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INDIANAPOLIS – For any first-round draft pick, the fourth year of his career is a pivotal season.
That’s especially the case for a player who hasn’t been at a Pro Bowl level yet in his early NFL tenure.
Malik Hooker fits that description entering 2020, his fourth year in the NFL.
In 2019, finally healthy for the offseason and practicing on a consistent basis, Hooker ended up starting 13 games for the Colts. He finished the year with 3 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery and 2 interceptions.
Evaluating Hooker’s career off pure individual numbers is a bit unfair.
The 2019 season actually saw Hooker’s usage increase a bit to where he was around the ball more, with Matt Eberflus moving him closer to the line of scrimmage at times.
Even though the Colts began to use Hooker at multiple levels of their defense in 2019, his main responsibility remains for the safety to limit big plays.
That was an issue for the Colts, particularly late in the season.
At the end of 2019, Hooker’s third NFL season left the Colts believing there’s still a higher ceiling to reach.
“Malik was solid,” Chris Ballard said in recapping the 2019 season. “Wouldn’t say he was great.
“He had some moments of being really good. And I thought he tailed off a little bit there at the end.”
Hooker, who will turn 24 in April, has yet to show long stretches of the Pro Bowl potential that inevitably comes when you are drafted 15th overall.
Injuries have been a hinderance.
After tearing his ACL midway through his rookie season, Hooker has missed 5 games total in the last two years.
Both Frank Reich and Hooker thought the safety’s ‘burst’ was back during Training Camp last year.
A meniscus injury by Hooker in late September though sidelined him for 3 games.
But the disappointing finish to 2019 for the team, also included Hooker’s play tapering off, according to the Colts GM.
Now, Hooker heads into a potential contract year, with the Colts having a team option for the 2021 season.
For the Colts to pick that up, they must do so by the end of May.
Doing so would keep Hooker under contract with the Colts through 2021, and push back a contract year.
Still, the time is starting to tick a little faster on Hooker to prove himself, if a marquee second contract is to come.