SEATTLE — The pre-draft process is a slippery slope for developing players — which means, just about every player in line to be drafted — when so much time is taken up with specific training to ace this or that drill which may or may not have anything to do with what actually happens on the field. In rare cases, a player is athletic enough to know that he'll do well enough in the 40-yard dash, and the three-come drill, and the bench press, and spend January through March working on his fundamentals.
That's been the case for former Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, whose primary questions to answer as the third-rated at his position on most boards and mocks behind Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton of Auburn is the fact that he's struggled with accuracy through half a decade at Washington. But after working for the last two months with former NFL quarterback (and current quarterback guru) Ken O'Brien in Irvine, Calif., Locker walked into the Dempsey Indoor facility in Seattle and nearly tore the roof off with an incendiary performance.
Locker completed 38 of the 40 passes he threw in a scripted session that had him making all the throws, and missing on two deep routes. The short-to-intermediate passes that have been problems in the past were consistently impressive, and the work that Locker has put in definitely paid off.
"Just focusing on fluidity in the drop," he said, when asked about the things he's been developing with O'Brien. "Getting my feet in the right spot, and one of the things I worked with Ken on was bringing my hand over the top as quickly as I could, rather than dragging my hand — I had a tendency to do that at times. When I bring my hand over the top, and really point that finger, I've been spinning the ball a lot better, and it's coming off my hand a lot better."
For Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian, it was just as much that Locker handled the big stage, with at least 13 NFL teams in attendance, as it was the way he threw the ball over and over. "(One), to see the mechanics, the footwork, ball placement, the rhythm in drops," Sarkisian said. "But two, how can he handle the setting, the venue. I thought of it all, that's the biggest thing I got out of it. If I was a scout watching Jake, this wasn't too big for him. That's some of the biggest battles guys have when you take that next step -- is the venue too big? It definitely wasn't too big for him today."
Locker stood on the times he put up at the combine, which is easy to do when you run the second-best 40-yard dash among quarterbacks at 4.50 (second only to Virginia Tech speedster Tyrod Taylor), the second-best 20-yard split (second again to Taylor), and the best three-cone drill.
What set this particular event alight was Locker's pure quarterback skills, and the fact that from the Senior Bowl, through the scouting combine, to his pro day, the improvement has been graphic.
"I think he helped himself considerably," opined Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com. "It's not so much the one pro day — it's that he's shown significant improvement in every step of the process. That's the evidence teams are looking for that will cause them to believe that he could be the face of the franchise, and a starting quarterback in the NFL. Throughout his career at Washington, he was up and down, but he's made that progress, and that's what was so exciting about the progress he made today."
Rang said that the improvement in Locker's short to intermediate throws is the thing that really stands out. There's never been a question of his ability to fling it downfield — especially in motion or boot action — but he's now learning the little things. Staying in the pocket, getting that right touch and arc on the ball, and insuring a consistent release point.
"That's one of the things we saw at the combine as well," Rang continued. "Some of the more difficult passes, like the post corner and things like that, were some of this best throws. And we saw that again today. Even the deep throws that were incomplete were thrown on a good trajectory and they were catchable passes to a faster receiver."
Most mock drafts have Locker somewhere between the late first round and early second; the most recent Shutdown Corner mock didn't even have Locker in the first round … and that's probably the last time you'll see him out of the first on any mock, anywhere.
The final act of the Jake Locker pre-draft drama (at least, the part screened in front of the entire NFL all at once) had a happy ending.