With the NFL Draft now in the past, the Colts need to turn to one of their biggest decisions so far this offseason: What will the team do with Malik Hooker?
The Colts have one of the most important decisions on their hands regarding starting safety, Malik Hooker. The team has until May 4th to exercise Hooker’s 5th-year option moving forward. As a 1st-round pick in 2017, Hooker is entering the last year of his contract.
With 3rd-round pick Julian Blackmon set to play a large role in the secondary in 2021, it’s still up in the air whether or not the team will look to extend Hooker and keep him as a core piece of the secondary. Let’s assess the factors that are in the decision and whether or not the Colts will look to extend him.
Why the Colts should extend: Malik Hooker is one of the most promising young players at his position. He’s shown an immense amount of potential so far in his career, and while injuries have been more of a talking point, he’s still a great player when he’s on the field. In the first seven games of his career, Hooker snagged 3 interceptions before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 7 against Jacksonville.
Hooker returned the following season in 2018 and started in all 14 games he was healthy for. He recorded 2 interceptions and 44 tackles that season, as well as a fumble recovery. Similar to 2018, the 2019 season was largely the same. In 13 games he was healthy for, he started all of them and recorded another 2 interceptions and 51 tackles, as well as another fumble recovery.
While Hooker hasn’t been the game-changing ball-hawk that the team drafted him as, he still has flashes of elite ability. Take his one-handed interception against the Chargers in Week 1 last season. He was able to read the play and sprint from the middle of the field fast enough to jump the route. It was an incredible play, and another highlight-reel play to showcase his premier athleticism.
Hooker’s flashes of greatness should warrant the team to at least exercise his 5th-year option; with more time to rehab and grow stronger, there’s no doubt it’d be a shame if the team were to let him walk in a year.
Why they shouldn’t: Injury concerns are at the top of the list. Hooker has missed 14 regular-season games in three seasons, including one playoff game (against Kansas City in 2018). He’s battled knee, hip, and foot injuries since entering the league. According to sportsinjurypredictor, Hooker has a 57.6% chance of getting injured in 2020 and is predicted to miss 3.5 games next year.
That shouldn’t give a feeling of positivity to the Colts moving forward, especially given the lack of depth at the position. If Hooker wants to remain the starter moving forward, his durability needs to be less of a concern.
Another problem for the team is Hooker’s lack of production in 2018 and 2019. He recorded 3 interceptions in 7 games his rookie year, but could only produce a combined 4 in his next 27 games. His lack of tackles further backs up his lack of production. Rookie Khari Willis had more solo tackles in his 14 games than Hooker had total in 2019 (53 solo-51 total).
Hooker’s production hasn’t been anywhere close to consistent, apart from a few flashes of incredible play. Khari Willis seems to be the player the Colts want to keep as a starter, and with 3rd-round pick Julian Blackmon entering the mix, it’s uncertain whether or not Hooker will have a consistent role moving forward if any at all.
Hooker needs to be more consistent in 2020 if he is going to be worthy of a second contract. As of right now, it’s completely up in the air whether or not he’ll be signed past 2020. It seems the most likely that he won’t get his fifth-year option and will need to play a “prove it” year in 2020 to see if he’s worth a second deal for the Colts.