Washington/Nebraska preview & Alamo Bowl thoughts

December 30th, 2010 | Written by Rob Staton

Tonight Washington and Nebraska face off in the Holiday Bowl. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened when the two met earlier this year.

Jake Locker (QB, Washington) will get a chance to improve on a performance where he completed just four passes and was left dazzled by a defense that has made many quarterbacks look average the last two years.

In my opinion – Locker can’t do that much tonight to improve or weaken his stock.

A lot of scouts have made up their mind on Locker already. Some don’t even consider him the best senior prospect on Washington’s roster. Even a brilliant display tonight is unlikely to change those opinions. For some, Locker is just too inaccurate and not the kind of poised pocket passer a lot of pro-teams look for. The time has passed to change minds and one game – albeit against a quality defense – is probably too little too late.

Those scouts wanted to see a continued improvement and development based on the strides Locker made as a fourth year junior under Steve Sarkisian. The improvements never materialised. Yes – Locker faced more pressure than most quarterbacks (he’s been sacked an incredible 47 times the last two seasons). When he was given time, however, he still made basic errors and poor decisions.

At the same time there are some who maintain faith that Locker’s physical and athletic qualities are worth pursuing. The theory being that if he can correct his problems (and that’s a big if) he has the ceiling to become an exceptional NFL quarterback.

I’ve discussed in the past how I believe both Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll would welcome the opportunity to draft Locker – and both use very similar offensive schemes.

While a lot of teams will grade him in the round 2-4 range on their draft board – a team like Washington or Seattle could keep Locker amongst the top-15 picks (rightly or wrongly). I wouldn’t rule out Arizona or Minnesota either.

The Huskies QB will have his admirers and if they’ve stuck with him this far – they’re unlikely to be put off by another disappointing performance against Nebraska.

So I’m not sure if there’s any definite stock to be gained tonight – but of course a good performance against a quality defense will allow Locker to end his college career with momentum.

The scouting combine and subsequent pro-day are tailor made for guys like Locker – he’ll have the opportunity to show off his dynamic athleticism and throw the ball without any pressure to wide open targets. While a lot of people have dropped Locker out of their mock drafts recently, by the time we get into March I suspect he’ll be firmly back amongst first round projections.

Someone will draft him early.

It should be an interesting game to watch and keep an eye on Jared Crick (DT, Nebraska). He’s received largely negative reviews this year despite a productive season (11 sacks). I see him as someone who could potentially play the 5-technique role for Seattle (or the Red Bryant position as it’s now known). Crick is around 290lbs and 6’5″ – big enough to set the edge while also having the ability to collapse the pocket and get into the backfield.

Expect the announcers to give Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska) the big send up. You’ll probably not notice him much in the game as reputation has seen many QB’s avoid throwing at Amukamara. Personally, I think he’s a little over rated. He’s converted from running back and doesn’t look like a natural corner. Indeed his size and athleticism may lend itself better to the safety position. I don’t see him as a top-ten lock like most people and he could fall.

Alamo Bowl thoughts: Oklahoma State vs Arizona

I’ve just finished watching the tape from last night’s game. Overall it was a ridiculously comfortable victory for the Cowboys.

My lasting impression of the game is just how over rated Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) has become. I’ve seen many high profile pundits ranking him as the #2 QB prospect if he chose to declare for next April’s draft. That’s ridiculous.

Foles is just such a limited prospect with so little upside. He was picked off three times in this game, once for a long touchdown return. All three picks were careless, late throws with zero velocity. He gets nothing on his deep ball and teams will have no late night’s game planning him at the next level. He threw 50 times in this game for an average of 5.6 yards per completion.

He was sacked or hit a number of times because consistently he’s so slow to make a decision. He’s not athletic enough to scramble away from pressure and he showed no desire to step up into the pocket.

When a quarterback comes from such a pass-friendly, high percentage spread offense, you want to see exceptional plays or something out-of-the-ordinary to make a high grade. Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri) did exactly that despite a big error which led to defeat against Iowa in his bowl game. Foles is so limited I wouldn’t give him a grade higher than round four or five.

He will return for the 2011 college season and he’s got a lot of work to do if he’s going to become a legit pro-prospect.

One person who is gaining momentum is Arizona wide out Juron Criner. He’s been given a first round grade by some scouts, although it’s difficult to judge him in Arizona’s offense. With no real deep threat and a lot of high percentage short throws which don’t accommodate YAC ability, Criner was restricted to 9 catches for a mediocre 47 yards here.

He did make one excellent catch for Arizona’s only touchdown – a controlled grab in the left corner of the end zone on a short, high pass from Foles. Crines flashed perfect body control and good hands to make the grab and stay in bounds. His height (6-4) was a real advantage on the play.

However, he isn’t the biggest in the upper body and seems to carry more weight in his legs (listed at 210lbs). He doesn’t look the strongest. This was the second time I’ve concentrated on Criner and he was a greater threat in defeat to Stanford earlier this year. I need to further review tape of that game before I come to a conclusion on his talents.

There was of course one other wide out who stood out – Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon. He had a typically productive game – scoring two touchdowns and registering 119 yards from nine grabs.

