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Talent Evaluation and How Jake Locker Reminds Me of Matt Ryan

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Wes Bunting is a nationally recognized and respected scout for the National Football Post and did a piece recently about the lessons he's learned from his 'misses' in pro prospect evaluation. It's a good read for those of you that are interested in the scouting process, but one blurb in particular stuck out to me. In his 'miss' on QB Matt Ryan, he had this to say:

QB Matt Ryan: Boston College (2008)
I had Ryan ranked as my top quarterback prospect in the 2008 NFL Draft, but he was not listed in my view as a top-15 pick. He possessed a pretty average arm and simply threw too many interceptions for my liking, and I instantly put the blinders on in all other areas of his game. My mistake was that I didn't give enough credit to how poor the talent was around him and how much he was consistently asked to do. The guy simply made everyone around him better. He was a worker, a grinder and won games for you on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of his work ethic and film study. That's the kind of QB I want on my team now.

Lesson learned: Grading the quarterback position is much more than just grading the talent; take in all the factors throughout their entire college career (injuries, talent around them, coaching changes, etc).

Now who does this remind you of?

I am not necessarily a Jake Locker proponent. I think he's a great athlete, a great leader, and a great person, but I am not 100% sold that he'll be a great QB in the NFL. I'm not discounting all the experts that believe he will succeed and I'm not in agreement with his detractors. At best, I'd say I wouldn't be surprised to see him succeed and wouldn't be shocked to see him on the bench his whole career. How's that for fence sitting? However, because Locker is such a polarizing figure in my mind and the minds of a lot of people, this quote really stood out to me.

This is exactly the type of report you could put together for Locker. The one difference is that Jake Locker might have a stronger arm than Ryan - the knock on it coming because of his accuracy issues. But, Ryan did throw for 59% completion percentage his senior year with 31 TD to 19 interceptions - with a rating of 127.04. Locker threw for 55%, a similar TD:Int ratio, 17 to 9, with a rating of 124.20. 

I'm not saying that Jake Locker will turn into Matt Ryan or that he's as good as Matt Ryan - or that they even have similar skill-sets. I just think it's just an interesting comparison and Bunting's report made me instantly think of Locker regarding the extenuating circumstances that have surrounded him his entire collegiate career - coaching changes, surrounding talent, injuries, etc. Also, what he talks about is that you can't underestimate the importance of the intangibles, something that Locker has always had - work ethic, passion, determination - the fact that he stayed for his senior year instead of taking big money in the draft speaks volumes about him as well.

These things alone don't get you to the NFL, but when you have these things in the athletic freak type of body of Jake Locker, it can be a potent combination - and is something a team will definitely gamble on. Talent is something that's very hard to quantify, and there are differing opinions on how much true football talent Locker has - a large part due to the fact that he didn't win a whole lot in college and his numbers weren't as good as you'd hope for.

In my cynicism, I may be discounting his intangibles too much and focusing purely on his numbers. After reading this, I have myself half-way convinced that maybe Locker really is, as Bunting put it, a "guy that simply makes everyone around him better. He is a worker, a grinder and wins games for you on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of his work ethic and film study." Maybe he is just the kind of guy you want leading your team. This is no doubt why he's being talked about in the first round discussion despite his shortcomings, and may be why he will, eventually, live up to his billing.