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Tennessee QB Hooker lands with Lions

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Hendon Hooker has landed in what seems like a good spot for the banged-up quarterback, getting drafted by a Detroit Lions team that may not need him to take a snap in 2023.

“I believe we have the right situation for him, where he can just sit back, develop and get healthy,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said Friday night.

Hooker, who tore the ACL in his left knee in November, will have time to recover while backing up veteran Jared Goff as the team grooms him to potentially be the franchise’s future quarterback.

“I’m definitely going to be picking his brain,” the 25-year-old Hooker said.

Detroit had nine selections entering the NFL draft and took advantage of those assets, trading up in the second round, making two deals to move down in exchange for extra picks and another trade to acquire a third-round pick.

“It was a fun night,” Holmes said. “A lot of movement.”

The Lions kicked off the busy night by taking Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta No. 34 overall and trading up to take Alabama nickel corner Brian Branch with the 45th pick in the second round. In the third, Detroit drafted Hooker early and Western Kentucky defensive tackle Brodric Martin late in the round.

Hooker said he recently started zero-gravity running, adding he’s taking his comeback day by day when asked for a timetable on his return.

“I haven’t had any pain,” he said. “It feels great.”

The 2022 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, who is from Greensboro, North Carolina, spent the past two seasons at Tennessee after playing in three seasons in four years at Virginia Tech.

Hooker completed 68.8% of his passes for the Volunteers, breaking Peyton Manning’s school record, and he threw 58 touchdown passes and five interceptions in two years with the program.

LaPorta, meanwhile, compared himself to former Hawkeyes such as T. J. Hockenson and Dallas Clark.

“I feel like I’m right up there,” said LaPorta, who watched the draft with family and friends in his hometown of Highland, Illinois.

LaPorta had 153 career catches for 1,786 yards, ranking first in receptions and second in yards for a tight end in school history.

Branch, a second-team All-America defensive back from Fayetteville, Georgia, was one of two players in major college football to defend at least 20 passes and have four sacks over the previous three seasons.

The Lions had a pair of selections in the first round, trading down to draft Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 and taking Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Campbell six slots later.

They acquired the pick used to take LaPorta as part of a trade with Arizona on Thursday that gave the Cardinals the No. 6 pick overall.

Detroit used the No. 48 overall pick and a fifth-rounder to move up a few slots in a trade with Green Bay to put Branch in their revamped secondary. The Lions later traded pick No. 55 to Kansas City in a deal that gave them the last pick in the second round and dealt that selection to Denver for the 68th pick overall.

Just when it looked like the Lions may be idle the rest of the night, they sent three low-round picks to the Cardinals to get pick No. 96 to address a pressing need at defensive tackle with the 6-foot-5 Martin, who is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“It’s hard to find big, athletic guys like that,” Holmes said. “He’s got a lot of meat on the bones.

“I don’t think I’ve seen many 340-pound guys run to the ball like he does.”

Detroit is hoping rookies bolster its chances of living up to relatively high expectations for a franchise that has been a league laughingstock for decades. The Lions won eight of their final 10 games last season and finished above .500 for the first time since 2017.

“We’re about to turn the corner here and you’re going to be a big part of it,” coach Dan Campbell told Jack Campbell on the phone after Detroit drafted the Butkus Award winner.

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