MOBILE, Ala. - Although Washington quarterback Jake Locker has started nearly every game in which he was healthy over the past four years, today's Senior Bowl is one the most important of his career.
After a week of practices, most NFL teams walked away with the same opinion of Locker with which they arrived. Several different conversations with NFL personnel men followed the same pattern, as they usually said something like “he’s a good kid,” “athletic,” and “has a lot of potential.”
The other common comment brought up was passing accuracy. One scouting director thought Locker was “all over the place” both in terms of his delivery and ball placement.
So what does Locker need to do today to improve his stock in the eyes of scouts? Tony Softli, former St. Louis Rams vice president of player personnel and current NFL Insider for ESPN 101 in St. Louis, said Locker needs to show that he can be patient in the pocket and yet able to hurt defenses with his running ability.
Poise is an important attribute for any quarterback, and Softli was adamant that Locker must “sit tight under pressure” likely to come from South defensive ends Sam Acho of Texas and Allen Bailey of Miami.
Scouts are also watching to see how Locker reacts to the defense and handles his reads. And, obviously, Locker must be accurate with his throws. Those who wonder about his ability to be an NFL-caliber passer will be impressed if he can connect with receivers Vincent Brown of San Diego State and the Boise State duo of Austin Pettis and Titus Young.
It’s likely Locker will get a chance to show off his running skills, too. In the red zone, look for his team to spread out the defense, allowing Locker to drop back and find a crease through which he can run.
And while Locker can’t rely on his running a lot at the next level because of injury concerns, Softli said Locker’s ability to avoid the rush and scramble is an asset. However, it’s important that he doesn’t take off too early if his primary read is not open.
It might sound as if Locker needs a perfect game today to impress the scouts, and that’s probably not too far off. Scouts and draft analysts can’t seem to agree on how high his ceiling might be and what his NFL future might hold.
“He’s a very difficult kid to project as to where he’ll go,” Mel Kiper, ESPN’s veteran draft analyst, told The Washington Post. “He could go top 10 – it wouldn’t shock me if somebody wanted to roll the dice.”
Locker said he has been working out in Southern California with former NFL quarterback Ken O’Brien, a two-time Pro Bowl player. They’ve been fine-tuning Locker’s motion and working on repetition.
“After looking at the film, to be kind about it, Jake was the integral part of (the Huskies) offense,” said O’Brien. “In my opinion, they didn’t have the talent to do a lot of the things they would’ve liked to have done schematically, so I think a lot fell on Jake’s shoulders to make plays.”
In his senior season, Locker’s passing numbers all suffered a significant drop-off from his junior season. Yet Locker insists, “I’m better in every way because I chose to come back.”
Kiper projects Locker as the 25th-best player in the draft. His ESPN colleague, Todd McShay, predicts Locker will be selected by Tennessee with the eighth overall pick. Either way, Locker won’t receive a $50 million contract like the one the Rams awarded to Sam Bradford, last year’s No. 1 overall pick. Last year’s No. 25 pick, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, signed a deal worth less than $10 million.
Locker’s decision to return for his senior season might have cost him money, but when he explains his passion for the game and how much he appreciated his senior season, his sincerity is difficult to question.
“If there’s a better job in the world than playing football and getting paid for it, I’ve never heard of it,” said Locker. “I’ve played it for free my whole life. And now, to have this dream manifest itself and come to a head here, it’s just an incredible opportunity.”
Right now, Softli thinks Washington’s Mason Foster would grade out as a fourth-round 3-4 inside linebacker, with his lack of size and pure speed keeping him from excelling in a stack 4-3 scheme.
Scouts like Softli already categorize Foster as a “chase guy” who relies on hustle instincts instead of brute strength to be productive. It would, therefore, behoove him to be physical at the point of attack when the South team runs the ball with Anthony Allen (Georgia Tech), Noel Devine (West Virginia), and Derrick Locke (Kentucky). He’ll also need to take on fullback/H-backs Charles Clay (Tulsa) and Preston Dial (Alabama) in the hole to ensure teammates can clean up the play.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.