COMMENTARY | Jake Locker has improved drastically after a rough 2012 campaign. Is it time for him to be mentioned as one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL, right now?
Last year, Locker's biggest issue was that he just looked visibly uncomfortable in the offense. He would often mistime a route with a receiver or there would be a miscommunication where a receiver ran a different route than what Locker was anticipating. Essentially, he was making rookie mistakes in his first year as a starter; but for a team that had gone 9-7 with mediocre quarterback play the previous year, every mistake seemed magnified.
Through Jake Locker's five games this season, the third year quarterback has only had one turnover despite playing under constant pressure. That turnover was a deep-attempt based on the coverage the 49ers had shown pre-snap, rather than an errant throw like he was prone to in his first year.
Locker's newfound poise and fantastic decision-making skills have made him one of the hardest quarterbacks to defend in the league, and the coaches can tell. Not only have Locker's passing numbers gone up in every game, he has been asked to throw more per game as the season goes on. (This is obviously excluding the game where he was injured, though he was on pace to keep the increase in production going.)
*Locker stat: His 8:1 TD to interception ratio is the best among QBs that have thrown more than 100 attempts.
Compared to MVP candidates like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Jake Locker's 97.1 passer rating isn't astonishing; however, it is higher than more heralded quarterback's like Andrew Luck and Tom Brady.
While the topic is on production, why not talk about the most important stat in the game: wins? When Jake Locker has played this year, the Titans are 3-2 with one of his loses coming in Houston in overtime where he didn't get to take the field after regulation.
If the Titans had him in close games against the Chiefs and Seahawks (in both cases Tennessee actually led at points in the fourth quarter), it wouldn't be hard to imagine a 5-2 scenario.
*Locker stat: Locker is the only quarterback in the NFL to have eight or more touchdowns in less than 190 attempts.
If there were a metric to accurately measure toughness, would there be any candidate more likely to be at the top than Jake Locker? Locker was carted off the field in the second half of the game against the New York Jets and admitted to a hospital. Not only was he carted off, his hip swelling was so bad that he had to stay in a hospital overnight to wait for a more conclusive MRI.
With that in mind, Locker was originally projected to be out four to eight weeks according to multiple reports, including the one I linked earlier. That, conservatively, would put him as "questionable" for a Week 9 game against the Rams. Well, conservative for a normal quarterback. Locker not only was back two full weeks before the best estimate for his recovery, but he went on to have the best non-overtime game of his career.
In that contest, Locker passed for 326 yards and ran for an additional 29, all while being visibly hobbled.
Speaking of running around, in his last 16 games Locker has rushed for 418 yards and two touchdowns. If he had run for that many yards last year, he would have been fourth among quarterbacks ahead of Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
*Locker stat: Despite being injured twice, Locker has averaged seven yards per rush or higher since his rookie year. This year, Locker is one of three quarterbacks with at least seven YPC and 15 rushing attempts.
It all comes back to the question, are there 10 quarterbacks you would rather have than Jake Locker? If you have been watching the majority of the games in the NFL, it's hard to believe that you would. Jake Locker just isn't making mistakes; and his ability to beat you with his arm or his feet makes him a perfect fit for the "new age" of NFL quarterbacks, where running effectively is a big part of the job description.
If I was picking ten quarterbacks to win a game at a neutral site, this would be my list:
1. Peyton Manning
2. Drew Brees
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Andrew Luck
5. Tom Brady
6. Russell Wilson
7. Jake Locker
8. Ben Roethlisberger
9. Jay Cutler
10. Tony RomoIf you disagree with my list, feel free to comment your top ten below in the comments and compare them to mine.
All "Locker stats" figures are from the stats portion of the ESPN website.
Will Lomas is a lead blogger for draftseason.com and a staff writer for SBNation's Tennessee Titans website Music City Miracles. Will is also the sports editor for the Tennessee Journalist, the University of Tennessee's online news source.
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