NFL Draft: History Says Jake Locker Is Not Worth the First-Round Gamble

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NFL Draft: History Says Jake Locker Is Not Worth the First-Round Gamble
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This is a huge week for Jake Locker.

Considered the likely first pick in the 2010 draft, Locker came back to Washington for his senior year to win a bowl game. He did that, but at the expense of losing a lot of his draft stock.

Locker had an inconsistent senior year marred by injury, and he followed that with a poor performance at the Senior Bowl that dropped his stock out of the first round, by some estimates.

So as the Combine begins this week, Locker needs to excel to climb back up the draft charts.

Many SeaDawgs (combo Seahawk-Husky fans) are hoping Seattle will draft the hometown Husky, and plenty of mock drafts have been happy to oblige by plugging Locker conveniently into the 25th spot in the first round, right where the Seahawks draft.

But, even if Locker excels at the Combine and lifts himself back into first-round consideration, he is not worth the risk for a team like Seattle.

The Seahawks have greater needs along both lines, and the strength of the draft at the bottom of the first round matches up perfectly with what Seattle needs.

Locker is a good leader with a strong arm, but he is wildly inconsistent and had trouble staying healthy in college. If a quarterback is not accurate and can’t stay on the field in college, odds are high that he will not be accurate or healthy in the NFL, where defenders are much faster and hit much harder.

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The most successful NFL quarterbacks generally have been those who started at least three years in college and completed a high percentage of their passes.

This chart shows quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds from 1998 to 2007. The quarterbacks with the most starts (37 or more) and highest completion percentage (60 plus) in college (quadrant two of the chart) were easily the most successful.

Eight of the 13 QBs (61.5 percent) who met those standards have been good or great quarterbacks in the NFL. We’re talking Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. If Kevin Kolb turns out as good as he looks, it would bump the success rate to 69 percent.

For the record, not a single quarterback projected to go in the first or second round of the 2011 draft would qualify for the first-tier quadrant.

Based on those prerequisites, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick is the best quarterback—on the order of Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer and Eli Manning. The rest all have high bust probability as first-rounders (Locker, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert) or look more like career backups (Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett).

Locker (38 starts) fits the experience part of the resume, but the very things that endeared him to Husky fans—his tough-guy mentality, his whatever-it-takes attitude, his hard-charging style—are the things that hurt him (literally) at Washington and will kill him (figuratively) in the NFL.

Locker missed all but two games in 2008 after breaking his thumb while throwing a block. And he played with broken ribs in 2010. You can call that tough, because it was. You also can say he got hurt too much, which he did.

Seahawk fans are already complaining that Matt Hasselbeck gets hurt too much. Why would the Seahawks replace him with a guy who comes into the league with a long injury history?

Even if that’s not a concern, Locker’s career 55.4 completion percentage has to be. Some of that was due to his missed time, some to his receivers dropping passes, but the Senior Bowl showed he has a lot of work to do with his accuracy.

If the Seahawks want to project Locker into the NFL, they have a firsthand example who was very much like Locker coming out of college: J.P. Losman, who was Seattle’s No. 3 QB for most of last season.

At Tulane, Losman was quite similar to Locker, with a strong arm and good mobility. Losman completed 57.8 percent of his passes in 37 games, which Buffalo thought was good enough to make him the 22nd pick in 2004. Losman sat his first season and then started on and off over the next four seasons before the Bills gave up on him.

Another guy similar to Locker was Cade McNown, who completed just 56 percent of his passes in four years as UCLA’s starter in the late 1990s.

The Bears reached to draft the weak-armed McNown 12th overall in 1999, and he lasted just two years with the Bears before being traded to the Dolphins, who then sent him to San Francisco. Recurring shoulder injuries ended his NFL tenure after less than four seasons.

Then there is Tarvaris Jackson, a guy new Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows well from Minnesota.

Jackson was a 54 percent passer in three years at Alabama State, and the Vikings thought highly enough of his potential to draft him with the first pick in the second round in 2006. He played a lot in his second season but never gained the confidence of Brad Childress, who tried to replace him first with Sage Rosenfels and then with Brett Favre.

Losman, McNown and Jackson are the guys Locker most resembles when it comes to comparing college resumes, and that does not speak well for his pro prospects.

Of course, there are always a multitude of reasons for the success and failure of quarterbacks (like playing for bad organizations such as the Bills), and there’s certainly the chance that Locker could be Carson Palmer with mobility or Jay Cutler with leadership ability.

If Locker had come out after his junior season (58.2 percent, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) or at least built on it in 2010, he might have joined Palmer as a No. 1 overall pick.

Palmer didn’t miss a game in three seasons at USC and he got better every year, which is why he was the top pick in 2003.

Locker, who played in a similar offense the last two years against the same Pac-10 caliber of opponents, cannot say the same. And that’s why he has fallen from potential No. 1 to a point where he will have to impress scouts mightily this week just to get back into the first-round conversation.

Even Crybaby Cutler had a better college resume than Locker. Like Locker, Cutler played for a team that was mostly bad (Vanderbilt), but he started 45 games and completed 57.2 percent of his passes—numbers that made him a good first-round gamble.

Falling in the same category as busts like Losman and McNown, Locker is a bigger first-round risk: Second-tier college quarterbacks (i.e., first and third quadrants in the chart) like Losman, McNown and Locker historically have a success rate of 25 percent to 30 percent.

If Locker performs well at the Combine this week, some team likely will roll the dice, hoping against the odds that he’s the one in four who will succeed, and snag him late in the first or early in the second.

But it’s not worth the risk for a team like Seattle, which could better use its first-round pick to beef up its lines with sure things.

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