Tennessee Titans second-year quarterback Jake Locker is currently the best sophomore quarterback in the NFL despite having missed time due to injury, as the Titans have disappointed with a 3-6 start to the 2012 NFL season.
Locker's competition is vast, but he has managed to outperform each in one way or another. Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, Blaine Gabbert of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton are the competition for Locker in his draft class.
To date, Locker has only appeared in four games in 2012, throwing for 903 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions while having an exceptional 90.2 quarterback rating.
Newton's Panthers have also disappointed, and are one of the worst teams in football with a 2-6 record. Newton has thrown for 1,902 yards with six touchdowns and eight interceptions for only a 77 rating.
In a similar manner, Gabbert has been awful with 1,638 yards and nine touchdowns to eight interceptions while the Jaguars have stumbled to a 1-8 record.
Ponder has bounced back from a mediocre rookie campaign to lead the surprising Vikings to a 5-4 record while throwing for 1,806 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a great 82 rating.
Locker's only true competition so far this season is the Bengals' Dalton. While Cincinnati has been a let down at 3-5, he has thrown for 2,130 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with an outstanding 86.7 rating.
What separates Locker from the rest of the group is not necessarily measurable in terms of statistics. The Tennessee offense is much more explosive with him in the game and he elevates the play of those around him because opposing defenses respect his arm more than they do that of backup Matt Hasselbeck.
Locker is an athletic quarterback with a massive arm who rarely turns the ball over. More often than not he makes the correct reads, whereas the other quarterbacks in his class have issues with taking care of the football.
While Dalton has benefited from the best receiver in the game in A.J. Green, Newton has had the veteran Steve Smith and Ponder has had one of the best all-around offensive weapons in the NFL in Percy Harvin, Locker has had to work with a hobbled Kenny Britt and a rookie in Kendall Wright.
Who is the best sophomore quarterback in the NFL?
The glaring exception of course is Gabbert in Jacksonville, who literally has no above-average offensive weapons to speak of around him at this point. It would be hard for any quarterback to thrive in the system, but Gabbert is making the most of it—just not as efficiently as Locker is.
Locker hasn't had much to work with but has managed to make those around him better when he actually sees the field. He certainly has a smaller sample size so far in 2012, but the results have been better.
The Tennessee Titans aren't in the running for the postseason this year with the carousel at quarterback, but what Locker has shown as of late is encouraging to say the least.
Locker has done more with less in a shorter time span, and this season could prove to be a pivotal developing period for the young quarterback.
While the majority of the other quarterbacks in his draft class could turn out to be stars as well, Locker appears to have the inside track as the best so far.