Tennessee Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker made a lot of folks in Knoxville happy this past winter when he announced his intentions to return to UT for his final season of eligibility.

Hooker could’ve passed up the chance to return to Tennessee in 2022 to chase his NFL dream. Instead, Hooker will return to Rocky Top and attempt to lead the Vols to an SEC East division title while also improving his draft stock.

The Greensboro, NC native will almost certainly be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft (barring a catastrophic injury this season). The only question is how high does he go?

Tennessee is obviously hoping Hooker goes early. Not only would that be great for Hooker and his chances of success in the NFL, but it would also be good for the Vols and recruiting. If Josh Heupel quickly shows he can get quarterbacks from Tennessee to the NFL, it will undoubtedly help the Vols on the recruiting trail.

Vols
Oct 2, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) runs past Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Johnny Walker Jr. (15) during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Draft just wrapped up less than two weeks ago, but we’re already seeing 2023 mock drafts.

While those mock drafts will change dramatically over the next year, they at least give us a good idea of where players are currently being projected in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Pro Football Network published a new mock draft over the weekend and they have Hooker getting drafted in the fourth round (No. 113 overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles.

From PFN:

Another SEC passer with a dynamic skill set heads to the Philadelphia Eagles. Hendon Hooker was the nation’s top first-quarter passer a season ago but is out to prove he’s a four-quarter signal-caller in 2022.

Jalen Hurts may continue to prove he’s better than we give him credit for, but if not, Hooker can absolutely push for snaps and eventually take over the starting role. He’s got a quick release, a powerful arm, and plenty of athleticism if scrambling is necessary.

This is a good prediction based on last season. If Hooker doesn’t improve at all in 2022 and puts up the same numbers as he did in 2021, then he’s probably a fourth-round selection (he likely would’ve gone in that range in this year’s draft — especially since it was a weak quarterback class).

The expectation, of course, is that Hooker will improve significantly in 2022.

It’s Hooker’s second year in Heupel’s offense, he has good skill position players returning (Cedric Tillman is one of the top wide receivers in the SEC), and he’s the Vols’ unquestioned starting quarterback (unlike last year when Joe Milton won the job during fall camp).

Logic says that we’ll see an even better Hendon Hooker in 2022. Some folks even think he’s a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. If that proves to be correct, then we could see Hooker go in the first couple of rounds of the draft, which would be tremendous for him and for the Vols.

We’ll keep tabs on Hooker’s draft stock throughout the year to see how it’s changing. But for now, he’s a day three pick who can become a day two or day one pick by taking a big step forward in Tennessee’s offense in 2022.

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK