Is Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker worthy of a 1st-round pick?

One of the most notable players to college football fans entering the 2023 draft is Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who was enjoying a stellar 2022 campaign before suffering a torn ACL late in the season.

Before that, Hooker was well on his way to competing in the Heisman Trophy race, putting up some ridiculous numbers in a dangerous aerial attack for the Vols. Hooker put up 28 total touchdowns in just 11 games, including an impressive win against an elite, NFL-style defense. He meticulously tore Nick Saban and Alabama apart for over 400 yards and five touchdowns, racking up a whopping 52 points.

Hooker has shown massive progression in each of his years as a starter, which bodes well for his future in the NFL even if his age (25) perhaps limits his perceived upside in draft rooms. Hooker is impressive as a passer, with a clear NFL-level arm and impressive accuracy, connecting on 69 percent of his passes over the last two years. He’s got an excellent understanding of the offense he operated in at Tennessee, and knew where to put the ball to take advantage of scheme design and how the defense was playing it.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

This improved each year, as he became more comfortable with what defenses were throwing at him, and understanding how to find the holes and how to exploit them. Hooker is mature at the position, and while that offense might not translate directly to the NFL, it leads you to believe he will have little trouble progressing into the next-level schemes.

There are some general concerns with Hooker which could ultimately hold him out of the first round. As noted earlier, his injury and age will work against him before the evaluation process even begins. But beyond that, there is concern in how the Tennessee offense operates compared to more complicated NFL ones, as Hooker often only had to make a single read or target wide receivers who were schemed open for him.

There is also concern about his arm strength lacking elite levels of velocity, and while it’s not below NFL standards, it’s hard to imagine him becoming the bombs-away type quarterback he was in college. Throws are left hanging in the air over the middle, he can miss tight-window throws simply because of velocity, and defensive backs are just much faster at reacting and adjusting to that in the NFL.

So, while Hooker certainly has an impressive resume and enough talent to succeed in the NFL, the questions surrounding him and his age/injury combination will likely leave teams avoiding him in the first round. Worst-case scenario, you can always develop him into a high-level backup with athletic upside and a clear progression chart.

Either way, it will be fun to see where Hooker lands come draft night.

Story originally appeared on Draft Wire