PFF ranks Tennessee QB as one of college football’s top transfers for 2021

When it comes to Tennessee and the NCAA transfer portal, most of the attention has been about the players the Vols have lost to other programs since the end of the 2020 season. However, Tennessee also has made the transfer market work in its favor (and might not be entirely done this cycle) by bringing in a pair of Power Five players at positions at need. One of those players, former Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker, has been ranked by Pro Football Focus as one of the top transfers in college football heading into the 2021 season.

Hooker, the former Top247 dual-threat quarterback prospect from Greensboro, N.C., started 15 games for the Hokies over the past two seasons and in 25 career games at Virginia Tech completed 63.1% of his passes for 2,894 yards on 9.3 yards per attempt with 22 touchdown passes and seven interceptions while adding 1,033 yards and 15 touchdowns on 247 carries.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound broke onto the scene as Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback midway through the 2019 season and finished the year strong, and he had some bright moments while battling some adversity physically during the 2020 season played during the Covid-19 pandemic. His dual-threat ability and familiarity with a simplistic offense with RPOs (run-pass option plays) makes him a good fit for what the Vols want to do on offense under new coach Josh Heupel. However, there’s one area he needs to improve to fully thrive at Tennessee, according to PFF.

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Here’s what PFF’s Anthony Treash wrote about ranking Hooker the No. 18 transfer heading into 2021 and his potential fit in Heupel’s offense at Tennessee:

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.

Hendon Hooker (Photo: Michael Shroyer, Getty)

Hooker and freshman Kaidon Salter, the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the 2021 class per 247Sports, step into a quarterback room with Harrison Bailey, a three-game starter from 2020, and Brian Maurer, a four-game starter in 2019, to comprise what should be a wide open quarterback battle at Tennessee this offseason.

The competition will really get going when the Vols kick off five weeks of spring practices on March 23 and could extend right up to the start of the season in September and perhaps even beyond.

“I think the way the offense is built, you don’t have to say that it’s got to be an ultra-mobile quarterback,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh said last month. “You don’t have to say it’s got to be a pocket passer. I think so much of this offense revolves around the quarterback and being able to manage it, being able to operate within the system. It happens really fast, and really that’s across the board at every position. You’ve got to be able to process information quickly.

“You’ve got to be able to process defensive looks quickly, so I think at the quarterback position particularly, who can grasp it the quickest, who can operate within the system and who can excel within the system. I don’t think we have that answer. I know we don’t have that answer right now, and I don’t think we’ll have that answer at the end of spring.”