Once Projected To Be A 'Steal' For Colts, Malik Hooker Is Coming To Indy

Intro: Not many believed Ohio State safety Malik Hooker would be available for the Indianapolis Colts with their 15th-overall pick this year. Why is he so highly valued?

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INDIANAPOLIS — On Jan. 3 — just two days after the Indianapolis Colts' 2016 season officially came to an end — Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke published an early mock draft, highlighting which top college prospects should be the targets of those teams that had missed the playoffs.

At No. 15 overall, he had what many considered to be a reach as the Colts' pick:

15. Malik Hooker
S, Ohio State

A reach, of course, because most college football experts believed Hooker would be long gone by the time Indianapolis was on the clock in the first round.

But on Thursday night, as it turned out, those stars aligned — to the delight of first-year general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano.

Hooker, the team's top player on its draft board, went unselected for the first 13 picks, and when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Philadelphia Eagles had taken Tennessee pass rusher Derek Barnett at No. 14, one might imagine Ballard called in his first pick in record time.

"With the 15th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Mailk Hooker, safety, Ohio State," Goodell read on stage in Philadelphia on Thursday.

The, Colts — somehow, some way — got their guy.

Now, mock drafts, of course, are mostly good for offseason talking points — and that's it. But big props to Burke, who saw this as a possibility months ago.

Why Hooker to the Colts, by the way? Burke writes:

"At this point, Hooker would be a steal—flip him into Adams's spot at 6 or Peppers's at 10, and no one would bat an eye. The Colts' defense in general has to become faster, more athletic. Hooker checks both boxes as a ballhawking threat at safety. A scary thought: For as great as he was this season, he played just 19 games at Ohio State. The best is yet to come."

A first-team All-American in just his sophomore season in 2016, Hooker ranked sixth nationally with seven interceptions and returned three picks for a touchdown, leading the nation in that category. He ranked third on a really good Ohio State defense with 67 total tackles, including 5.0 tackles for loss.

And, as Burke alluded to, it appears Hooker hasn't even begun to sniff his prime as a football player. After playing in all 13 games (with no starts) his freshman season, the 2016 season was Hooker's first as a full-time starter for the Buckeyes.

Hooker has also shown an ability to make big plays in big situations, as his 16-yard interception return for a touchdown over rival Michigan was one of the crucial plays in Ohio State's 30-27 victory.

So how will his game translate into the professional ranks?

"He'll fit in with Indianapolis beautifully," NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said. "He's the best center fielder in this draft so far. ... The biggest concern is not the injuries, but the inconsistent tackling."

"Inconsistent tackling," if that's Hooker's primary concern, sure seems workable for a guy who is still raw as a player at the safety position.

Lance Zierlein, who writes most of the draft player profiles for NFL.com, compares Hooker to Reggie Nelson, and talked to a personnel director from an AFC team, who said of Hooker, "Hook(er) is still so raw and you see him making all of those plays. He's a player who will come in and look bad his first year and then be an all-pro by his third year. I think that's his arc. No short-cut for experience."

OK. Fair enough.

Zierlein said Hooker is "the ultimate lurker."

"His instincts are always bringing him to the football and when he gets there he has the ball skills to take it away," Zierlein wrote. "His lack of game experience and issues with tackle consistency will likely show themselves early in his career, but his ability to flip the field is worthy of an aggressive projection. He has the talent to be a high-impact starter for years in the NFL."

Sure sounds like a "steal" to me.

"I just thought Malik was too unique. Unique skillset," Ballard said Thursday night. "Unique players; unique athletes that make plays. That's what we need to keep adding to our team."

The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.

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