Tag:Chris Polk
Posted on: December 30, 2010 3:36 pm
 

Unfair to expect much from Locker tonight

Jake Locker and his Washington teammates face Nebraska tonight in the Holiday Bowl in what is clearly the most intriguing re-match of the bowl season.

Locker and the Huskies were blown out 56-21 at home by the Cornhuskers on September 18. Locker only completed 4 of 20 passes in the game for 71 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions in what was the worst performance of his career.

Locker has been better since, engineering upset victories over USC, Oregon State and Cal since and leading Washington to to three consecutive wins to assure the Huskies of their first bowl berth since 2002.

He hasn't been so good, however, to expect the type of performance against Nebraska tonight that should significantly impact his draft stock.

The reality is Washington simply lacks the bulk and talent up front to protect Locker from Nebraska's formidable defensive line, led by junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and senior defensive end Pierre Allen. Making matters even more complicated for Locker, the Huskers boast arguably the best cornerback duo in the country in Prince Amukamara, NFLDraftScout.com's top rated senior prospect at any position, and junior Alfonzo Dennard, a Second Team All-Big 12 pick, who has already announced his intentions to return to Nebraska for his senior season despite the fact that he'd best - at worst - a second round pick in the 2011 draft.

Locker is blessed with a solid receiving corps, including a legitimate NFL talent in junior Jermaine Kearse, but Nebraska has the secondary to force him to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Huskies are as reliant on their wide receivers as any team in the country when it comes to the downfield passing game.   Locker has only completed six passes to his tight ends all season long and saw starting tight end Chris Izbicki leave the team following the regular season. His backup, freshman Marlion Barnett, has four catches for 31 yards for his career.

If the Huskies have a chance in this game it will be due to the running of redshirt sophomore running back Chris Polk and Locker. Locker could be very decisive and accurate with the football tonight and still post ugly numbers that will undoubtedly draw criticism from media.

Having spoken to various scouts recently about Locker's stock and the expectations for him vs. Nebraska, their feeling is that Locker's stock isn't likely to go down after this game - even if he struggles just as badly against Nebraska tonight as he did in September. Of course, should Locker surprise Nebraska (and scouts) and performs very well despite the Huskies being overmatched physically at nearly every position, his stock has a chance to rise significantly.

The most likely scenario, however, has Locker and the Huskies again struggling against Nebraska. If Locker is going to re-emerge as a first round guarantee, it will almost surely happen in the next bowl -- the Senior Bowl -- approximately a month from now.

For the very best in NFL draft coverage, the place to go is NFLDraftScout.com
Posted on: December 5, 2010 1:44 pm
 

With one pass, Locker's stock steadies

I have been as critictal of Washington quarterback Jake Locker's struggles as anyone. He entered this season as a prohibitive favorite to be the first senior selected in the 2011 draft and now I do not currently project him among the Top 32 in my first round mock draft.

Part of the reason for Locker's downfall has been the expectations placed upon him after what appeared to be a breakout junior season under Steve Sarkisian. Locker made such strides in his first season under Sarkisian that it was natural to believe he'd make similar gains year two.

It hasn't happened. Locker is still too often fooled by coverages and is highly inconsistent with his accuracy. Those two facts, regardless of how athletic a quarterback might be, have historically translated into struggles at the NFL level.

Scouts can't just write off Locker as a project, however.  That's because, as he again demonstrated last night in a thrilling Apple Cup victory over state rival Washington State, Locker has shown the ability to make accurate throws when the pressure is highest.

Now, let's be clear. Locker was bad -- not just bad, abysmal - in home losses this season to Nebraska and Stanford, the two best defenses he faced all season long. Considering the expectations placed on him, one could argue those two games were the ones he faced the most "pressure" and therefore my argument doesn't appear to hold water.

However, anyone who has watched the Huskies play this season knows about the struggles they've had on the offensive line. This isn't an excuse for Locker. Washington has started a staggering six different lineups along the offensive line. Teams with physical defensive lines -- like Nebraska and Stanford -- have so thoroughly dominated UW up front that Locker had no chance.

Rather, by "pressure," I mean that Locker has been able to make accurate throws when the game is on the line. He's demonstrated this ability often after he's been average (or worse) throughout much of the rest of the game. It is a big reason why, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes, four of Washington's six victories this season have come in the "final minute or in their last possession of the game ."

Locker demonstrated this ability to make legitimate NFL throws in critical moments in Washington's upsets over USC and Cal each of the past two years and the win over Washington State last night. Folks, that may not sound like many games, but when you've been as bad as Washington has been (Duke and Baylor are the only BCS teams with a longer bowl game drought), there haven't been many opportunities to scout Locker in "pressure" situations.

Again, don't get me wrong. Locker was fair from great last night. It was the Huskies' redshirt sophomore running back Chris Polk who won this game. His jaw-dropping 284 rushing yards and two touchdowns made life much easier on Locker and will be a featured component Monday in my Weekly Rewind feature . Locker, in fact, wasn't even the best quarterback on the field last night. The Cougars' sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel was spectacular, providing ample evidence that WSU head coach Paul Wulff is doing an admirable job of turning around WSU's program.

But, on the 4th quarter drive to earn a bowl game or end his collegiate career, Locker threw a perfect 27-yard fade to Jermaine Kearse with 44 seconds left to win it. Peyton Manning doesn't throw that pass with better touch, timing or placement than Locker did on that critical play. Here is the link to watch the throw.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Jake Locker is the most frustrating quarterback I've ever scouted. He made some of the same errors in this game that he's made throughout his career. In calling for eight consecutive running plays (six by Polk, two by Locker) on that final drive, scouts are left to wonder whether Sarkisian simply trusted his running game or didn't trust Locker's passing to put the Huskies in position to kick the game-winning field goal.

But, when the play was called to go for the throat, Locker delivered. As Football Outsiders and Sports Press Northwest's writer Doug Farrar noted on Twitter , "That's the throw they're going to show through the entire pre-draft process when everyone's debating Locker's NFL QB ability."

With that one throw, Locker again proved that he can make accurate throws in critical moments. I, like A LOT of scouts I speak to, am not convinced that Locker will ever get past his struggles reading coverage or inconsistent ball placement and be a successful NFL quarterback.

But throws like that one - in moments like that one - provide the evidence that perhaps he can.
 
 
 
 
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