Malik Hooker: The Next Reggie Nelson?

Hooker Is A Rare Safety Prospect

One of my favorite prospects in the upcoming in the upcoming NFL Draft is Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. As soon as I cut on his film, I was reminded of Eric Berry and Earl Thomas when they were coming out in 2010. Like Berry and Thomas,  Hooker possesses elite ball skills and was a constant threat to convert turnovers into touchdowns. It’s why Hooker has been compared to one of the greatest NFL safeties of all-time in Ed Reed. With his seven interceptions in one season at Ohio state, some have compared Hooker to former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. Although free safety may not be considered a need, Hooker would provide the Bengals’ defense with the spark they lost after Reggie Nelson left.

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Draft Position History Has Been Bad For Elite Safety Prospects

The Bengals have never selected a first-round safety within the Marvin Lewis era. Although this is true, they’ve rarely been in range to land the top safety prospect in the draft. In 2010, Eric Berry and Earl Thomas were both selected in the top 15 while the Bengals possessed the 21st pick. Mark Barron went top five in 2012 and was clearly out for the Bengals range with the 17th pick.  In 2013, the Bengals were rumored to have a strong interest in LSU safety Eric Reid who was picked three spots before Tyler Eifert. They even worked out Karl Joseph before the 2016 draft, but he was selected before their pick at 24.  There is no guarantee that Hooker will be on the board at nine, but the Bengals chances in 2017 are substantially better than they’ve been in the past.

The Shawn Williams Dilemma

Last season, the Bengals extended safety Shawn Williams on a four-year deal. The Bengals tried to play Williams at free safety initially but had to switch him to strong safety by season’s end. The difference was noticeable as miscommunications and blown coverages riddled the Bengals’ secondary early on. Williams struggled last season to fill the void left by Reggie Nelson and ended up switching spots with George Iloka. Paul Guenther entertained the idea of moving Williams down to nickel linebacker if the Bengals were to opt to draft a safety with the ninth pick. This is interesting because just before the 2016 draft, Guenther voiced how he could essentially find a safety in any round and that cornerback and edge rusher took precedent in the first round. Clearly, Guenther thinks highly of this year’s top safety prospects to considered one and has a plan in place if the Bengals were to take Hooker.

Timing

The Bengals dealt with Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu for nearly a decade. The Ravens have recently revamped their safety position with Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. Malik Hooker would provide a tremendous impact for this Bengals’ defense similar to that of Reggie Nelson. It’s been seven years since a safety the caliber or Eric Berry or Earl Thomas has been available. The Bengals would be smart to consider a player who could transform their defense and their postseason chances with Hooker.

 

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