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Malik Hooker has All-Pro potential as Colts’ 1st-round pick

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Hooker’s range and talent are upgrades in the Colts’ defensive backfield.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Hooker is an elite free safety in a class that’s stacked with them. The Indianapolis Colts got an All-American with great range and closing speed to upgrade their secondary when they took Hooker with the No. 15 overall pick.

Hooker was a standout at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes made the most of his remarkable instincts in coverage. The Buckeyes used Hooker in the box and as a true center fielder, and he excelled at both. He led the Ohio State secondary, which also features top corners Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, with seven interceptions.

Hooker’s seven interceptions were tied for second-most in all of college football last season, and he’s dangerous once he gets the ball in his hands. His three pick-sixes tied him for the most in the FBS last year.

Hooker was the second Ohio State defensive back drafted this year. Now he’s ready to begin the next chapter of his football life with the Colts.

Why did the Colts pick Hooker?

The Colts wanted a free safety with the ability to make plays in space as well as good instincts in single high coverage, and they certainly got one in Hooker. One of Hooker’s greatest strengths is reading the quarterback’s eyes and understanding where the signal caller is going to go with the ball.

He showed off those skills when he picked off Deshaun Watson, which was one bright spot in the Buckeyes’ terrible shutout loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

His ability to diagnose and react to plays was on display from his first start at Ohio State.

His technique needs improvement, and it’s an issue because of his limited experience as a starter, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a sure tackler. He’s also not the fastest guy on the field, but his closing speed is remarkable.

Hooker is a phenomenal athlete and has all of the talent he needs to excel at the free safety position in the NFL. His fluidity and change-of-direction skills are advanced for a player with such limited starting experience, and will serve him well at the next level. Once he refines his technique and puts it all together, he should become an All-Pro caliber player.

What are Hooker’s limitations?

The remarkable thing about Hooker is that he’s this good despite still being very raw. He only started last season at Ohio State, as a redshirt sophomore. Before that, Hooker played just two seasons of high school football.

He has a lot of room to grow and develop, and when he does, he may be one of the league’s best safeties. But until he develops, things that worked well for him at the college level despite an incomplete understanding of the position may bite him in the NFL.

Teams may also have been concerned about the two surgeries Hooker had after the season — one to repair a hernia, and the other to fix a hip injury. He was unable to participate in the combine because he was still recovering. Still, Hooker managed to play through both injuries last season, and he turned in a stellar performance.

Is there anyone alive who doesn’t compare Hooker to Ed Reed?

No. It’s basically the law that if you’re talking about Malik Hooker, you have to compare him to Ed Reed. Here’s a brief and incomplete history of people comparing Hooker to Ed Reed.

“Hooker is the closest thing to Reed I’ve seen since I’ve been scouting.” - NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah

“Range is the biggest comparison. And when he has the ball in his hands. Remember when Ed got the ball? Whoo. If he didn’t score, you were disappointed. Same thing with this kid.” - Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who also coached Reed at the University of Miami

“I initially watched Malik Hooker film when I heard someone I respect compare him to Ed Reed. I was like BS, but it's true.” - Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Hooker’s former Ohio State teammate, Marshon Lattimore, also dropped the Reed comparison:

And how does Hooker feel about those comparisons?

"It's definitely an honor," Hooker said after Ohio State’s pro day, via Around the NFL’s Conor Orr. "It's a great thing for me personally to be named in the same sentence as a great like Ed Reed. It's a humbling thing. It tells me I gotta keep working until people say that I'm a great. It's just shocking, man, a great thing for me."

Hooker once almost quit Ohio State

Believe it or not, Hooker almost didn’t stick around to become this dynamic playmaker for Ohio State. During his redshirt freshman year, he nearly left, according to Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report.

Hooker was languishing behind then-starters Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, and he was tired of not playing. The Pennsylvania native was also homesick. He told his mother, Angela Dennis, that he wanted to transfer somewhere closer to home. She wasn’t having it.

"Her exact words were: 'I don't know what you're going to do. But you're not coming back home,'" Hooker said.

It’s a good thing he stuck it out, because he became a star.

What does he bring to the Colts?

Hooker can slide right in at a starting safety spot for the Colts, whose secondary was a huge liability. He should instantly bring some youth and energy to a defense that’s been stagnant for years now.