ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions may have found their quarterback of the future in Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, and they’re in a position to give him time to recover from an injury and develop behind veteran Jared Goff.
Detroit had nine selections entering the NFL draft and took advantage of those assets Friday night, trading up in the second round and making two deals to move down in exchange for extra picks.
The Lions selected Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta No. 34 overall, traded up to take Alabama safety Brian Branch with the 45th pick and then landed Hooker early in the third round.
Detroit acquired the pick it used to take LaPorta as part of a trade with Arizona on Thursday that gave the Cardinals the No. 6 pick overall.
The Lions 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. They 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.
The Lions used that third-round pick on Hooker, who will back up Goff while recovering from a knee injury.
“I’m definitely going to be picking his brain,” said the 25-year-old Hooker, who tore the ACL in his left knee in November during his sixth year of college.
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.
Hendon completed 68.8% of his passes for 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 the former Hawkeyes who play, or have played, his position in the NFL, such as 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.
Detroit general manager Brad Holmes was active early in free agency, signing veterans such as Cameron Sutton to improve one of the league’s worst defenses, and Branch should bolster the secondary even more. The 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.
Detroit also signed running back David Montgomery and receiver Marvin Jones this offseason to join one of the NFL’s top offenses, which now includes LaPorta and Hooker.
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.
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.