Well, something happened that GM Chris Ballard probably didn’t expect. When the number 15 pick rolled around in the 2017 draft, there were a lot of guys left on the board that would’ve made good additions to his defense.
After a cascade of offensive picks saw Jacksonville add RB Leonard Fournette and the Texans add QB Deshaun Watson, the Colts looked to add a playmaker to their defense, and they certainly didn’t have to reach. They picked Malik Hooker, a safety out of Ohio State who has drawn comparisons to Ed Reed. Not a bad guy to be compared to.
The Colts definitely are in need of a lot of defensive playmakers all over the field and after losing a guy like Mike Adams who always had a knack for creating turnovers, they will be excited to see this guy get to work. Hooker is a guy who relies on great instincts to get him to the ball and has a nose for the play as well as a great ability to keep his eye in the backfield and read the quarterback. His ability to flow toward the ball and have a consistently good first step is a trait that is hard to teach and fantastic when you can find it.
While many will say that the Colts should have gone after a pass rusher or a cornerback with their pick, Ballard was clear in the week leading up to the draft that he looked for guys with that “it” factor. Chuck Pagano clearly thinks that Hooker has that, calling him a “rare, rare athlete.” He also stated that they never anticipated Hooker to still be on the board at 15 and so it was not a tough call to make to pick him at that position.
In a draft that saw many teams getting away from picking the best player in favor of reaching for their own needs, this may be a real benefit to the Colts in the long term. They have a safety in Clayton Geathers who is a real thumper in the box, as well as a guy in T.J. Green who needs to develop in coverage before he can be a bona fide starter. Darius Butler looked good in his transition to safety late last season but adding a playmaker and a guy who can shut down the big plays that have so often plagued the Colts defense is a big deal.
Pagano did say that Hooker won’t be available until training camp due to hip/groin surgery, but they had a chance to look at all his medicals and felt confident in making that pick anyway. Given both Ballard and Pagano’s experience with secondary guys, there is a lot of reason to trust their instincts on such a guy.
This is a big change in the Colts strategy from the Grison era, showing a commitment by Ballard to chose the future over the immediate. While Hooker definitely makes the Colts better as soon as he is on the field, he also can be the defensive backfield leader for years to come. What’s more, he has only five years of organized football experience. That means that he has a high a ceiling as maybe any player the Colts had available to them.
I know what many of you are thinking and I understand. You want a pass rusher. You want a top shut down corner. Keep in mind the depth of this draft is likely what pushed so many of those offensive skill players up the board. Count on the Colts drafting more defensive players in the next few rounds. Also keep in mind that they have 6 more picks, and their latest one is in round 5, with 3 picks coming their way in round 4. That is a great thing in a draft heavy in the middle with solid defensive talent.
As with anything, we won’t know for several years just how good or bad this pick was, but given what we do know about the talent available in this draft, and the needs on the Colts defense, I’m giving this pick a draft grade of A. The Colts appear to have gotten a playmaker who can be a big time contributor for years to come. Stay tuned tomorrow for a recap of day two.