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Colts get their guy in Malik Hooker, a safety with a “unique skillset”

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ten days before the NFL Draft, while the Colts’ draft braintrust was determining the draft board, general manager Chris Ballard kept coming back to the same question: what if?

The Colts don’t do their own mock drafts but they do look at some of them, but Ballard wanted to be sure that the Colts were ready just in case one of the top guys fell unexpectedly. So that led them to bring in Ohio State safety Malik Hooker for visit just in case.

“I’m not going to lie though, about ten days ago we were in there working through the draft board [and] I kept asking, ‘what if one of these guys falls?,” Ballard said Thursday night. “‘Would we be willing to pull the trigger and take him?’ And we ended up bringing him in, we said, ‘let’s bring Hooker in just in case. Just in case he falls, let’s make sure we’ve spent our time with him other than the Combine. Have our medical people look at him again. And it worked out good for us.”

Ballard, a first-time GM who has had plenty of draft experience in recent years, was asking the right question. He had to be ready in case something unexpected happened, and that meant he was prepared entering the draft.

In fact, two hours before the draft, Ballard was at peace. He wasn’t on edge for his first draft as a GM.

“No, not at all,” he said hours later. “No, I wasn’t on the edge. Really, I’m going to tell you this, the two hours before the draft was the first bit of peace I’ve had since I’ve walked in this building. There was no calls, I just sat in the office and thought about what we would do with our pick when we got to that moment. And at no point did I really think Malik was going to be there, but no, not on the edge of my seat. And there was a few players we really liked still up on the board, but we had Malik ranked very high.”

The draft began, and as expected Myles Garrett was the Browns’ choice with the first overall pick. Once the number two pick came around, however, things got crazy. The Chicago Bears traded with the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot to select Mitchell Trubisky, which set in motion seven of the first ten picks being offensive players. That, of course, meant that the top defensive talent kept getting pushed down the board - and that was perfectly alright with Chris Ballard and the Colts.

“Yeah, we talked about it in the draft room,” Ballard said tonight regarding loving the run on quarterbacks and receivers early. “When San Diego took [Mike] Williams and then Kansas City moved up to get [Patrick] Mahomes, we started really thinking it was a possibility to have a chance to get [Hooker]. And there was a lot of attention for the pick, but I just thought Malik was too unique. And I’ve talked about this a few times: unique skillset. Unique players. Unique athletes that make plays. That’s what we need to keep adding to our team, especially on defense right now.”

And so at 10:00 p.m. ET, two hours after the draft started, the Colts got their man. They drafted Malik Hooker, and there was no hesitation on the Colts’ part.

“No. None at all,” Ballard said. “None. No. I thought we got a unique talent. City’s going to love him. They’re going to love him.”

There were plenty of good defensive players left on the board for the Colts, but Hooker was the guy they liked best of them all. He was their top ranked player available, and while Ballard wouldn’t disclose specifically how high the Colts had Hooker ranked, he made it clear that it was “very high” and that it was near the top of the board.

What did the Colts like about Hooker? There was one common theme that seemed to keep emerging from Chris Ballard and Chuck Pagano tonight over and over: Hooker is unique. That’s what stood out to Ballard about the safety, and that’s what separated Hooker from some of the other players available.

“[He’s] unique,” he said. “So I really thought coming in here we needed to add defensive playmakers. I thought Hooker is the best athlete in the draft. And he’s got a unique skillset, he’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got great instincts and ball skills, and guys that can take away the football are hard to find. And we think he can do that at this level. I mean, is he a ready-made guy? He’s going to need work. But his first year starting at Ohio State he picks off seven balls. He was one of their best special teams [players], played behind two seniors at Ohio State early in his career, his redshirt freshman year, and was a great special teams player for them. So look we’re excited to get Malik, we’re very fortunate.”

Hooker, who said tonight that he grew up a Colts fan, is excited to get started with the franchise, and the Colts are equally excited to have him. Hooker will miss OTAs with a hip injury but should be ready to go by training camp, when the Colts will get the chance to work with their first round safety on-the-field. They love his skillset and they love the fact that they were able to get an incredibly talented player with the 15th pick.

“I’d like to see what mock drafts had two wideouts and two quarterbacks going [in the top ten],” Ballard said, laughing. I’m sure he and the Colts much prefer the way the actual draft turned out instead. They were prepared just in case one of their top guys fell, and that’s exactly what happened with Malik Hooker.