Questions still linger about Locker, even after his impressive pro day
Jake Locker was nearly flawless in scripted performance at Washington
After 2009, some draft experts believed Locker was a lock to be No. 1 pick
Vikings (12th pick) may not be good fit; Jaguars (16th) might be better
SEATTLE -- It's so easy to get wowed at a university's pro day, where football players work out under controlled conditions for NFL teams. Wednesday was no exception, particularly when it came to Washington quarterback Jake Locker.
A homegrown talent who might be the nicest and most beloved player in the program's rich history, Locker was as cool as the rain that fell outside the Huskies' indoor practice facility. He completed 38 of 40 passes, showed excellent arm strength, was poised in the make-believe pocket and had no balls hit the ground when throwing off rollouts and bootlegs.
When it was over, the several dozen scouts and coaches in attendance were generous with their praise. However, they also were quick to pump the brakes when it came to reading too much into the afternoon.
"We know it's scripted and rehearsed, so the guy should perform well -- he shouldn't miss any throws," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "Sam Bradford [last year's No. 1 pick] missed one on his pro day; Jake missed two. But the throws he missed on where impressive because it was good to see him bomb the ball 65 yards down the field. I'd say he had a very successful day."
How that will affect his draft prospects is the great unknown. Locker might be the year's most intriguing prospect. After the 6-foot-2˝, 231-pounder announced he would return for his senior season last year, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said it was "etched in stone" that Locker would be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.
In hindsight, the comment was grossly unfair because scouts had yet to break down Locker's game. When they did, after his uneven senior season, they found issues with accuracy, pocket presence and read progressions. The question they're asking themselves now: is he a stud athlete who happens to play quarterback, or a quarterback who happens to be a stud athlete?
Sources contend that several teams are divided in their own buildings about him. Coaches tend to love Locker because of his intangibles -- he has a great work ethic, comes from a fine family and will never keep a team awake at night wondering what he's doing -- but scouts remove the emotion and look at things like mechanics, technique and Locker's 55.4 percent completion percentage in 2010, when he was hampered by a broken rib and inconsistent pass protection.
"Pro days are helpful, but they're only a piece to the puzzle," said Jacksonville QB coach Mike Sheppard, who had a private whiteboard session with Locker on Wednesday afternoon. "I would say this, I think that you discount any workouts after football season, including the Senior Bowl and all the rest of it. For most of those guys it's been a month to six weeks since they've played football. The most important thing you get out of somebody at this point is when you sit with them in the room."
Wednesday's workout was scripted to all of Locker's strengths: the three-step drops, rollouts and bootlegs. There was no pass rush, no defenders at his feet and knees, no need to go through read progressions. The conditions could not have been more ideal, which might be the reason the only head coach and general manager in attendance were from the hometown Seahawks.
Locker is scheduled to have private workouts in Seattle today with the Titans and Friday with the Broncos. He will work out for the Seahawks next week. Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are considered the top QB prospects in this year's class, but the field is wide open after them.
Locker has been linked most often to the Vikings, who need a quarterback and have the 12th pick. However, a deeper look reveals the two might not be a good match. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said last week at the owners meetings that the Vikings were interested in drafting a young quarterback whom the team could play right away and build around, like Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Joe Flacco and the Ravens, Mark Sanchez and the Jets. Every scout and general manager I've spoken to contends that Locker is a project who will need time to develop after playing only two years in a pro-style offense. Even his biggest supporters agree that sooner is NOT better than later.
"In our case that fits pretty good," says Sheppard of the Jaguars, who return 33-year-old starting QB David Garrard and backup Luke McCown. "I think if we draft a guy it's to develop him and have him compete and push from the bottom. David and Luke are both good players, and I've only been there five weeks now, but from what I understand Jacksonville hasn't drafted a guy in a long time at quarterback. So there's a chance we could be looking for a guy to develop. But I don't know if this guy will be around when we're ready to pick [at No. 16]."
It's too early to know where Locker will be drafted. Some see him going in the top half of the first round, others have a third- or fourth-round grade on him. A positive for him -- besides the intangibles and athleticism -- is he has done better with each test he has taken since the end of last season.
He struggled with his accuracy during Senior Bowl practices, but was much sharper at the Scouting Combine and was lethal at his pro day. As one scout said Wednesday: "He ripped it. The thing that was most impressive was how calm he was. I couldn't be happier for him. He's a great kid and he deserved this."