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2017 NFL Draft: Could Malik Hooker end up being the best option for the Titans at 5?

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We haven’t talked a lot about Hooker, but his immense range could be too much to pass on.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We’ve all heard the phrase by now. “The NFL is a passing league.” We’ve seen an obvious uptick in passing over the past decade in the league, creating a huge need for pass rushers, cornerbacks and safeties. The best athletes tend to end up at cornerback and defensive end, which has in turn pushed down the level of safety play. When you have the opportunity to land top level safety play, you take it.

When I say top level safety play I’m talking about range, instincts and ball skills. You want a guy playing free safety that can handle centerfield duties. The ability to play centerfield allows the defense to deploy another pass rusher. A true centerfielder can improve an entire defense. It can mask some coverage issues deep and give your corners some insurance.

The only problem is that these types of players don’t come along very often. Like I noted above, these athlete usually end up at corner or receiver. But this year offers a potentially special prospect. One that has that rare range and ball skills — one that is being compared to Ed Reed. His name? Malik Hooker.

Admittedly, I’m late to the Hooker hype. He was a guy that had everyone buzzing back in the fall, making game-turning plays and creating turnovers. We haven’t discussed him on here much, simply because the Titans have bigger positional needs. In addition to that, he doesn’t really fit the mold of what we think Jon Robinson values in prospects. If you go by last year, Robinson wants guys that have produced over the span of a few seasons at the college level. Hooker didn’t even play 20 career games at Ohio State. For those reasons, I wrote him off as a potential Titans target. But the more I think about it, the more I love the idea of taking him at 5th overall.

At the end of the day, talent wins. When you’re picking this high, you’re going to get some guys that declared early. Mainly juniors, but occasionally you’re going to get some redshirt sophomore guys — thanks to injuries or loaded, powerhouse college rosters. Hooker falls into that redshirt sophomore category, which scares some decision makers off. Would Robinson waive his production/experience threshold to take a shot on a top talent? Nobody can know for sure. However, I don’t think you can let it keep you from taking a special talent. Sometimes you just have to trust the tape.

Speaking of the tape, Hooker put out some of the most impressive stuff I’ve ever seen from a safety at any level in 2016. His ability to read and react to a quarterback is second to none. Pair that with his long speed and ball skills and you have a ball-hawk.

Look what he’s able to do here. He reads the quarterback from the start and gets to the opposite sideline from the other hashmark. Hooker beats the receiver to the spot and makes the play.

This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. In fact, it happened a ton in the games I watched. You can tell he comes into these games prepared. His instincts in coverage are special.

You’ll see this one on draft night, I promise. Hooker is playing single high, simply reading the quarterback. He gains depth off the bat, then flips his hips open and explodes. He covers half the field and adjusts his route to the ball in the process, all while making a play on the football. This type of ability doesn’t come along every year.

Now there are some concerns with Hooker. First and foremost, he hasn’t been able to participate in any drills this offseason due to surgery he had on February 1st. Hooker needed to repair a torn labrum and a hernia issue — injuries that he played through late last season. Similar to Corey Davis, teams will just have to go strictly off of the tape and meetings with Hooker.

On the field, the only true concern I have with him is his ability to consistently tackle in the open field. He’s going to be a liability in run support, to be blunt. It doesn’t take long to notice a bunch of bad angles and missed tackles on tape. This is an area that he’s going to have to really clean up to become a complete player.

Titans fit?

I know the first comment is going to be about Kevin Byard, so let me address that. We don’t really know how they view Byard to this point. What I do know is that they played him down around the line of scrimmage a ton. I’m on record saying that Johnathan Cyprien is a simple upgrade on the Daimion Stafford “big box safey, nickel linebacker” role.

So if you take Hooker you’re playing him at free safety. You’re kicking Byard to a more strong safety role, while Cyprien rotates and handles Stafford’s old role -- which was utilized a ton. The Titans played three safeties quite a bit last season, so this rotation makes sense in my mind.

Hooker would fill an immediate need — although it might not be a need that you’ve thought about all that much. He’s a turnover creator, which is something that the Titans could definitely use. They just need difference makers, no matter what the position is. Hooker may just end up being the biggest defensive difference maker from this class.