With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Thought to be a potential top-three pick had he come out for the draft after his junior season of 2009, Locker stayed with the Huskies for his senior season to make two goals come true -- engineer a winning season, and be part of a team that won a bowl game. Just two years after the Huskies put up an 0-12 season under Tyrone Willingham, there was a 7-6 turnaround with Steve Sarkisian and a victory over heavily favored Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
In Year 2 of Sarkisian's pro-style offense, Locker learned in college what he would have learned in a much tougher fashion had he come out after the 2009 season -- doing more than one-read-and-run at any level is a tough go when you don't have a fully developed array of skills. In his 39-game Washington career, Locker completed 619 passes in 1,148 attempts for 7,639 yards, 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. He also ran for 1,939 yards and 29 touchdowns on 441 attempts.
Pros: From the snap to the throw, Locker's mechanics are as well-developed as those of any quarterback in this draft class. Drops back quickly and smoothly in three-, five- and seven-step drops, and transitions well to get the right leverage for the throw. Has an array of playfakes, and uses play action well. Compact delivery gives him the timing advantage. Absolutely has the arm to make any throw -- Locker was drafted twice by the Los Angeles Angels as a pitcher whose fastball has been clocked at 95 mph, and signed a deal in 2009 that let him continue to play football.
Supremely gifted as a runner in a Steve Young sense -- not only can he get outside to make the sprint-option throw; he's also a legitimate threat to break tackles downfield and make considerable gains. Far more accurate and comfortable on the run as a passer. High-character player who is very coachable, though the results don't always reflect it.
Cons: Wildly inconsistent as a passer, Locker can go from truly magnificent to hide-your-eyes awful and back again in the same game -- sometimes, in the same series. Was asked to carry the load as a pseudo-spread quarterback under Tyrone Willingham, showed promise under Steve Sarkisian in their first year together, but regressed in a lot of areas in 2010, which could indicate that he still has major gaps in the understanding of more complex offenses.
Locker telegraphs his reads far too often and will lock on to his first read far too easily. While he has decent functional mobility in the pocket, he's still learning the finer points of being a pocket passer -- he tends to get jumpy when he can't bail out and his decision-making reflects that, as does his accuracy. Showed the same kinds of inconsistencies at the Senior Bowl that he did throughout his Washington career.
Conclusion: The McNabb comparison is a point of reference for estimated NFL completion percentage (McNabb's was 49.1 percent in 1999), but Locker is as tough to place with a current NFL player as any in this draft. The chasm between his raw physical tools and inconsistency as a passer leaves him as a project quarterback well worth the risk, but with mechanical danger signs all over the place. Not a guy you're going to want to see as an NFL starter right away, Locker will have to sit and learn at the NFL level -- and that process may be lengthened if he's drafted by a team with a precision passing offense. He might be better off with an offensive coordinator who prefers a vertical attack.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin