Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Aug 2010

ESPN: The Jake Locker Paradox

Rarely has a player been so hyped for the pros while accomplishing so little at the collegiate level. In our most recent ESPN Insider feature, Bill Connelly takes a look at what level of success might be on the table for Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies this season.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 23 Aug 2010

13 comments, Last at 24 Aug 2010, 4:29pm by daddymag


by lionsbob :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 1:46pm

I don't get the Jake Locker dislike. He stunk as a true freshman on a bad Washington team. He got hurt his sophomore year on a bad Washington team. And then his junior year he put up solid-to-good numbers, on an average Washington team. He reminds me of Matt Stafford (who looks really, really, really good with the Lions right now) to an extent.

by Bill Connelly :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 2:06pm

There's a difference between declaring somebody overrated and disliking them. I like him perfectly fine for what he is -- a solid D1 quarterback. He just hasn't yet proven consistently that he's more than that. As the column states, Bradford and Stafford both made huge leaps around a similar time in their career (for both, it was their third year on campus; this is Locker's fourth year, but most of 2008 was lost to injury), and anything is possible ... I just like to wait for people to actually earn hype.

by alexbond :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 2:04pm

It's about the secret magic QB dust that separates the greats from the bads. I don't think Locker has it. Sure, he's physically unbelievable - strong, fast, got the size. And boy can he hurl the ball. But his pocket presence is terrible. He runs into sacks, and loves to get Mike Vick disease and turn his hips parallel to the line of scrimmage and dance around. As soon as those hips turn, you aren't going to be throwing an accurate pass. It isn't a huge problem now, because he's Jake Locker and he can physically dominate whatever punk kid is playing right end for Cal or whoever so he runs out of the sack. But what happens when it's the Baltimore Ravens defense gunning for him? When every linebacker is lightning fast and he can't break 3 arm tackles every play?

His playbook remains decidedly college - it is still "Is the guy deep open? Then is the guy shallow open? Then run." Sarkisian may be "pro-style" but only insofar as they call pretty everyone who isn't spread "pro-style" nowadays. Is he going to be able to learn an NFL playbook and more importantly, make NFL reads? He hasn't yet.

And while his arm strength is terrific, his accuracy is suspect. I can't tell you how many times I've seen the FB, Paul Homer, get like 2 YAC because the dump-off pass to him from Jake is totally wild and Homer is catching at his shoelaces or jumping for it. For a pro QB, hitting that dump-off RB should be automatic. And while his receivers haven't been impressive, he hasn't been doing them many favors. He loves the Eli Manning signature "throw it 2 feet over their head" overthrow. He gets his guys killed making them jump up for a ball right in front of a safety.

The guys is a fiery leader and physically dominant, and the final drive vs USC, he was unreal. But he isn't Matt Ryan. He hasn't consistently shown the ability to make tough reads under pressure. And a guy with a sub-60 completion percentage is unlikely to turn it around to the degree that he will succeed in the NFL.

He's got a skill set like Donovan McNabb - big arm, mobility, but the things that McNabb was bad at, Jake is much worse at. He could still succeed in the NFL - he's gifted and driven. But I would not pick him in the first 16 picks.

by fek9wnr (not verified) :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 3:56pm

Matt Ryan was only a 59% passer his senior season - only one percent higher than Locker last season:

The quality of the teams and the style of offense has a lot to do with completion percentage in college. Ryan had no pro-caliber receivers or running game on an average team; Locker has no good receivers on a pretty bad team. I'm not saying Locker will turn out that well, but given his surroundings it's possible that completion percentage doesn't tell the whole story.

by Disadvantaging Jusating (not verified) :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 4:12pm

You're wrong about Locker having no good receivers. The Huskies have a potential star in Jermaine Kearse, who had a nice last year and could be All Pac-10 this year. The rest of the receivers are pretty solid, ESPN picked them as one of the best groups in the Pac-10. They also have Chris Polk, an excellent tailback. The only problem with the offense last year was the line.

What people don't realize is he hasn't had that long to learn to be a pocket passer, since in high school he was mostly expected to run and under Willingham the Huskies offense relied entirely on his running ability. Locker learned a lot in his first year under Sarkisian. If the line makes modest improvements I believe Locker will have a completion percentage of at least 62% this year.

by Josh :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 3:24pm

I think Locker gets a lot of mileage about of being a freakishly athletic white guy.

by Entropy :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 5:23pm

I see someone has taken The Ludlum Initiative to heart.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 6:04pm

Well, almost... it really should have been "The Locker Paradox". Kind of has a nice ring to it.

by Kevin Pelton :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 7:11pm

This doesn't change your conclusion at all, but I would leave team record out of an assessment of Locker given how non-competitive the team was without him in 2008. Part of that was coaching, granted, and the talent is better now than it was then with a healthy Chris Polk and improved receiving core, but expecting big team results seems unfair to Locker.

I'd be curious to see how much of the drop between Locker's 2007 and 2009 POE was rushing. The expectation would be that, even accounting for schedule, his passing POE improved but in the transition under Sarkisian he lost some of what made him so dangerous as a scrambler in 2007. He seemed to strike an ideal balance in the last two games of the season. We'll see if that continues.

by Bill Connelly :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 9:11pm

Hard to get to in those 1,000-word ESPN pieces, but yeah, his style changed rather significantly.

2007: +9.6 Passing, +29.9 Rushing, +39.5 TOTAL
2009: +21.4 Passing, +9.3 Rushing, +30.7 TOTAL
DIFF: +11.8 Passing, -20.6 Rushing, -8.8 TOTAL

by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 8:25pm

My concern about the last 2 games is that one was Washington State (dead last in S+P out of 120 teams), and the other was Cal in a bit of a lame-duck spot after their upset of rival Stanford...but before the bowl game. For Washington, it was their bowl because they wouldn't be bowl eligible. For Cal, nothing at stake.

Total Yardage: Washington 463, California 296

Not exactly a no-show for Cal in yardage...but they didn't bring much intensity to Seattle.

Locker's TD/INT ratio was 17-10 outside of those two games, 14-10 if you exclude Idaho (83rd in S+P).

Some of the balance he seemed to strike may have been the result of facing a bad, then a disinterested defense...

by Admorish (not verified) :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 1:07am

I think you can boil the excessive admiration of Jake Locker to his name - Jake Locker. It an almost perfect football name, like Colt McCoy. You expect "Jake Locker" to be an awesome player, sight unseen, and it's fun to say his name, too.

by daddymag :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 4:29pm

Haven't read the article (not an Insider) but is there a comparison to Jay Cutler? Great skills, terrible college team, how do you project him as a pro?