Jake Locker had no time to consider the stakes, and maybe that was best. No time to worry about the three dozen NFL scouts and coaches watching from the sideline. No time to dwell on their doubts about the accuracy of his right arm. Just fall back on training, on instinct and athleticism, and let the football go. Three-step drop. Five-step drop. Seven-step. Rollout. Bootleg. Just let it go.
A half hour later, when Locker's meticulously scripted Pro Day session was over, the men who'd traveled to Seattle, to the remotest corner of the NFL map, walked over to extend a handshake and congratulations. Locker was that good. Of his 40 passes, only two had hit the ground.
Scott Locker watched from behind one end zone at the Washington Huskies' practice facility with a wide smile. Like everyone else there, he knew this was a big test for Jacob, the given name he sometimes uses for his 22-year-old son. If the muscular signal-caller couldn't excel in drills with no defensive backs rerouting the receivers and no pass rushers pawing at his shoulder pads, would there be any reason to believe he could succeed in a real NFL game, when the pocket was dirty and the conditions chaotic?
Twenty minutes after the workout, father and son came together on the synthetic track surrounding the field and embraced. "Great job," Scott said. He was talking about the performance, but in a private moment with a visitor later in the day it became apparent he was also speaking more broadly, about how his son had handled himself over four turbulent years. In particular, the transition from being hailed as a savior his redshirt freshman year, when he was named a starter, to being second-guessed—and in some cases ripped—for not jumping to the NFL after his junior season.
Two prominent NFL analysts said at the time that Locker would be the first quarterback drafted and a surefire top 10 pick if he came out in 2010. But in December '09, Locker announced plans to return to Seattle for his senior year so that he could get his degree in history and lead the Huskies to their first bowl game since '02—both of which he accomplished. After that, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. took the projection a step further. "If you had to ask me right now who is going to be the Number 1 pick in the '11 draft, I would say it's etched in stone it's going to be Jake Locker," Kiper said. "You can mark that down. Jake Locker, if he's not the Number 1 pick, it's an upset."
Locker is not going to be the No. 1 pick. He also won't be the first quarterback selected. Or the second. Such is the fallout from an uneven senior season in which he had to deal with a quad bruise, a broken rib, porous pass protection and inconsistent receivers. After leading the Pac-10 as a junior with 3,188 yards in total offense—second most in school history—he produced just 2,650 last fall, and his completion rate dropped from 58.4% to 55.4%. With each injury and every loss during the Huskies' 3--6 start, the contention spread that Locker had blown it by staying in school.
"There was always that little jab that says, Too bad he's never going to reach that goal," says Scott. "People are quick to jump on something when it goes wrong, even if someone has done the right thing. I had a lot of people say, 'Does he just not think about his future and setting up the people around him to have things?' Jake knows you've got to do the things that make your life rich and not worry about being rich."
It's been said that Locker lost between $30 million and $50 million by going back to Washington for a senior year. The reality is that Locker never would have seen that kind of money, because he never would have been the first pick in 2010. The flaws that are apparent in his game today—inaccuracy, lack of pocket presence and inexperience with read progressions—were there a year ago. It's just that NFL personnel people had yet to put him under a microscope.
When they began to do so last fall, they found a talented athlete with suspect passing skills from the pocket. Locker was physically gifted, that was obvious: In high school in Ferndale, Wash., he was the state 3A player of the year in baseball and a 2006 draft pick of the Angels; he even signed a $250,000 contract with the team in '09. But he played in the wing T at Ferndale, and in his first two seasons at Washington he ran an offense that featured plenty of options, bootlegs and moving pockets. (Locker broke his right thumb in the fourth game of his sophomore season and missed the rest of the year; the Huskies went 0--12.) It wasn't until coach Steve Sarkisian arrived from USC in '09 that Locker moved into a pro-style offense. And that's when the buzz started, as he threw for 2,800 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the season finale he connected on 19 of 23 passes with three TDs in a 42--10 spanking of Cal.
Instead of building on that, however, Locker and the Huskies struggled last season. When he had just four completions in 20 throws in a 56--21 September loss to Nebraska, talk of his being the first pick in the draft disappeared like the sun behind Seattle clouds.