Monday - Dec 16, 2019

Home / Draft / 2019 IDP DRAFT PREVIEW: Amani Hooker – S, Iowa

2019 IDP DRAFT PREVIEW: Amani Hooker – S, Iowa

In the 21st-century NFL, clear-cut roles on the back end are becoming a thing of the past. Teams don’t want one lumbering safety down in the box and another rangier one 12 yards off the line of scrimmage—they want a pair of safeties who are interchangeable. Who can do both. Getting a safety who can also man the slot (ala Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs) just makes it all the better.

Iowa safety Amani Hooker isn’t quite that versatile. But after piling up 65 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack and four interceptions in 2018 for the Iowa Hawkeyes, there are plenty of draftniks who think that the 5’11”, 210-pounder has a place at the professional level as a “big nickel” type hybrid safety.

There’s no one beating the drum for Hooker harder than the Iowa diehard at Football Uncensored, who went so far as to make the comparison between Hooker and Mathieu. “Here’s the thing with safeties,” the blogger said. “They are damn near impossible to evaluate off of television tape. They are barely on screen and immediately offscreen at the snap, so it’s tough to show the ins and outs of great safety play. That being said, I have watched Amani Hooker for years. I’ve seen the minutiae of what most people would call meaningless replays and how the dude is ALWAYS around the ball. For an NFL comparison, I would say he reminds me of Tyrann Mathieu. I don’t expect him to test off the charts, but he should do well, and the most important thing is that the guy just makes plays. He has incredible football instincts that you simply can’t teach, and there was a reason that Big Ten coaches named him the defensive back of the year despite lining up most of the year in a non-traditional secondary role. He can play a traditional safety role or play as your nickel back, but it’s easy to find a way to utilize a guy like Amani Hooker.”

In fairness, Hooker actually tested pretty well in Indianapolis—including a sub 4.5-second 40-yard dash. But look at tape on Hooker or start poring over scouting reports, and you’ll see a pattern emerge—Hooker’s a smart, physical player who can hold his own in press coverage, but ask him to cover wide receivers in the slot and his athletic limitations could mean trouble.

“Hybrid safety with an advanced feel for play design and recognition of where the ball is going and how to play it,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in comparing Hooker to Deon Grant. “He could thrive in a “robber” role or as a big nickel where he can match up against pass-catching tight ends. He’s not twitchy, fast or fluid and has some limitations in man coverage; however, he has the size, instincts and ball skills to become a plus starter, but needs to find his perfect scheme fit.”

Hooker’s instincts stood out on tape to Billy Marshall of Cat Scratch Reader. “Hooker is an excellent reader of the game,” Marshall said. “He has high level instincts when he’s lined up in the box, deep, or at nickel. He reads the intentions of the quarterback before locating the route and cleanly tackling the opponent. Hooker has a good understanding of zone coverage, which allows him to make these quick decisions.”

Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network loves those instincts as well—to a point. “You know when scouts say they want to like a player, but they just can’t get there? Hooker is the living embodiment of that feeling,” Ledyard said. “His smarts, awareness and mental processing as a player are rare, but so is his lack of athleticism in a Power 5 starting safety. Hooker is just too limited in his movement skills and explosiveness to make good on his mental prowess as a coverage safety, and he’s more capable than highly impactful around the line of scrimmage. Hooker’s odd combination of ball skills without range, physicality without great tackling and high football IQ without projecting to a super versatile role in the NFL make him a tough study.”

It was a similar refrain from Aaron Leming of 247 Sports—Hooker’s a player with imitations, but one who can thrive if an NFL team knows how to mask them while accentuating what he does best.

“Long story short,” Leming said, “Hooker’s game is one that should translate in whichever scheme he gets drafted to. He’s not an outstanding athlete and because of that, he’ll be limited to where he can be played. But even so, he’ll be a valuable weapon if used in the right ways. Much like most nickels and strong safeties, he’ll be best served to play closer to the line of scrimmage in zone looks. If he’s able to keep plays in front of him, he’s going to cause multiple turnovers and be a key piece to any secondary. From a mental perspective, he’s highly developed, which should give him the ability to come in a make an impact on Day 1. All in all, his best spot is going to be as a big nickel or as a strong safety.”

Here’s the thing, intrepid IDP-ers. Where you’re concerned, Hooker’s limitations could actually wind up a blessing—provided (again) that the NFL team that drafts him on Day 2 makes the best possible use of him.

From a fantasy perspective, the fact that Hooker’s not an ideal fit as a deep safety or slot corner in sub-packages isn’t so much a bad thing. There are players (like Mathieu) who have shown the ability to be fantasy-relevant despite spending the majority of the time away from the line of scrimmage. But even today such players are more exception than rule. The closer you are to the box, the better the odds of making stops.

With that said though, Hooker’s skill-set is tailor made for IDP—he’s a savvy, hard-hitting player who excels close to the line of scrimmage—whether it’s playing the run or in press coverage.

If he’s put in position to take best advantage of doing the things he does so well, it’s not at all out of the realm of reason that Hooker could wind up being the No. 1 fantasy defensive back in 2019—a valuable asset for redraft and dynasty IDP owners alike.

Or he could wind up miscast, riding the pine or both.

With Hooker, it’s like opening a new restaurant—all about location, location, location.

 

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.