Tennessee’s next quarterback was seated next to the Vols’ former quarterback during the NFL Draft. The two had very different mindsets.
Hendon Hooker was ready to get drafted as soon as possible as the two watched the selections scroll across the screen in Hooker’s home in Greensboro, N.C. Eventually, Hooker was selected in the third round with the when the Detroit Lions made him the 68th overall pick on Friday. That’s pretty astounding for a player that wasn’t considered an NFL prospect prior to his breakout season for the Vols last year. However, ready for something more astounding? Milton could be selected much, much higher.
Read about why Detroit doesn’t deserve a quarterback of Hooker’s quality HERE.
Simply put, Milton has more natural ability than Hooker. That’s not to say that Milton will be better than Hooker when Gators, Bulldogs and Crimson Tide come calling. However, the NFL is only partially interested in what happens in the fall. Milton has as much potential as any quarterback in the country or, perhaps, even the world when it comes to physical ability.
NFL scouts call it a “high ceiling” and it’s an elixir that scouts and general managers have trouble turning down. Former Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson proved that when he was selected with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday. Milton could be a better professional prospect than Richardson by the end of this season.
Milton, who is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, is bigger than Richardson by an inch and about 10 pounds. Milton should be able to mimic Richardson’s combine numbers and will have more experience heading into the draft as long as he’s the starter throughout this upcoming season. Quarterbacks are highly valued, perhaps overly valued, and that’s good news for Milton. Could he actually be selected towards the top of the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft ? Absolutely.
If Milton can play consistently like he did against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, he’ll be in the conversation among top quarterbacks in next year’s draft, which is expected to be excellent. If Milton can put up numbers even close to what Hooker did last year, he’ll be a huge part of the conversation.
“I think you hit the nail on the head,” Tennessee center Cooper Mays said during the Vol Report. “…I don’t know exactly his (combine) numbers, but I’d say he’s right on par, if not a little bit better in some aspects. So it’s a really good opportunity for Joe and it shows that that the sky is the limit because Anthony started one year and got drafted that high. That’d be nice for me to look at if I were (Milton).”
Milton won’t have to face many of the challenges that Hooker was forced to overcome. Milton, 23, is younger than Hooker, who is 25-years-old. Barring something unforeseen, Milton shouldn’t have an injury issue to deal with as Hooker did after suffering a torn ACL in November.
So as good as this draft was for the Vols, which included a top-ten pick with offensive lineman Darnell Wright and five players selected in the first three rounds, next year’s draft publicity for Tennessee could be even better.
Milton, like Hooker, could be one of top talking points leading up the the 2024 draft. That just keeps Tennessee on the minds of every top prospect in the country. If that happens, it would be tough to argue that there’s better quarterback guru in college football than Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. Then, there’s freshman Nico Iamaleava waiting in the wings. He’s no slouch in the talent department either.
Richardson probably didn’t really help Florida by being a high pick in the draft. The Gators have NIL issues and seem to be looking for places to stumble. Plus, it’s hard to argue that anyone in Gainesville developed Richardson into a great quarterback. He wasn’t great last season. He was drafted on pure talent and potential, not performance. Milton can be drafted early in the draft based on all the above.
There have been quarterback coaches throughout the years that have been able to select their favorite prospects in recruiting. Former Tennessee quarterback David Cutcliffe comes to mind.
Cutcliffe convinced Peyton Manning to come to Tennessee based on how he developed Heath Shuler. Then, Cutcliffe convinced Tee Martin to sign with Tennessee over a host of other schools. Why? Martin had seen what Cutcliffe was doing with Manning. Then, Cutcliffe convinced Manning’s younger brother, Eli, to sign with Ole Miss after Cutcliffe became the head coach for the Rebels.
Think about that for a moment. That’s 15 years of handpicking quarterbacks in recruiting. With Heupel, Tennessee is on the precipice of that very same kind of run. Iamaleava, who is the highest-rated prospect that Tennessee has ever signed, could be just one of a streak of great quarterbacks to play for the Vols.