The general consensus is that if he does not have a great season this year, it is very likely that the Titans will head in another direction, meaning Locker will either be released, traded or demoted to the second string in favor of a 2014 NFL draft prospect.
A lot of the criticism against him is indeed fair. At times, he can make poor decisions with the football. There are also times he underthrows passes that could be highly catchable if he just added a bit more touch on the ball—both of which contributed to a 56.4 completion percentage.
However, there are a few factors that I believe some analysts may be overlooking.
Locker played almost the entire season with a badly injured non-throwing shoulder, which he had surgery on this offseason.
In the first game of the season against the New England Patriots, Locker actually had a solid game, throwing for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 23-of-32 attempted passes. However, he was taken out after he suffered a shoulder injury while trying to make a tackle on an interception return, a play that was later viewed and reversed.
Locker played the next two games with the injury.
The first game was an abysmal showing against the San Diego Chargers which I cannot and will not defend. He simply just tried to do way too much. The second was a career game against the Detroit Lions. In the fourth game of the season against the Houston Texans, he re-aggravated the injury, possibly worsening it, and missed the next five weeks of the season.
Can Jake Locker be the Titans' franchise quarterback?
Once he returned from the injury, he clearly did not look the same. He returned against Miami in Week 10, but it was clear to me that he was not the same. He went 9-of-21 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and he looked more like a game manager than anything else in a 37-3 rout.
After the bye week, it all went downhill, as he struggled to throw just four touchdowns and nine interceptions in the final six games of the season.
While he still did make a lot of poor decisions, he was not helped by the fact that his receivers just could not catch the ball.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Nate Washington and Kenny Britt were in the top 10 in highest rate of dropped passes. Britt was ninth, with 85 targets, 45 catches and seven drops, making his rate 13.46 percent, while Washington was right behind in 10th with 86 targets, 46 catches and seven drops, making his rate 13.21 percent.
When your main two receivers continuously drop the ball, obviously your completion percentage will drop.
All of that being said, with the additions of guards Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre, receiver Justin Hunter and tight end Delanie Walker, along with a hopefully fully healed shoulder, Locker no longer has any excuses.
In order to quiet the critics, he'll need to stay healthy and have a huge season with the copious amount of weapons he has at his disposal.
I believe that Locker will have a great season provided he stays healthy. However, if he gets injured again, or plays poorly, there is a chance that the Titans could, at the very least, bring someone in to compete with him for the starting job.