NFL draft profile: No. 7 — Ohio State S Malik Hooker, injury concern but sky-high upside

Ohio State Malik Hooker
6-foot-1, 206 pounds

Key stat: In his one season of starting for the Buckeyes, Hooker logged 74 tackles (5.5 for losses), 11 passes defended and tied for third in NCAA with seven interceptions (184 return yards and three of those picks run back for touchdowns).

Ohio State S Malik Hooker (R) is a threat every time he intercepts a pass. (AP)
Ohio State S Malik Hooker (R) is a threat every time he intercepts a pass. (AP)

The skinny: Prep star in basketball had strong Division-I attention in hoops and won two state championships in the sport. Only started playing football as junior in high school but was heavily recruited and committed to Ohio State, where he redshirted in 2014. The following season, Hooker primarily was a special teamer, playing behind Vonn Bell, a 2016 second-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Once Hooker earned a starting role in 2016, there was little stopping him as he earned first-team All-American and first team All-Big Ten honors.

Hooker declared for the 2017 NFL draft following his redshirt sophomore season. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and a hernia on Jan. 31 and was medically excused from performing at the NFL scouting combine and could not work out at Ohio State’s pro day. He turned 21 years old recently.

Best-suited destination: Any NFL team wanting to roll the injury dice on a player who has immense talent — he might have been our No. 2-ranked prospect had he been fully healthy and played a bit more before this past season — would apply here. Hooker is inexperienced and could use time to get healthy and fully acclimated to sophisticated NFL passing offenses. So he might be best suited to land with a team that can afford to not have him start immediately if need be, but scheme-wise Hooker’s range, size and instincts lend him to any type of defense teams want him to run. Teams that could be especially interested in Hooker include the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals — but again, Hooker’s raw talent has mass appeal around the NFL.

Upside: Immense ceiling. In a league where teams are always seeking defensive backs who have the range to cover, the instincts to make plays on the ball and the size to be forces in the run game, Hooker’s skill set is an absolute dream. Terrific height, length and some of the biggest hands (10 3/4 inches) you’ll ever see in a defensive back. Moves around with ease, like you’d expect a quick basketball guard to. Absolutely ideal height-weight-speed numbers for a safety when you consider that he likely can add 5-10 pounds easily and not lose anything in the process.

Ninja-like in his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes, react and pounce. Has extreme confidence in his own diagnostic skills and the makeup speed to correct mistakes quickly when he makes them. Want to see range, instincts and playmaking — all in one play? This is early in Hooker’s first college start, mind you, as he comes all the way from the far hashmark in a single-deep safety-look, traverses more than half the field (off the quarterback’s three-step drop), tips the pass to himself and hauls in a memorable first collegiate INT against Bowling Green (and he later made another terrific pick in the same game):

Ohio State S Malik Hooker made an insane interception against Bowling Green. (Draftbreakdown.com)
Ohio State S Malik Hooker made an insane interception against Bowling Green. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Worth another look:

What a play — and just a tease of what Hooker could one day become. (Dratftbreakdown.com)
What a play — and just a tease of what Hooker could one day become. (Dratftbreakdown.com)

Reads screens and draws well, even front center field position, and can come downhill to erase them before they get started. Good last-line defender — takes good angles to the ball, doesn’t get beat deep and can be counted on to prevent touchdowns. Home-run threat with the ball in his hands — averaged 26.3 yards per INT return and had TDs off picks against Tulsa, Nebraska and Michigan and almost housed his second INT in the Bowling Green game.

Also served as the Buckeyes’ punt-team gunner and the defensive end on the field-goal block unit. Arrow is pointed up — way up. All Pro potential is obvious when you watch where he is after so little football.

Downside: Still learning the game. Offenses with more sophisticated passing concepts slowed him down a step. Can bite on play action (see Indiana and Penn State games) and also get fooled by a savvy quarterback’s eyes (see Clemson game). Will arrive a hair early trying to make a play on the ball — got away with a few of these on non-calls last season. Has man-coverage ability but appears to be best in deep space. Still a bit of a guesser who gets some wrong.

Injury could keep Hooker out for the start of offseason training. Might be best served with a rookie season where he’s not expected to be a game-changer right away. Could use more bulk on his frame — especially in his upper body. Not a forceful run defender yet. Will make tackle attempts at the ankles and will let a few slip through his grasp. Also can overshoot gaps and leave his feet too much. Will run around receivers’ block attempts at times. His vision is much better in space — the closer Hooker is to the line of scrimmage and the more traffic there is, the less he’s able to diagnose plays.

Scouting hot take: “I can look at 13 games of a one-year starter at safety and project what he’s going to be a lot easier than I can a quarterback … He’s a special one. Mark my words: I love [LSU’s Jamal] Adams, but Hooker will be the better player in five years.” — AFC college scouting director

Player comp: There’s a little Sean Taylor and a little Earl Thomas in Hooker’s game, but we’re still projecting here in a big way for a one-year starter coming off a notable surgery. Some on the Buckeyes’ staff even invoked the name of Ed Reed — that’s how special Hooker could be.

Expected draft range: Top-15 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
No. 17: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No. 16: North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
No. 15: Washington WR John Ross
No. 14: Clemson WR Mike Williams
No. 13: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
No. 12: Temple LB Haason Reddick
No. 11: Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
No. 10: Alabama TE O.J. Howard
No. 9: Stanford RB-WR-RS Christian McCaffrey
No. 8: Alabama LB Reuben Foster

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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