MOBILE, Ala. - Washington quarterback Jake Locker's week of practices before Saturday's Senior Bowl were a lot like his Huskies career: Some good moments and some not-so-good moments.
On Monday, Locker looked as inaccurate as many scouts had heard, sailing sideline passes high and/or wide and failing to throttle down throws into the flat.
He seemed more calm and deliberate in his deliveries on Tuesday, typically putting his passes in spots where receivers could make plays. A high-ranking NFL administrator gave Locker credit for several good throws during the North team’s morning practice.
The Ferndale native took a step back Wednesday, which was the final practice that most scouts will see. Locker appeared to aim passes to his receivers instead of allowing his strong arm to do the work. While he made good some throws in the seams and some touch passes, the overall impression with scouts was mixed.
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“There’s no doubt about his athleticism, but he simply hasn’t been very accurate,” said one long-time NFL scout. “And that’s one thing that is extremely difficult to teach.”
A year ago, Locker was being mentioned as a potential No. 1 pick, because of his amazing physical skills and the uncertainty surrounding Sam Bradford’s surgically repaired shoulder.
Now, there is doubt Locker will even be the first quarterback taken in April’s NFL draft.
“Locker physically, there’s no doubt,” Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who now heads the GM Jr. NFL Draft scouting service, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“But accuracy-wise, he’s terrible. I don’t think he’s a first-round quarterback in any way, shape or form.”
Although this week hasn’t helped Locker’s draft chances, he will have opportunities in Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis and at his campus pro day to convince teams he has the potential to be the face of a franchise.
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett all made headlines by deciding to turn pro early. Locker’s appearance at the Senior Bowl underscores his intention to show pro scouts that he’s the top quarterback available.
“I think if you ask anybody here if they want to be the first guy taken in their position, that’s what you’re working towards,” Locker said. “The way I approach it is I’m going to get better every day. And I’m going to do my best to outwork the other guy every day.
“And if that’s enough, it’s enough.”
His attitude and straight-talk have impressed scouts this week. But that may not be enough.
“This process is still a couple months long,” Locker said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that happen throughout that time. And so just being consistent with who you are and how you prepare for it, I think, is going to be the most important thing.”
When Stanford’s Andrew Luck decided to stay in school, quarterback draft boards all over the NFL were thrown into disarray. Luck likely would’ve been the overall No. 1 pick, and some scouts thought he might be a better prospect than Bradford.
Now, all those quarterback-needy teams in the top 15, from Carolina (No. 1 overall) to Arizona (No. 5), San Francisco (No. 7), Tennessee (No. 8), Minnesota (No. 12) and Miami (No. 15), could be in tough positions. They could reach for a quarterback in the first round, taking a risk on Gabbert or Locker or Newton or Mallett. Or they could wait until the second round, hoping some of the top rospects are still available.
Lande, for one, thinks prospects such as Christian Ponder of Florida State and Colin Kaepernick of Nevada will be good long-term investments later in the draft.
“I think three years from now, Kaepernick’s going to be a guy who’s a good starter,” Lande said.
The other Washington player on the Senior Bowl North squad is linebacker Mason Foster, who is in position to help himself the way former teammate Donald Butler did last winer.
Butler’s practices and game performance were impressive enough that he was drafted in the third round, 79th overall, by San Diego.
Foster’s athleticism is obvious. He has looked comfortable and fluid dropping into coverage and staying with running backs and tight ends on crossing routes. He shows instinctive ability to get to the ball.
Though scouts have concerns about his pure physicality, it’s unfair to judge linebackers too harshly in practice because they are not allowed to tackle, their most crucial skill.
But Foster did what he needed to do this week to keep alive his dream of being a top 100 draft pick: He looked like he belonged.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Senior Bowl, Mobile, Ala., 1 p.m., NFL Network