This is not good. The 2022 college football season took a hit this week when Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker went down with an ACL injury, sidelining one of the most exciting players in the country as bowl season loomed on the horizon. It’s a huge loss to the sport, just from an entertainment perspective, and it’s disappointing to see this happening to a player who has really proven himself on a big stage.
And the consequences are long lasting. Hooker is a top pick for the 2023 NFL draft, even though that injury was added to his scouting report. He’s also been frequently linked to the New Orleans Saints in play drafts (most recently by our own Luke Easterling over on Draft Wire just last week). The Saints will be looking for a quarterback in 2023, with Jameis Winston underperforming and 35-year-old Andy Dalton playing off a one-year contract, so Hooker is probably on their radar.
New Orleans has no first-round picks in 2023 after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, so they won’t be able to pick anyone until they’re on the clock in the second round (probably 41st at the moment). total). Even before that injury, Hooker was unsure about going in the first round given his limited tackle in Tennessee and his old age by NFL standards. He turns 25 in January, making him the third-oldest quarterback drafted after John Beck (who was 26 in 2007) and Brandon Weeden (28 in 2012).
Age and injury history aren’t the biggest concerns when it comes to scouting college quarterbacks, but NFL teams still invest a lot of resources evaluating them. It remains to be seen how heavily they will weigh against Hooker. Former Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams was unable to train for pro teams after suffering a season-ending knee injury in January, and he only recently returned to practice, but the Detroit Lions still traded him halfway get the first round.
A better example might be former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered an ACL injury similar to Hooker’s in November 2017. He was able to return and start all 16 games the following season, suggesting Hooker could be hoping for a similar schedule. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow ended his rookie season with a knee injury in mid-November (rupturing both his ACL and MCL), but he returned to start every game in 2021 and led his team to the Super Bowl .
Obviously, every injury and situation is different, but we’ve seen quarterbacks overcome them in less than a year, and there’s a good chance it won’t significantly impact Hooker’s draft status one way or another. He would likely be a Day Two pick anyway, and that aligns with where the Saints are expected to make their first pick. However, this should not be taken lightly. He could have really helped his case if he’d been able to throw in front of teams and go through all the usual athletic tests and timing drills. It’s a shame he won’t be able to fully plead his case.
So we’ll be watching him closely over the coming months to see how he’s progressing through recovery. The Saints have made no secret of bringing in talent from Tennessee, including recent Day Two draft picks like Alvin Kamara (third round) and Alontae Taylor (second round). They hired former Volunteers wide receiver coach Kodi Burns this offseason and should have an inside track on Hooker in the pipeline.
If you like Hooker but aren’t sure he’ll be healthy next September (or ready to go right away), pairing him with a stopgap like Dalton or Jimmy Garoppolo in the spring might be the right move. Maybe Winston is willing to stay, even though it feels like his time in New Orleans is up. Until the Saints know for sure they’ve landed their next franchise quarterback, they can’t afford to stop looking for help.
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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire