2011 NFL Draft Grades: Jake Locker Is Ready to Lead the Tennessee Titans
The NFL analysts were shocked to see the announcement. They were discussing how fortunate the Tennessee Titans were to have Blaine Gabbert fall in the lap of the QB-needy franchise, and were just positive the Tennessee Titans were going to select the Missouri signal caller.
I wasn't right about much with my draft day predictions. I did slate Tyron Smith to the Dallas Cowboys back in February. I also said the Cardinals would select Patrick Peterson, as Gabbert didn't fit their system. There were a few other little picks as well. But I missed on the first, feeling the Panthers would trade out of the top choice in favor of Marcell Dareus.
Then there was the big, bold prediction...that Blaine Gabbert would go No. 10 and be the third QB taken in this year's draft, as the Titans would grab the QB that not only best fits their system, but that will likely end up being the best QB in this year's draft.
Don't fret, Titans fans. As much as the media attempted to tell us that Jake Locker is inaccurate, he really isn't. Despite the assurances that Gabbert is the most pro-ready option, he isn’t.
Locker did suffer a low completion percentage, coming in last amongst the top 10 QBs in this year's draft class. However, there are two major factors with Locker that don't show up in the stat line...dropped passes and balls that were thrown away.
Had Locker managed 15 more pass completions, he would have a completion percentage in the 60s and this conversation wouldn't exist (for that matter, the two games vs. Nebraska, where his receivers couldn’t get open, dropped his completion rate from 59% to 55%). More aptly, if his receivers had of caught 15 of the balls they dropped, we'd be talking about how the Titans just landed the perfect QB for their system. We will get there, though.
But first, a few comments on Locker and an observation on Gabbert. In analyzing Locker this offseason, I sat down with his senior year games vs. Oregon State and Stanford, as they were on different ends of the success spectrum. I was very impressed with how Locker distributed the ball against the Beavers and how he fought back through pressure, eventually leading the team to a 2OT win.
There was a particular play that caught my attention, along with a pattern that deserves mention.
The throw came against Oregon State. Locker was off-balance and threw off one foot while on the move to his right. He threw a perfect pass and hit his receiver in stride on the goal line for a TD. While that may not seem that out of the ordinary, Locker was on his team’s side of the 50 yard line. There are a slew of QBs in the NFL that can't make that play.
The pattern I saw developing were dropped balls, and there were five dropped passes in the game against Oregon State. One of them was a difficult over the shoulder catch, and the perfectly thrown ball fell through D’Andre Goodwin’s hands. But the other four were right in the receivers' hands and just dropped. Some may counter that isn't that many dropped passes, but it wasn’t five dropped in the game. They were all dropped in one drive...the final drive in regulation to tie the game. Yes, Locker overcame the dropped passes and led his team to a TD and then the win that helped make them bowl-eligible.
What player should the Titans have taken at No. 8?
The game vs. Stanford wasn't nearly so pretty for Locker. In fact, he only threw 14 passes, as Stanford's defensive pressure never allowed the team to mount a proper attack. Locker was hit consistently, and had to simply throw away four of the seven incomplete passes.
Locker ran a different offense his last two years at Washington, as the new coaching staff converted them to a pro style offense. While there were obviously some screens involved, most of the passing attack was down-filed. He completed more passes beyond the 10 yard mark than inside of it.
This is a huge divergence from Gabbert. He completed most of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but struggled with the throws more than 10 yards from the line. That will not create success in the NFL.
Gabbert had a high completion percentage, but Locker still had a better yards per attempt. Of particular note, when charting games for Gabbert I had to start over and add a new column...dump-off passes on third down that were well short of the first down marker.
Gabbert also struggled to find the end zone through the air. His 16 TDs passes were last amongst the top 10 QB prospects. Add in the 24 as a sophomore, and you have one more than the 39 passing TDs Chase Daniel had in his senior year in the same offense.
The Titans will be pleased with what Locker brings to their team. He has experience in a pro style offense, but still needs to work on making solid progressions when his primary receiver isn't open. Too often at UW he would tuck the ball and run, as his offensive line didn't allow him much time to throw.
Pairing Locker's abilities with the Titan's rushing attack will create a potent offense. He can gain yards on the ground, similar to Vince Young, but Locker will be a better passer.
Most important, Locker has a solid head on his shoulders and will be most interested in making the team successful.
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