Some of my draft analyst cohorts are jumping the gun a bit, I believe, in lauding Washington junior quarterback Jake Locker as the elite passing prospect in the country.
Now, don't get me wrong. I do agree with the assessment that Locker has an unmatched set of tools. He has a strong, accurate arm, has made night-and-day improvement in his reading of defenses under the tutelage of Steve Sarkisian, and is arguably the country's most dangerous mobile quarterback -- because unlike some other highly touted running passers, Locker has learned to keep his eyes downfield when preparing to run (and has the accuracy to take advantage of his vision). I argued as much in series of posts following the Washington-Notre Dame contest two weeks ago. Jimmy Clausen's Irish won the game and his poise down the stretch was impressive, but in terms of arm strength and mobility, Locker was the more impressive talent.
However, in now his third starting season for the Huskies, Locker has yet to finish a season healthy. Much of this is because Locker is surrounded by relatively little talent, especially along the offensive line. Still, if there are questions about Sam Bradford's durability with scouts, there must be similar concerns for Locker.
And while there is no denying his potential, Locker remains unpolished, which was evident throughout the Oregon contest Saturday afternoon.
Locker's two interceptions on this day were especially telling.
On the first, with UW down 8-3 but threatening on the Oregon 2-yard line, Locker, after play-action, rolled to his right and attempted to throw the ball to one of his two tight ends (#80 Kavario Middleton and #88 Dorson Boyce). The throw, however, was in between the two of them, making it an impossible catch for either of the Huskies, but an easy interception for Oregon DB Javes Lewis.
In the third quarter, with Oregon leading 22-6, but with UW once again challenging, Locker dropped back from the Oregon 32-yard line and threw a post-corner to Devin Aguilar (#9) that was intercepted by true freshman Cliff Harris (#3). The pass was thrown into double coverage with senior safety TJ Ward supplying coverage over the top and Harris dropping back from his primary assignment (RB Chris Polk in the flat) after reading Locker's eyes.
Locker's throw was accurate, but he failed to look off the defenders, allowing Harris to get into position to make the play.
It isn't necessarily fair to judge a quarterback's day on two throws. However, with the game still in the balance, Locker made two poor decisions -- precisely why scouts are apprehensive about his readiness for the NFL.
Being based out of the greater Seattle area, I've scouted Locker as much as any one. Hell, I "scouted" his final high school game -- the 3A state championship in which he, then a senior and his Ferndale teammates beat current Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, then a junior, and Prosser. I know Locker's game well and have seen him make huge improvements while at UW.
If he were to leave after this season, he'll be a high draft choice. His physical tools are just too special to ignore, especially considering the questions regarding this senior class of quarterbacks. Perhaps a top ten choice, as I projected in my first 2010 mock draft .
However, if he were to return for his senior season and in doing so tighten up his mechanics, Locker could enter the year as the unquestioned #1 overall prospect.