His first touchdown was due to a coverage mistake, allowing Blackmon to be wide open deep and it was a simple pitch from QB Brandon Weeden to complete the score. I wasn’t too keen on the wide outs decision to run right along the end zone – we don’t need to see that kind of showboating.

The second score was much more impressive – a low, difficult catch in coverage to the near right corner of the end zone. Blackmon showed off strong, effective hands and great body control for an impressive touchdown.

Overall Blackmon is a tough receiver to project. He doesn’t have elite size (6’1″, 207lbs) and he isn’t a track-style speedster. He’s got a thick, muscular frame and he can be competitive – which is to his advantage. He’s an under-rated route runner and appears in complete control of his body. He also has the unteachable knack of getting open. Having said that, he doesn’t have the reliable hands of a Michael Crabtree (who he has been compared to) or the supreme YAC abilities of the 49ers receiver.

He plays in an offense which orchestrates production and that has to be acknowledged. However – you can’t ignore a 1782 yard, 20 touchdown season.

Personally, I think he’s a solid second round value receiver who can act as a complimentary #2. Having said that, teams in the 20’s who need a wide out should consider him. A logical fit could be found in Kansas City playing alongside Dwayne Bowe.

8 Responses to “Washington/Nebraska preview & Alamo Bowl thoughts”

  1. seareign says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on Foles, Rob. I’ve NEVER been impressed with his performances. He throws a lot of WR Screen’s, looks weak on his deep throws, and really hasn’t shown much accuracy on his mid-range tosses. I don’t get the hype this guy has from “pundits”.

    As much as it pains me to say it, I think you are dead on with Locker. I thought about 3 games into the season that Locker likely wouldn’t be higher than a 2nd round pick. I had hoped his accuracy issues and decision making had improved from last year to this year, but I hadn’t seen anything to suggest that that improvement had been made. His hype the previous year (when he was considered for the #1 pick) was based around the dreaded “potential” tag. I can imagine HC’s and GM’s just drooled over the idea of his potential. But, unfortunately that potential had to come with improvement from last year to this year once he decided to come back to school. I’m sure some team will jump into the late 1st to take him……I mean, come on….Tebow went in the 2nd and Locker HAS to be a better prospect than him!! :-) But, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Locker fall into the 2nd come draft time.

    • Rob says:

      I can’t see Locker falling into round two – the physical qualities, character and athleticism will keep him in round one – probably the top-15 and maybe the top-10. I’m very confident about that. For every team that’s given up on him, there are teams that love what he brings to the table.

      Personally, I’d give him a 2nd round grade at this point. Major potential and a high ceiling, but you’re investing in the hope he can cut out the mistakes and make better decisions. Will it limit the extreme play making potential if you have to cap the errors? I’m not sure. Can he be a big-time NFL quarterback? Absolutely. Has he got a lot of work to get there – yes.

      I still think there’s an excellent chance he ends up with Seattle or Washington.

  2. Frankfrog says:

    If Locker goes lights out against the team that cost him millions it will show the kinda moxie you want.
    If he comes out flat It will confirm he is weak minded and the Clausen comparison continue to take off. I’ve had this sick feeling for the last two years he’s already a Hawk so make me believe Jake please.
    Please for once live up to the hype you overinflated hot air balloon of latent talent and underachieving.

  3. Blake says:

    Blackmon is a very interesting prospect. Guys like this are hard to project, because for every Derrick Mason there is a Mark Clayton. He’s similar to Miles Austin and Derrick Mason. Extremely sudden in and out of his breaks. I’ve never seen him trip. On the other hand, his ceiling is somewhat limited because he really can’t get much better at what he does. It’s not like he can suddenly be bigger, faster, or stronger. I see him as the perfect #2 in the Derrick Mason mold. Stl and KC already have somewhat established deep threats and should love to have this guy on their roster.

  4. Alex says:

    That was probably the best 5/16 performance I’ve ever seen by a QB. If I counted correctly, about 6 of those passes were thrown away to avoid a sack. Of the remaining 5 or so passes, about 3-4 were dropped. The CBs just once again manhandled the wide receivers (except Goodwin) in this game.

    Alex

  5. Frankfrog says:

    Wow great game Locker, he got better after get KO cold. We don’t get many chances to see Locker televised but that is not the same guy I’ve seen before. Hard to scout a QB with no one to throw the ball to, but you can’t help but notice how nice of touch he has.
    Alex nailed it that was very impressive.
    I still question a guy that wasn’t ready to take the challenge of the NFL last year makes you question his mental makeup. He’s reckless with his body and that won’t work next year.
    To me he elevated his stock over back over Gabbert and Newton last night. This is the first time Ive seen him as anything other than a guarantied Bust. I’m not a fan for many reasons but finally got to see him look good after years of trying to find a game he didn’t look like a pure RB.
    Newton has recievers and still only had 160 completions, Gabberts feet look like a baseball pitcher when he throws but wider, as far as a project QB go I think Locker has a real chance if put in a west coast offense.
    Huskies line looked awesome just punked Nebraska on both sides of the ball all day long. How does a team have talent everywhere but receiver. IDK what a nightmare trying to guess if this kid could play if he had a target or two.

  6. [...] predicted that little would change whatever happened in the Holiday [...]