I’m not going as far as to officially endorse Jake Locker as my preferred choice for the Vikings QB of the future. In time, that might be the route I choose. For now, I remain undecided and will continue to evaluate each prospect with a broad and objective perspective.
With that said, though, I do find the criticism of Locker’s accuracy and poor won-loss record while at the University of Washington to be a bit off the mark. There’s no denying his numbers are below what you’d expect from a 1st-round prospect – 53.9% completion rate with a 15-25 won-loss record – but one must also go below surface observations to accurately assess a QB’s potential at the next level.
Let’s go inside the numbers – below surface level – to see just how responsible we should hold Locker for his substandard numbers in completion % and won-loss record…
We’ll begin with Locker’s won-loss record because that has the most tangible subset of information. Obviously a QB’s #1 objective is to win games, no matter how it’s done. We’ve seen NFL QBs fill up the stat sheets along to victory – Joe Montana and Peyton Manning are good examples of this. And we’ve also seen QBs grind away to victories while just “managing the game – Trent Dilfer often gets this distinction. Either way, it’s about winning games for QBs. And while Locker won just 15 of the 40 college games in which he saw significant snaps, he put his team in position to win several more times than that.
There are 5 games in particular where Locker put the Washington Huskies in position to win, only to see another facet of the team drop the ball:
-- In 2009 against Notre Dame, Locker had the Huskies leading 24-19 heading into the 4th quarter. Notre Dame came back to take a 30-27 lead at the 1:20 mark, but Locker led a drive that ended with a game-tying FG, forcing overtime. In the overtime, though, the Washington defense surrendered a TD in just 2 plays and the Washington offense couldn’t respond. Notre Dame won the game 37-30 in overtime.
-- In another 2009 game at Arizona State, Locker and his Huskies teammates were trailing by 3 heading into the 4th quarter. Locker led another drive that resulted in a game-tying FG, with the score knotted at 17. But Arizona State was able to mount a game-winning TD drive, scoring on a 50-yard TD pass with just 5 seconds to play. Washington lost 24-17.
-- In 2008 against BYU, Washington was trailing 28-21 at the 3:31 mark of the 4th quarter. Locker led the Huskies on a TD drive, a drive in which he accounted for every single yard. Locker was 5 of 12 in the air for 52 yards and he rushed 4 times for 33 yards and a TD. But the PAT was blocked, and the Huskies lost the game by 1.
-- In 2007 against Arizona, Locker helped Washington build a commanding 41-26 lead at the 12:52 mark of the 4th quarter. But the Washington defense surrendered 22 points in the final quarter – thanks to a pair of turnovers by the Washington offense – and the Huskies lost their lead and lost the game by a score of 48-41.
-- Finally, in a game against Hawaii in 2007, the Huskies watched their 2nd-half lead evaporate as Hawaii scored 14 points in the 4th quarter to notch a 35-28 come-from-behind victory.
If you’re still reading this and haven’t written me off as too much of a Locker apologist, let me point out something that may have factored into Locker’s sub-par accuracy during college. While I won’t deny that Locker needs to improve his throwing from the pocket (he’s exceptional while throwing on the run), I’ll also submit to you that Locker wasn’t exactly throwing to A.J. Green or Julio Jones (top WR prospects in this year’s draft).
I did a quick search of Washington’s receiving statistics during Locker’s time at the school (2007-10). And you won’t find one well-known name among the bunch. None of Washington’s draft-eligible WRs this year rank among the top 30 at the position (according to www.nationalfootballpost.com). And, when looking back at previous seasons, you’ll see that the 2 best receivers in Locker’s arsenal were Marcel Reece and Anthony Russo. Reece is a 3rd-year RB for the Oakland Raiders with 122 career rushing yards and Russo is a Canadian Football League free agent.
Adding even more ammunition to my point that Locker was on some below average teams (that’s putting it nicely) while in school is the fact that in 2008, when Locker played in just 3 full games before sustaining a season-ending injury, the Huskies didn’t win a single game.
Again, I don’t mean to come off as a Locker apologist. I recognize and fully acknowledge that Locker, just as is the case with other QBs in this draft class, has improvements to make in his game. Locker would make the same acknowledgement. But I also recognize that we need to dig deeper to analyze any QBs shortfalls – whether it be Locker’s inaccuracy or Cam Newton’s off-field issues – before casting a final, set-in-stone judgment on their prospects for NFL success.