Though Iowa safety Amani Hooker, who the Tennessee Titans selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, won’t be a starter anytime soon, he should be a productive player as a rookie, nonetheless. He gives head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees a new chess piece to work with.

When the Titans’ starting safeties, Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro, were healthy last season, they were arguably the best backend duo in the entire NFL. Their competitiveness, production and versatility were big reasons why the Titans defense was so strong as a unit in 2018.

But when Vaccaro was forced to miss three games due to an injury, things were far from good. Veteran Kendrick Lewis really struggled in relief, and rookie Dane Cruikshank proved to really only be effective as a special teams player.

As a result, the defense, as a whole, struggled in those three games. The Titans’ lack of true depth at safety really came back to bite them.

That’s probably a big reason why they decided to not only select Hooker but to trade up for him. With Lewis and fellow veteran Brynden Trawick no longer at the team, the Titans suddenly found themselves too top-heavy at the safety position.

Hooker, however, will give the Titans more than just depth. He gives them a player that they can move around to create favorable matchups.

“During college, I played about 50/50 of safety and the nickel spot,” Hooker said shortly after being drafted. “I’m not really particular about a specific position. I feel like whatever the need is for the team and whatever way I can help the team out.

“I feel like [Titans DB coach] Kerry Coombs is going to put me in a position to make plays and help the team out whether that’s back in safety or up in the nickel in the slot. Whatever he has planned for me, I’m ready to take on the opportunity.”

“I think you start [Hooker] out, ideally, at safety and watch him develop,” said Mike Vrabel. “He was very versatile for Iowa. They ran a lot of cover 4, split safety defense. They will play some cover 3. He played a lot of different places. He was a nickel and they felt comfortable bringing him down in the box.

“He played, like Jon [Robinson] said, off the hash in their corner scheme. This is a guy that can probably do a lot. We don’t want to give him more than he can handle. He did a great job here the day that he spent with us. Excited just to get him working.”

As pass-centric as the NFL is these days, having a safety like Hooker who can do a lot of different things should be very beneficial for the Titans. He can play nickel, the standard safety spots, or even be used as a cover linebacker in certain situations.

Hooker’s versatility should also make the jobs of Byard and Vaccaro much easier. If Hooker adapts well to what the Titans want him to do, then Byard and Vaccaro likely won’t have to move around as much as they did last season.

When it comes to the NFL Draft, not every pick is going to be a starter. Sometimes it’s by design, and sometimes it’s because the player just isn’t good enough.

Hooker, barring injury, will not be a starter for the Titans as a rookie, but that is by design. He will be able to contribute in other meaningful ways while Byard and Vaccaro continue to man the top two spots.

Cover image: USA Today/Matthew O’Haren

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