4. Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts (age: 25 in April)
If the Denver Broncos are going to replace Kareem Jackson, they don’t exactly have to go after a player who does literally everything the same exact way.
Keep an open mind about the idea of other players coming in and potentially taking over his spot in Denver. Remember — Jackson was a cornerback in Houston before he came to the Broncos and played in Vic Fangio’s defense.
Malik Hooker would be an example of taking a shot on pure talent in free agency despite some concerns over injury history. It would be a tough pill to swallow to go from someone like Jackson, who played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in 2020, to Hooker, who has never played a full slate of games.
Again, you’re taking a shot on talent and ball production here, something Hooker has always been known for.
He is coming off a torn Achilles, so his medicals will have to be substantially vetted, but the potential is there for Hooker to be a big-time steal at a much lower price than the previous players on this list, maybe one a one- or two-year deal.
What is the goal of the Vic Fangio defense? You want to be able to stop the run and limit explosive plays downfield, relying on the front four or five to generate pressure and then let your team speed win on the back end.
The upside with a player like Hooker is tremendous, and even battling through injuries he had seven interceptions in his first three NFL seasons.
Kareem Jackson has been most effective in Denver as a heat-seeking missile, attacking the line of scrimmage and making some huge open-field tackles. He has not exactly been a ballhawk for the Broncos, at least not by comparison to some of the guys on this list of prospective free agents.
I think the Broncos should really consider the possibility of bringing in someone who can excel just as much in coverage for the long haul as anything else, given how crucial that is in this defense.