A lot of people think Jake Locker is going to be the first overall pick in 2011. It’s a legitimate poser. In 10 of the last 15 NFL Draft’s, a quarterback has been taken with the first overall pick. The team’s picking first overall generally have questions marks at the position, making a large investment in a ‘franchise’ quarterback all the more likely. Also, when you look at the class of seniors and underclassmen legible for the 2011 draft, there isn’t the top end offensive lineman who could go #1. There are however candidates at the QB position and many believe Locker to be the best as we approach the new college season. Unless a team like St. Louis or Detroit are picking first overall again (having drafted young and expensive QB’s already) it’s a safe prediction to suggest we’ll see the best quarterback go first overall next year.
Aside from Locker, people are also talking about Stanford’s Andrew Luck. ESPN’s Todd McShay posted Luck as the #1 pick in his early 2011 projection this off-season. I don’t expect Luck to leave early for the NFL unless he has a spectacular year in 2010. He benefited a lot from touchdown machine Toby Gerhart last year and actually posted mediocre numbers in his first year as a starter (13 TD’s, 2575 yards). This isn’t a slur on Luck because clearly in year one there’s a learning curve. However, it does emphasise to me that Luck has time on his side and doesn’t need to declare as a red-shirt sophomore – particularly if a rookie pay-scale is implemented next year. Without Gerhart and a not-so-stand-out arsenal at Stanford, I wonder if Luck will indeed have the year he needs to tempt him into the pro’s.
If you take Luck out of the equation, some would say Locker steals a march towards going first overall amongst QB’s. The others?
Ryan Mallett is big (6’7″, 238lbs) and that’s a positive and a negative. His height allows the perfect scope over the line of scrimmage, he can take punishment with his size and he has sufficient power to provide a cannon arm that might be as good as you’ll ever see. He isn’t, however, the most mobile and he’s in severe need of consistency and touch on his throws.
Jerrod Johnson is another big guy (6’4″, 243lbs) but has the mobility Mallett lacks. He also owns a pretty good arm and at times has looked an accomplished passer – particularly in last year’s impressive display against Texas when he threw for 342 yards and four scores. The numbers are good, but is he polished enough to justify a first round selection? Probably not.
Christian Ponder (6’2″, 219lbs) has the kind of mobility the new regime in Seattle are looking for and he compliments it with refined technique. At times he looked particularly good last year before injury ended his year prematurely. Ponder could really help his stock with a good year for the Seminoles.
Terrelle Pryor (6’6″, 235lbs) has spent his career preparing for the pro’s and he has potential as an athlete and passer. He’s struggled with consistency though and he needs to prove that Rose Bowl performance wasn’t a one-off. He will have a chance to make the Buckeye’s ‘his team’ this year and claim a high draft grade in the process.
When you look at this crop of quarterbacks, none scream out to you as strong competition to go first overall. Maybe that’s a reason for not counting out Andrew Luck this early? Or maybe that’s a further case for suggesting Locker is the proverbial shoe-in to go first overall. Last year I was unable to get Washington tape to scout Locker, but I’ve since been able to look at footage from games against Arizona and Stanford.
The first thing that stands out with Locker is his great ability to keep plays alive. Mobility wise, he’s superb. He’s a top-class athlete with ideal size (6’3″, 226lbs) and I was impressed not only by his ability to move around under pressure but also to keep his eyes downfield and not be too tempted to set off on a run. His arm strength is good, not great. His ability to evade defenders buys extra time for his receivers and he has an unmatched knack for turning broken plays into big plays. He can beat teams with his arm and his legs.
However, I think Locker can also do better by appreciating when to move around and when to set his feet and let things develop. He forces too many throws in a desperate bid to make plays, when he needs to know it’s OK to throw a ball away and move on to the next down. His decision making on passes was patchy based on what I saw – throwing occasionally into thick coverage. He also doesn’t appear to throw the most catch-able ball, throwing a little high on medium routes up the middle or not keeping the tightest spiral downfield. I saw him badly underthrow one receiver down field and I wonder whether or not he trusts his arm too much going deep.
Of course, this is merely a two-game opinion and I didn’t register extensive notes – I’ll leave that till the season starts. I think it’s only fair to consider that Locker’s supporting cast isn’t on par with some of the powerhouses of college football. It was also his first year in a new pro-style offense with a new head coach. All are legitimate reasons for not being the finished article just yet.
Indeed there were significant question marks about both Sam Bradford (injuries, spread offense) and Matt Stafford (accuracy) yet they still went first overall. Teams will love the improvisation Locker offers and he’ll get people into (and off) their seats. That in itself is a valuable commodity in the NFL and at a potentially lesser cost (rookie pay scale?) people may be more willing to roll the dice. Nevertheless, the 2011 class of QB’s has potential to bring us an interesting season of college football and plenty to discuss leading up to next April’s draft.