clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals 9 for 9 NFL Draft Series: Malik Hooker

The Bengals could have their next Reggie Nelson in the form of this Buckeye superstar.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Bengals let Reggie Nelson get away, majorly impacting the defense and its ballhawking ability.

Nelson had become one of the best free safeties in football, and his presence among the Bengals secondary made Cincinnati a very tough unit to score on. He ability to play center field and intercept 12 passes from 2014-15 helped the Bengals hold down even the most electric NFL offenses.

But when Nelson left last year, the Bengals struggled to find a guy on defense who made that kind of impact. George Iloka and Shawn Williams combined for just six picks, a small number for any safety tandem in today’s pass-happy NFL. Those two are good, but they’re not the kind of player that Nelson has been in his prime. And the Bengals need new player like Nelson on defense.

Enter Malik Hooker. Regarded among the top two safeties in this year’s NFL Draft, Hooker is exactly what the Bengals’ secondary could use in order to replicate what Nelson did in Cincinnati.

Last season at Ohio State, Hooker racked up seven interceptions, 74 total tackles and four pass deflections, helping the Buckeyes make it to the College Football Playoff. That included a school-record three interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Here is why the Bengals should take Hooker with the No. 9 overall pick:

  • Elite safeties are hard to come by, and Hooker has a good chance of becoming one. He’d also have a good chance of becoming the best defensive back in Cincinnati’s secondary over time.
  • As mentioned above, the Bengals need another Reggie Nelson-type defensive back on their defense, and Hooker offers the best chance to replicate what the Pro Bowl safety did in Cincinnati.
  • Having Hooker would allow the Bengals to be more versatile with their use of George Iloka and/or Shawn Williams, perhaps using one of them in a Chris Crocker-type of swiss army player.
  • Williams could be better off being a Crocker-type of role player, not a full-time starting safety, as evidenced by his so-so 2016 season. Williams could actually be used as a linebacker in nickel defenses with Hooker and Iloka at safety.
  • Hooker is ranked as a top-eight prospect by all the major draft services, including No. 5 by NFL.com, so he’d very likely be the best player available at No. 9.
  • With guys like Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett and Reuben Foster getting so much hype for this pick, Hooker would offer far more value and safety (figuratively and literally) here.

Here is why the Bengals should pass on Hooker at No. 9:

  • Hooker relies on instincts far too much, making him a real boom-or-bust prospect in the NFL.
  • The Bengals already have Iloka and Williams under contract through the 2020 season, so there’s no need for another starting-caliber safety anytime soon. That’s not even accounting for Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem who’ve shown promise as backups, and there’s also Josh Shaw who plays cornerback, but also safety.
  • The Bengals have far more pressing needs, and spending a top-10 pick on a safety isn’t a real necessity.
  • Per PFF, Hooker’s tackling efficiency ranked 136th in the nation this past season. He makes a lot of business decisions when it comes to his run defense, so he may have a tough time staying on the field early in his pro career.
  • Hooker is recovering from offseason hip surgery, so he could miss a good chunk of OTAs and training camp.

In the end, the Bengals probably won’t have to worry about Hooker at No. 9, as he’s projected to be off the board by then. But if he’s still on the board when Cincinnati is on the clock, there’s a good case to be made for taking the former Buckeye there. While safety isn’t something the Bengals need to address, Hooker has a world of potential that no other prospect will likely offer at No. 9.