Jake Locker (QB, Washington) vs Nebraska
Let me start by saying that as bad as Locker was in this game, it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t going to be a high first round pick. Amongst all the suspensions and disappointing performances, the 2011 class of prospects have so far flattered to deceive. How Locker responds to this setback could just as easily define his stock next April as the Nebraska performance itself hampers it. He plays enough good teams between now and the new year that he can repair the damage done this weekend.
However, his performance against Nebraska was a horror show. He completed just 4/20 passes, registered 71 yards and threw two picks (a third was called back for a defensive hold). The stats alone paint a bad picture, but the tape simply enhanced the bad display. He miss-fired on many short/medium throws. He looked edgy in the pocket and too often locked onto receivers. He forced far too many throws. Overall it was not what you wanted to see from a fifth year senior touted as a potential #1 overall pick.
It started badly and got worse and Locker’s first throw just encapsulated his entire day. Despite having an age to sit in the pocket, he forces the pass into double coverage and is easily picked off by the Nebraska safety. It was an incomprehensible decision to even attempt the throw. He’s not under pressure and his deep receiver is clearly well covered. If nobody else is open, why didn’t he just throw it away? It set the tone for an afternoon of bad decisions.
For his second interception, he locks onto one receiver who is extremely well covered by a Cornhusker CB. The pass is never on, at no point in that play is the receiver in position to make the catch. Locker never realises this and simply tosses it out there on the slant. The cornerback is always in position to make the interception and deservedly it’s picked off and taken in for a defensive touchdown.
As the game went away from Washington, Locker’s game seemed to further drift. He started to toss throws up for grabs and his accuracy became even looser. It often gets said that Locker is hampered by his supporting cast, but for me – it was his supporting cast being let down by the star quarterback. Granted he was playing against a good defense, but there was no excuse for a performance so disjointed as this.
It’s too simplistic to say that Locker will ‘fall’ down boards now. Can he still go first overall? Of course. We’re three games into the new season. He has a chance to prove this was a freak one off, he has a chance to prove he’s better than this. However, I truly believe we’re looking at someone with a very high ceiling but is still developing as a pro-QB. Anyone who thinks Locker made the wrong decision in coming back to Washington needs to watch this game. He isn’t ready. Maybe he would’ve earned a nice sum for leaving early, but he’s not ready to start. He needs this season of games and I also think he needs to be red-shirted for 1-2 years when he is drafted. That could put some teams off on draft day, but others will look at Locker’s potential and see the long term benefits of him sitting for a couple of seasons. He can still be an early pick, he can still be a first round pick. But he has to do so much better.
Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas) vs Georgia
Last year, my biggest issue with Mallett was his consistency. He could demolish weak opposition and put up the big numbers, but he struggled against the better teams (especially on the road). 34.3% (Alabama), 44.4% (Florida) and 35.3% (Ole Miss) away from Arkansas showed the kind of issues the 6’7″, 239lbs quarterback faced last year. This was his first real test of 2010, although it’s important to remember that last year he scored 5 TD’s and registered 408 yards in a losing effort against Georgia.
This was on the road though and Mallett previously hadn’t won away from Arkansas in the SEC. When I watched Mallett in 2009 I liked a lot of things. He has his critics and whilst I acknowledge he’s far from perfect, I came into this year thinking he was the top QB prospect legible for 2011. My opinion hasn’t changed after watching the Georgia game. Mallett completed 63.6% of his passes, scoring 3 TD’s and registering 380 passing yards.
Aside from two throws that should’ve been picked off, he generally made good decisions. Mallett has a brilliant arm and can make a full quota of pro-throws, but it’s the short stuff he needs to improve on. He showed much better touch on short/medium and underneath throws against Georgia and his game-winning pass with seconds remaining on a medium slant route was perfection (see it in the video below). He displayed immense poise in the pocket under pressure and kept his eyes downfield, especially on an inch perfect throw to his running back on a wheel route for a TD just before the end of the third quarter.
Mallett can make throws that a lot of NFL QB’s aren’t capable of because of his arm. Just before half time, he launched a 50-yard bomb downfield which dissected two defenders and hit his receiver absolutely on the money. Despite his size and a lot of inaccurate reports, he isn’t immobile despite his size. He avoids pressure well in the pocket and whilst he isn’t going to be ‘Big Ben’ at the next level, he’s not a statue and this isn’t an issue for me.
In fact ‘Big Ben’ is probably the best comparison I’d have for Mallett. Like Roethlisberger, he’ll have off-days at the next level. What Mallett needs to do when he does enter the NFL, is master the art of winning games despite this. Roethlisberger isn’t the most accurate passer or the most clinical, but he gets it done. It helps that he’s benefited from a well coached team with an elite defense – Mallett may never get that same luxury.
Right now I’d rank Mallett higher than the other quarterbacks legible for 2011. Andrew Luck likely won’t declare for me, but if he does I’m not convinced he isn’t an above average game manager. Jake Locker has a repair job to do and can still be the first QB taken next year, but this weekend has suggested to me he’s more of a long term project. Mallett will come into the NFL facing the same kind of lessons that most rookie’s encounter. But he has the physical talents to interest teams and concern pro-defenses. For someone who has a lot of critics, Mallett (in my opinion) deserves a much greater press.
There are unanswered questions about his work ethic and attitude, no doubt the pro-scouts will do their homework but for know, it’s important to concentrate on what we can actually judge – which is what we see on tape.