The NFL Draft Machine Is Doing Weird Things to the Vikings

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker during Tennessee Football Pro Day at the Anderson Training Facility in Knoxville, Tenn. on Thursday, March 30, 2023. © Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK.

About a month ago, Minnesota Vikings fans grappled with whether they wanted the franchise to draft the University of Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker at all.

Fast forward to early April, and the same question applies, with a caveat — should the club draft the man in the 1st Round?

The NFL Draft Machine Is Doing Weird Things to the Vikings

It’s the nature of the beast during the draft’s lead-up as players climb the board, stay stagnant, or fall for bizarre reasons. And as Kentucky’s Will Levis might be plunging compared to his standing three weeks ago, Hooker is undoubtedly a climber.

Doing Weird Things
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports.

Here’s the short story on Hooker: his skillset directly translates to a 1st-Round talent, almost enough to plop the quarterback into the same discussion with C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, two men likely to fly off the draft board at Nos. 1 and 2 at the end of the month. Yet, Hooker has two thunderous strikes against him — he’s 25 years old and recovering from a torn ACL suffered in November.

Because he’s “old” — the author of this article is 39, so yes, there’s hypocrisy — and may not be available to play in 2023, he isn’t an automatic combatant in this year’s “Big 4” quarterback platter. Normally, the “draft a guy to sit and watch for a year” mentality applies to 21- and 22-year-olds. Well, Hooker’s new team might be drafting him to watch and learn until he’s ready — at age 26.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports.

Due to his “advanced age” and injury resume, Hooker was emphatically not classified as a 1st-Rounder when the NFL Combine occurred. However, since then, draft brains have wiggled the Volunteer into 1st-Round discourse — so much so that it’s becoming routine.

An extremely credible draft voice, ESPN’s Todd McShay, mock-drafted Hooker to the Vikings at the start of the week and explained, “The Vikings have quietly been putting in some work on this QB class. Despite the team’s 13-win season, Kirk Cousins was just 23rd in QBR at 49.9. Plus, he’s turning 35 this summer and will be entering the final year of his deal. Sitting behind Cousins for a year to learn the pro game and fully recover from his torn ACL could be the perfect setup for Hooker, who led the nation in QBR last season before the injury (89.5).”

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) congratulates Tennessee wide receiver Bru McCoy (15) on his touchdown during the first half of a game between the Tennessee Vols and Florida Gators, in Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. © Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK.

“Hooker is accurate to every level of the field but really thrives throwing deep. Some scouts might be wary of drafting a 25-year-old QB, but he has the talent to lead an NFL offense. I’ve talked to folks with a few teams that even have Hooker above Levis on their internal boards. He has interviewed really well this spring, and the tape is phenomenal. Alternatively, Minnesota could try to get another receiver alongside Justin Jefferson, go back to the cornerback well or bring in another big tight end,” McShay concluded.

It’s worth noting that all of Hooker’s recent 1st-Round prognosis seems to be a “Vikings thing.” They are the team that might allegedly sign on for the Hooker sweepstakes.

Meanwhile, Hooker in Round 1 creates an interesting dynamic. Those on the fence about him — in any way, shape, or form — for the Vikings in the draft’s middle rounds could find themselves celebrating his addition to the team, so long as it isn’t in Round 1. It would feel like a relief — “At least we got him in 3rd Round and not the 1st Round like all that stuff from a few weeks ago” could be a common sentiment during the draft.

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Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the team’s year-end press conference for the 2022 season after losing to the New York Giants in the playoffs.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talks ad nauseam about “value” in front of a microphone, and reaching for Hooker in Round 1 feels like the antithesis of his value speech. But with the pre-draft smoke suggesting Minnesota could be the franchise to roll the dice, drafting Hooker anywhere but Round 1 might feel like deliverance.

And what a weird thing to feel about the potential quarterback of the future.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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