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Is Colts Rookie Malik Hooker a “Shoe-In” to Make an Early Impact?

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IndyCar: 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500-Practice Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

No position has greater importance in the Colts press-man scheme in the secondary than the free safety. In order for the pass defense to succeed the corners must feel confident that they can press and jam the receiver with help over the top. Additionally, when the pass rush doesn’t land on every play — and it won’t — there must be something lurking in secondary that gives quarterbacks pause before they turn a pass loose.

Indianapolis has arguably lacked a player with that kind of presence on the back-end since Chuck Pagano installed his aggressive secondary scheme. Veteran Mike Adams had a season or two where he played the role relatively well but his success was more reliant on his experience and knowing where to be to take advantage of tipped passes in order to be opportunistic.

With Malik Hooker, his all world athletic ability gives him uncanny range. Pair that with familiarity with the defense, which he hopes to build during training camp, and you have a nasty combination that could generate an “Ed Reed-like” presence for opposing quarterbacks to keep in the back of their minds.

Maybe the most exciting thing for Colts fans is that there have been few first round draft picks that have generated this kind of excitement for years. Obviously, selecting Andrew Luck is the biggest since Peyton Manning was drafted in 1998, but consider the team’s more recent history:

2007 - Anthony Gonzalez
2008 - No Pick
2009 - Donald Brown
2010 - Jerry Hughes
2011 - Anthony Castonzo
2012 - Andrew Luck
2013 - Bjorn Werner
2014 - No Pick
2015 - Phillip Dorsett
2016 - Ryan Kelly

Gonzalez would be the team’s third receiver at best. Brown was not expected to be an immediate bell-cow. Jerry Hughes was a later-round pick in a position of need but no one expected him to be a year one stud.

Luck, Castonzo, and Kelly were all expected to be first year impact players at their respective positions. Still, no matter how much you try to dress it up, few offensive line picks are going to set the world on fire.

Werner was a project and while he was touted by a lot of draft analysts, he was not a speed guy on the edge and was more comfortable playing with his hand in the dirt. Finally, Dorsett was one of the most controversial first round picks the Colts have made in quite some time with bigger defensive needs and a lot of fans clamoring for safety Landon Collins out of Alabama or defensive tackle Malcom Brown out of Texas.

The point is that it has been quite awhile and entirely uncommon for Colts first round picks to generate a great deal of hype.

This year that all changes. Malik Hooker has widespread support from journalists and draft analysts to scouts and other NFL talent evaluators.

NFL’s Adam Rank stated, “This was somebody who was rumored to be a top-five pick (and not slipping past the Chargers at No. 7), but the Colts got him. He's got speed and athleticism and is a guy who could be a long-term prospect in the mold of Ed Reed, a player coach Chuck Pagano directed when he was an assistant in Baltimore. I'm telling you: We will look back on the 2017 NFL Draft and wonder how Hooker went so low.”

NFL’s Charles Davis also stated, “The Colts had how many pick-sixes last year, if I remember correctly, zero right? Malik Hooker, you needed safety help anyway, right? And what’s one of the best parts of Hooker’s game? He had seven interceptions and three of them returned for touchdowns. When he touches the football, he turns into a running back and that’s a big deal.”

Cameron DaSilva of Fox Sports wrote, “The Colts were one of the most fortunate teams in the draft, watching the best free safety fall in their laps at 15th overall. He was a huge addition, and Indianapolis probably never expected to land him in the middle of the first round. Look for Hooker to completely change the look of the Colts’ defense, giving them a true center fielder patrolling the middle of the field.”

Finally, NFL’s Bucky Brooks wrote, “Hooker is the most instinctive center-field safety that I've scouted since Ed Reed stepped into the league in 2002. Now, I know that's lofty praise for a player who logged just 13 college starts -- and only has five years of football experience (Hooker didn't play football until his junior year of high school) -- but it's hard to find deep-middle players with Hooker's combination of athleticism, range and playmaking ability.”

The link to Brooks segment on Hooker on NFL.com also provides feedback from numerous current NFL scouts and personnel specialists who are in agreement that he could be a special player.

While it is true that the hype-machine has been running strong since the draft, it is also true that it shouldn’t be taken lightly that Malik Hooker is the most exciting potential difference-maker the Colts have taken in the draft since Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012.