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Analysis: Vols Land Proven Power 5 Starter in Hooker

Tennessee has landed one of the best graduate transfer quarterbacks on the market. Hendon Hooker brings Tennessee a legitimate option to start at quarterback.

Tennessee spent much of the last few seasons focused on the quarterback position. Whether it was lack of quality play, recruits coming in, questions over how the position was managed, or who the starter should be, quarterback has been a glaring issue for the Vols. It was widely agreed that quarterback play has held the Vols back, especially in 2020. The play of Harrison Bailey and JT Shrout late in the year threw even more questions to how the position had been handled over the season. Now, Jarrett Guarantano has entered the transfer portal, as has JT Shrout, finding a new home in Colorado. That leaves the Vols with Harrison Bailey, Brian Maurer, and incoming signee Kaidon Salter. The Vols badly needed an experienced quarterback capable of playing successfully and able to hold up physically. In Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, the Vols have picked up a good quarterback that is capable of being the focal point of a Power 5 offense.

Hooker is a 6’4” 225-pound dual threat quarterback with significant starting experience in the Power 5. During his time at Virginia Tech, Hooker appeared in 25 games and started 15 of them. He began his career in Blacksburg going 6-0 as a starter. Hooker is a redshirt junior, and due to the NCAA’s eligibility rules for the 2020 season, Hooker will be immediately eligible as a grad transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. Originally rated as a four-star prospect coming out of Dudley High School (Greensboro, NC), Hooker was a major recruiting pull for Hokie coach Justin Fuente. Hooker redshirted in the 2017 season, his first year on campus, and he appeared in 6 games in 2018, though he did not throw a pass. Hooker put together a solid campaign in 2019, earning the starting job and playing well despite an in-season injury. Hooker appeared in 11 games with 8 starts in 2019, compiling 1555 yards, 13 touchdowns, a 61% completion percentage, and only 2 interceptions. Hooker added another 356 rushing yards and 5 more touchdowns on the ground. Hooker followed up his strong sophomore campaign with a solid season as a junior. Hooker appeared in 8 games and started 7 of them for the Hokies. He racked up 1339 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions with a 65% completion percentage. Hooker added 620 yards and 9 touchdowns as a runner. Hooker suffered an injury against Clemson that caused him to miss some time as a junior. 

The term, “Dual-Threat Quarterback,” can sometimes be used to describe a player that is much better as a runner than they are as a passer. This is not the case with Hooker. He has the ability to threaten defenses equally with his arm and with his legs. Hooker has a big, strong frame and shows nice footwork both in his film from Dudley and at Virginia Tech. Hooker climbs in the pocket well, feels pressure, and steps into throws. He shows he can step into throws even when he is going to be hit. Hooker keeps his feet well when the pocket is moved, his eyes downfield, looking to throw first. In short yardage and red zone situations at Tech, Hooker would often be rolled into an overload blitz, where he would be expected to get the ball out quickly, on the move, above the blitzers, and hit a tight end knowing he would take a shot himself. This play was effective for the Hokies with Hooker at quarterback, and showed his footwork, awareness, and toughness. 

Hooker’s throwing mechanics looked as polished as his footwork in high school and at Virginia Tech. He gets his feet set, steps into throws, and has a quick, high release. Hooker has a strong enough arm to make any throw asked of him. He can push the ball down the field with velocity and accuracy. On deep go routes, Hooker puts some air under his throws, but he is very accurate with the passes hitting his receivers with a chance to run. Hooker had a 64% completion percentage as a junior, and while Fuente’s offense does utilize a lot of quick throws or screens, Hooker proved himself an effective, accurate passer to all levels of the field. He is able to stand in the pocket and deliver, and he is also able to throw accurately when the pocket is moved or he is forced to improvise. Hooker has the arm strength and accuracy to threaten every part of the field, forcing the defense to defend all over. 

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As much as he is a threat throwing the ball, Hooker is also a dangerous runner. He piled up just shy of 1000 yards on the ground in two seasons in Blacksburg. This was with an injury as a sophomore and splitting time that season as well. Hooker is dangerous on runs designed for him, with speed to get to the corner and then turn it. In the open field, Hooker has the straight-line speed to break away from defenders and turn chunk runs into touchdowns. That said, Hooker is a large quarterback and a big, powerful ball carrier. Hooker is not afraid to run into the center of the line on power calls or short yardage. He is an effective A-gap runner that can pick up tough yards in the middle of the defense. That size, toughness, and ability to break tackles means that Hooker is a major threat in the red zone. He had 9 rushing touchdowns as a junior, and he can score on designed runs or scrambles when passes aren’t there. His ability to fight to the goal line is an added dimension defenses have to account for.

The Vols obviously have a need at quarterback. The position, how it has been handled, and the way they players there have been, or have failed to be, developed, defined Tennessee’s 2020 season. In fact, issues at the quarterback position have plagued the Vols since Josh Dobbs graduated in 2016. The Vols have had two quarterbacks that have started multiple games and played significant snaps transfer out already, and the departures from the quarterback room may not be done yet. Hendon Hooker adds an experienced voice to the quarterback room in Knoxville. He has the talent to be successful at this level as his play in Blacksburg and former 4-star ranking indicate. Hooker has been a winner as a starting quarterback in the Power 5, and has impacted defenses with both his arm and legs. The Vols badly needed to land an experienced quarterback, and they may have picked up on of the best on this year’s market.