It has been said repeatedly that Jake Locker lacks the precision to become a franchise quarterback. But draft analysts Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden believe the University of Washington product can succeed in the NFL, particularly with the Redskins.
Locker was expected to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft last year, after he threw for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his passes. Mike Shanahan reportedly would have taken Locker with the No. 4 pick, but the quarterback decided to return to school for his senior season.
Locker’s stock took a hit, however, after his production decreased. He completed just 55.4 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,265 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Now he is projected by most to go anywhere from late in the first round to early in the second.
There’s no denying Locker’s athleticism. At the combine, he clocked a 4.59-second 40-yard dash (tied with Cam Newton for second fastest by a QB), a 35-inch vertical leap (second), a 6.77-second three-cone drill (first) and a 10-foot broad jump (tied for fourth).
But most draft analysts question whether much improvement can be expected from Locker in the more challenging NFL.
Locker says he is aware of his weaknesses, and is working to correct them. He believes his strengths outweigh those deficiencies.
“I have the [ability] to kind of improvise, create with my legs and extend plays, give guys the opportunity to work downfield,” Locker said at the NFL combine. “One thing -- it’s no secret, I don’t think to anybody -- moving in the pocket and throwing in the pocket is something that I’m working on and will continue to work on. … I think that it’s stuff that’s fixable, and I’m working on it. Just trying to get better every day.”
Mayock insists that in the right system, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Locker will develop into a talented pro. The offense that Mike and Kyle Shanahan run is one such attack that would take advantage of Locker’s strengths, the draft guru says.
“Locker likes getting out on the edge and he’s mostly accurate off play-action rolling out right or left,” Mayock said in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday. “That’s what Mike Shanahan’s scheme is. It’s a lot of play-action. It’s a quarterback making a decision on half the field. … If he has a chance to play early and play effectively, I think that’s the kind of system he’s set up for.”
Mayock went so far as to say that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington snatch Locker up with the 10th overall pick. If not the Redskins, the Vikings, who also run a version of the West Coast offense, might be interested.
Gruden, who spent time with Locker as part of his ESPN QB Camp, said he believes Locker has the intangibles to be a winning NFL passer, and says that his accuracy problems can be corrected.
“Accuracy can be improved,” Gruden says. “Sometimes it’s because of your fundamentals, sometimes you’re out of rhythm, you’re in the shotgun, you’re underneath the center. Sometimes you’re under duress. You’re hurrying; you’re playing too fast. You’re anticipating congestion around you when there isn’t. I just think he needs to go back to his fundamentals and work hard at that. He’ll get the right position coach and he’ll work hard at that.
“But accuracy sometimes can be terminal and you can’t cure that. I think that’s a big concern with Jake Locker,” Gruden admits. “But if you pick up the Southern Cal game film from this past year, you pick up the Oregon State film from this year, you can see what this guy is capable of doing. He can be a one-man wrecking crew, this guy. There’s a brilliant talent inside this body he’s got and it’s a matter of regaining his fundamentals, his confidence and composure, and he’ll be fine.”