His straight line speed is solid with decent acceleration. However, his burst is merely adequate and hips are not particularly smooth or quick. That said, Hooker did test well in the three-cone and jumping drills, so his is the rare case where a player may actually look slower on tape than they test. 

His change-of-direction will likely be the biggest inhibitor to Hooker’s draft stock. He is not particularly quick out of breaks or in mirroring, and his lack of explosion lends some questions as to how he can handle center field at the next level. To his credit though, Hooker is a strong leaper who can high point all manner of receivers and his instincts largely make up for his lack of an elite first step.

Zone Coverage

As a short to mid zone cover, Hooker should have no trouble transitioning his high level of play. His instincts are excellent and he does very well to watch the quarterback’s eyes and bait him into ill-advised throws. His speed to close on the ball is not high end, but his reaction time is. When routes enter his zone, he never loses his feel for them. He is most dangerous when working zone from the slot, where he can jump on short, three-step passes before the quarterback can read the coverage.

Deep zone will be a bit more of a question mark. Hooker is more than comfortable in cover-2, again with excellent awareness to read how the routes are developing. As a single high safety, however, he may not have the quick burst or recovery speed to play it consistently. His zone awareness should translate and make him a functional, versatile safety, but dropping deep play after play is probably not his NFL future.

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Man Coverage

Hooker played the slot quite a bit at Iowa. Pro Football Focus had him at 279 coverage snaps as a slot cover, recording three interceptions from the slot on 47 targets. So clearly, lining up on the line in man position will not be a foreign concept. That said, he largely played zone from those positions, mostly playing man in goal line situations. As a pure man cover, Hooker has some desirable traits. His frame and route recognition will help him against tight ends, in particular. But against the typical quick NFL slot, the twitchier route runners of the league, Hooker may have a bit of trouble. If he can use his length and strength to his advantage and develop strong hand work, it could help mitigate his athletic disadvantages. 

Ball Skills

Hooker can undercut routes with the best of them. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback and sags off just enough to bait the throw, and he has adequate quickness to break on the ball. Hooker also will attack the arms and separate man from ball if he arrives a hair late. His length and hands are both good and he will use his full catch radius to bring the ball in. Hooker is a good leaper who tracks the ball well, so high pointing should be no issue. But he is at his best when he can pounce underneath routes. 

Tackling

Hooker’s aggressiveness to the ball is typically his greatest asset as a tackler. When he reads the play, he is downhill and attacks the ball carrier. Hooker can break down well and bring the arms with good technique, and can lay strong hits when he gets a bead on the ball. However, he also goes for shoulder tackles quite a bit. His lack of lateral quickness limits his open field tackling ability, so taking quality angles will make or break him downfield. 

Vikings Fit

Vikings safeties under Mike Zimmer are largely positionless. While Harrison Smith is technically a free safety insomuch that he plays mostly on the weak side of the field, he is tasked with short zone coverage, center field, man coverage, in the box, the whole nine yards. Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris have done the same during their times as starters. In that vein, Hooker fits very well in with the Vikings system. He can move down in the box, roam in zone and has a nose for the ball.

The question would be draft position. Hooker seems to be a day two pick, perhaps early day three. And in rounds three or four, he would work perfectly in with the Vikings’ draft needs; Minnesota appears to have their starting safeties but is hurting for depth. Round two might be a little trickier, given Minnesota’s strong need to take an offensive lineman early in the draft. But as a potential starter who fits well with the system, Hooker to the Vikings makes a lot of sense.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

 Follow @fpc_vikings and Follow @fpc_nfl

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