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Hendon Hooker ranked as one of the top transfers of the offseason by PFF

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NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee quarterback room will look much different in 2021, both from a roster standpoint and system standpoint. Josh Heupel has brought his spread attack to the SEC East, which will be a dramatic departure from what Tennessee ran for three seasons under Jeremy Pruitt.

Heupel’s quarterback room is largely an unknown at this point, but the guy that they have the most tape on is easily Hendon Hooker. The former Virginia Tech Hokie transferred to Tennessee this offseason, committing to Jeremy Pruitt’s staff before he was fired. He serves as the lone veteran option on the depth chart now for Heupel.

Hooker appeared in over 20 games for Virginia Tech over the last three seasons, doing plenty of damage on the ground and through the air. Hooker tossed 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions, throwing for 2,894 yards in Blacksburg.

Over at Pro Football Focus, Hooker was singled out as one of the top transfers of the offseason. He was placed as the 18th most impactful transfer of the season, but the publication warns of one key weakness that may be exposed in Heupel’s system.

Hooker is going to be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks on the ground in 2021. Last season for Virginia Tech, he recorded a 10-plus-yard gain on nearly a quarter of his 86 designed runs and averaged 7.0 yards per designed run.

How he fares as a passer in Josh Heupel’s offense, however, is a far different story. Heupel is going to simplify reads for Hooker, but the quarterback’s ability to hit those downfield shots is suspect. Hooker had more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws on 20-plus-yard throws in 2020, and his accurate pass rate on 10-plus yard throws was well below the FBS average — 39%, ranking 60th of 84 qualifiers.

Heupel’s system has been described as a “spread iso” attack, utilizing wide splits from receivers to spread a defense thin. From there it becomes a numbers game, with the quarterback tasked with making the right decision.

A closer examination of the Heupel offense from Football Study Hall sheds some light on how dangerous Hooker could be in the offense, but as PFF points out, his success could be tied to his ability to hit the deep shot consistently.

Even against the Briles-influenced spread-iso attacks that litter the AAC, the main challenge tends to be stopping the run. The wide splits of the receivers has often just served to create a wide alley for runners. What’s more, if the offense uses the QB regularly in the run game then it becomes impossible for the defense to get a plus one defender to the box while maintaining even a single deep safety.

The wide splits and vertical nature of the passing game make it impossible for a credible deep safety or any of the three defenders covering a receiver to realistically play a major role in run defense. Against a 2x2 set the problems become even more pronounced with virtually no one in the box to clean up for missed fits by the LBs. (Football Study Hall)

Hooker is a former four-star prospect, ranking as the 11th dual-threat passer in the 2017 class. He will enter a wide-open battle in Knoxville later this month, with Harrison Bailey, Kaidon Salter and Brian Maurer also in the running. With every quarterback in the room starting from scratch with a new staff, it’s tough to predict who will come out on top.