Amani Hooker set to take a big leap in 2021

The Tennessee Titans are going to look very different on the defensive side of the ball this season. General manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel hope that “different” means “better.” Long gone are the days of catchphrases (Remember MMCNB?) and New England Patriot reunions in the secondary.

There have been plenty of additions and subtractions on the backend of the defense over the past few months. Adoree Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro and Desmond King were either released or allowed to walk in free agency. Robinson added a nice blend of leadership and youth in the form of Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins, Elijah Molden and Caleb Farley. Not everything has changed. Veteran safety Kevin Byard is still the leader of a new-look group. He’ll be looking to have a better campaign in 2021 than he had in 2020.

But the Titans are not just counting on new faces and bounce-back seasons to improve this unit. One player in the Titans secondary that is set to take on a bigger role in 2021 is Amani Hooker. The Titans decided to move on from Vaccaro and his salary. Despite the departure of a long-term starter here, the Titans didn’t do anything significant at the safety position in the draft or free agency. They signed veteran journeyman Matthias Farley and drafted former Oregon safety Brady Breeze in the sixth round, but both players are more likely to take up roles on special teams. Molden may be able to give them some reps at safety, but I expect those snaps to come in three-safety looks, not in their base formation.

The lack of significant movement here isn’t an accident. Robinson didn’t forget to add a safety. The team is deciding to trust that Hooker is ready to take a big leap in 2021. He appears set to become the full-time starter alongside Byard.

Hooker is entering his third season in the league. He surpassed expectations as a rookie that was drafted on Day 3, and took another sizable step forward during his sophomore campaign. Over the course of the 2020 season, Hooker racked up 46 total tackles, eight passes defended, and a team-high four interceptions. Hooker showed the ability to create turnovers. He has reliable hands and a high understanding of route concepts and packages. In fact, it was his football I.Q. that first caught Robinson’s attention when Hooker was still at Iowa.

In a terrific article that’s still available on The Athletic today, Robinson said the following about Hooker just days after drafting him with the 116th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft: “I was really sold on this guy on one play. He’s a versatile guy who can play in base defense or sub defense, he can play in the kicking game. He was the best player left on our board. He’s ready to be a pro.”

Hooker has proven that Robinson’s predraft opinion of him has been quite accurate up until now. Confidence will be key for Hooker as he prepares to play more snaps than ever before in 2021. Hooker seemed to grow with each game that he saw meaningful time in last season. There’s no reason to believe that those things will change now that he has the biggest opportunity of his young career. For the first time since entering the pro ranks, Hooker has had a full offseason to prepare as a starter.

The sky’s the limit for Hooker this season. The Titans defense wasn’t good a year ago, but Hooker was very impressive. He’ll look to continue building on the momentum that he established in 2020 with his eyes now set on becoming an even bigger piece of the Titans’ defense.

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