I watched Jake Locker with some interest this Saturday. Locker has surpassed Taylor Mays as the local athlete Seahawks fans most desire. This is not a comprehensive review of Locker. I tuned out after the game became lopsided. Like Rodney Hudson, this is just my early impressions and opinions.
Locker is known for his athleticism. He is purported to have 4.4 speed. I highly doubt he does. Michael Vick didn't run at the 2001 NFL Combine, but LaDainian Tomlinson did. He ran a 4.42. 4.4 speed for a quarterback is very uncommon. At that same Combine, the top forties among quarterbacks belonged to Quincy Carter and Mike McMahon, 4.55 and 4.54 respectively. Locker profiles a little like McMahon.
McMahon was stuck on a terrible Rutgers team. He started midway through his freshman season and was hurt his junior season. His offensive line was thought awful. The Scarlet Knights won 8 of McMahon's 31 starts. Locker has won 6 of 24. That line, the surrounding talent, and the game situations McMahon faced justified his poor counting stats to some scouts. He never completed 50% of his passes for a season and threw 52 interceptions to only 41 touchdown passes. Locker has completed 51.7% of his passes for his career and has 27 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. McMahon clearly had the speed, but he wasn't a great rusher. He averaged 3.6 yards per carry his senior season. Locker has averaged 4.53 for his career, but only 2.8 this season.
I ran upon McMahon by accident. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. McMahon started midway through his rookie season for the eventual 2-14 Marty Mornhinweg led Lions. It might seem a given the Lions rot, but they were 9-7 the season before, 8-8 and playoff bound the season before that, and both seasons post-Barry Sanders. Mornhinweg has since established himself as a top offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was able to get production from Charlie Batch. Batch completed 58.1% of his passes that season and had 5.1 adjusted net yards an attempt. McMahon completed 46.1% of his passes, threw for 4.1 adjusted net yards an attempt and suffered a staggering sack percentage of 15.4%. The Lions line might have been bad, but when the eminently sackable Batch posts an 8.8% sack rate behind the same line, it says something when his replacement nearly doubles it.
McMahon never went on to success. The tools that scouts drooled over were undermined by his poor quarterback skills. His completion percentage and sack rate did not rebound in the pros, they got worse. He continued to throw interceptions at a rate well above his ability to throw touchdowns. Taking a long-shot flier on McMahon in the fifth was not the move that ruined Matt Millen, but every game McMahon started, Millen's Lions were expected to lose. McMahon finished his Lions career 1-6 and his professional career 3-11. Millen never did get his quarterback. He drafted Joey Harrington and got Joey Harrington. Harrington completed 55.2% of his passes at Oregon and 56.1% as a pro.
The point of this lengthy aside should be obvious. It is very hard to see Locker as a pro prospect when he has played very poorly in college. The synthesis of Locker and his surrounding talent is difficult to split. How do we apportion credit and blame? Like McMahon, Locker is believed to have a spotty to bad offensive line, but the sacks kept coming when McMahon hit the pros. A recent study by Pro Football Reference found sack percentage is the stat that is most consistent among quarterbacks changing teams. The next most consistent is completion percentage.
That shouldn't surprise anyone. As I detailed with Seneca Wallace, a quarterback can create much of his own pressure. Locker creates pressure. He is hyper-vigilant of the pass rush and begins to pace in the pocket, scramble or roll out even when pressure is not applied. Against Oregon, he ran into a sack on a three man rush. The Huskies had kept a blocker in and every Duck pass rusher was double teamed. Locker wasn't sitting in the pocket and the rush was somewhat disruptive, but no Duck was free or even closing on him when he decided to escape right and right into the defensive end.
He hasn't shaken that first instinct to run, but is stuck in a middle ground where he doesn't run decisively and doesn't stand in the pocket and pass. He makes some curious reads and does not show consistent accuracy. Locker has a nice mix of touch and arm-strength, but those are secondary abilities, of little worth before a quarterback has mastered pocket-presence, read and accuracy.
The Husky skill position players are ok: Certainly not the class of college, but not punishingly bad. The Husky's line is pour but not porous. Locker had time in the pocket on most snaps, not enviable time, but time enough to pass. He made throws with all the zip, touch and placement of a pro, but never consistently. His quick release is his best asset. Locker has a compact, ball-over-ear throwing motion. He doesn't wind up or expose the ball and it's out fast enough to hit receivers before the defensive back can respond. That's a great skill and one that will serve him well in the pros, should he make it that far.
Locker should return for another season. Mock draft boards are mercurial because change attracts readers. Husky homers eat up Jake Locker soaring up draft boards. October mock drafts are made to inspire links, not to reflect reality. Locker's foot speed is likely as trumped up as his prototypical height. 6'3" hasn't been prototypical for a decade. 6'5" is prototypical in the modern NFL. 6'3" is adequate. Locker is nevertheless an interesting mix of tools. If he ever learns to play quarterback, his ability to rush could complement his pass abilities like it has Donovan McNabb. He isn't Michael Vick and he won't run away from pro linebackers anticipating a run. I doubt he has true 4.4 speed and his moves are pedestrian for a pro quarterback.
He is at least a season from learning to play quarterback at anything close to the pro level. He exhibits major red flags: pocket presence, decision making and consistent accuracy. Any one could undercut him as a pro. Locker must first prove he can be a great college quarterback before Seattle fans envision him a great Seahawks quarterback. As he stands today, Locker is more Mike McMahon than Steve Young. Matt Millen suffered after drafting McMahon in the fifth. Tim Ruskell would look like quite the Millen if he dared draft Jake Locker in the first.