Most experts seem to think that Jake Locker has already played his final game for the University of Washington football program. A surefire first-round pick at quarterback, Locker would undoubtedly earn millions of dollars were he to turn pro in time for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Me, however, I tend to disagree. I think Locker sticks around for his senior season on Montlake. You could make the argument that he’s better off leaving early for the NFL, but I’m here to tell you why the Huskies’ signal-caller will be back under center next fall.
1. Ready or Not?
Forget what the media says, for a minute. How many of the national pundits actually watched a University of Washington football game this year? Don’t all raise your hands at once. And we’re not counting the final two minutes of the USC game as an entire contest. So that leaves us with nobody.
The fact is, none of the experts out there have seen Jake outside of the microcosm of a highlight reel. You can blame that on the Pac-10’s crappy television contract, East Coast bias, or plain and simple ignorance, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that judging by all the good they’ve seen Jake do, they think he’s ready for the pros.
What they don’t know is that Jake has significant room for improvement which will be stalled by leaving college early. He knows that, they don’t.
2. Room To Improve
Keep in mind that Jake Locker has really only been playing the quarterback position the way it was meant to be played for one season. Steve Sarkisian’s pro-style offense has allowed the redshirt junior to improve dramatically in the passing game, while similarly enabling him to become a more efficient runner in the process.
Under the previous regime led by Tyrone Willingham, Locker was a run-first QB that struggled to make sound decisions in the pocket. He often threw on the run, hurried his passes, and failed to set his feet and make a play. In the most basic of senses, he was a mess.
With Sarkisian’s offense imported direct from USC, Locker has improved in all aspects of his game. But that doesn’t mean he’s a complete quarterback. Not yet, at least.
Switching to a pass-first mentality has forced Locker to remain in the pocket and read through his progressions all season long. That transition hasn’t been without its bumps, though. Locker struggles to look off coverage and has a tendency to stare down his targets before letting fly with a pass.
While this behavior has minimal consequences in college, it will not go unpunished in the NFL. Experienced defensive backs will quickly anticipate Locker’s every move and turn would-be completions into interceptions.
Then, you have to consider his decision-making. There were many times this year where Locker failed to run in an obvious running situation, or likewise failed to pass when a receiver stood wide open downfield. The transition from run to pass seemed to overwhelm Locker at times, and perhaps caught him overthinking.
He often took sacks or made the wrong decision when under heavy pressure, and those awareness issues would only be magnified on a bad NFL team.
While these points of emphasis seem small and middling when put into the big picture perspective, they are often the difference between success and failure at the quarterback position in the NFL. Ask any of the many signal-callers who went from first-round pick to NFL bust and I think they’d agree.
3. The Difference between Goodness and Greatness
Jake Locker is a good quarterback. He’s projected as the third-best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft (behind Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen), and should he leave early he will likely be selected in the 5-12 range of picks.
But don’t you think that a guy like Locker deserves greatness? He seems to strive for it, and with his immense talents, that elite level is certainly within reach.
If Locker left this year, he would be remembered as a good college quarterback who had the potential to become a decent pro quarterback.
But if he stays, the name Jake Locker could become synonymous with greatness.
Consider this: Most every NFL Draft projection lists the top three quarterbacks in the class of 2011 as Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, and Jake Locker. With Bradford and Clausen having already announced their early departures, that leaves Locker as the consensus No. 1 quarterback for next year.
And the competition behind him isn’t even close. Perhaps the only noteworthy QBs in Locker’s realm of talent are Mississippi’s Jevan Snead and Houston’s Case Keenum. But neither Snead nor Keenum possesses the range of abilities that Locker has.
What that translates to is a wide open shot at the No. 1 overall draft pick in the ‘11 NFL Draft. Not 5-12. Not a range of picks. But No. 1 overall.
Furthermore, Locker would likely find himself in the midst of the Heisman race were he to stick around for his final year on campus. Along with Snead and Keenum, Locker would be one of three preseason hopefuls for college football’s most prestigious award.
On top of all that, he would be destined for a bowl game for the first and only time in his career at Washington, and the prospect of a conference championship would not be unfathomable on a team returning nearly all of its starters. That alone would have to be appealing to Locker, who bleeds Husky purple-and-gold.
There is a fine line between being good and being great. One more year at Washington would allow Locker to cross that line.
4. Money Is No Issue
A five-tool center fielder with a 95 MPH fastball (no joke), Locker was projected as a first-round baseball talent when he graduated high school in 2006. Yet, with his mind already made up to play football at Washington, he made a formal announcement to all the MLB teams considering him with their initial pick and told them not to waste it on him.
Three years later, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were convinced that it was time to take another run at Locker. They felt confident enough in the quarterback to spend a 10th round selection on him in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft in June, then aggressively pursued his name on a piece of paper. In August, Locker signed with the Angels and earned himself a six-figure salary in the process. The Angels now hold Locker’s contractual rights for six years, and will be paying him accordingly during that time.
Though Locker signed a professional contract, his status as an amateur on the gridiron was not impacted. Well, not entirely at least.
Because he never hired an agent, Locker didn’t violate his collegiate eligibility, according to rules set in place by the NCAA. But by signing the contract and earning himself a salary, Locker did cost himself an athletic scholarship. Which, in turn, made him into arguably the greatest walk-on in all of college football.
Even in spite of the fact that he paid his own way for a year, and would be doing so again next year, Locker is still earning more money than most of us could begin to fathom. Which should be enough to keep him from making the paycheck his primary focus when deciding between returning to school or turning pro.
Experts like to reference the threat of an uncapped year in the NFL, and the potential capping of rookie salaries in 2011 as means for Locker to jump ship prematurely. But with money already in the bank, guaranteed to arrive over the next six years whether he plays football or not, Locker need not worry about his financial situation in the short term.
If anything, Locker’s focus should be on answering long term questions. For instance, what is more important? One gigantic contract and limited success in the NFL? Or multiple big contracts and a prolonged NFL career? I think we all know the answer to that one.