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Locker's NFL future on the line at combine

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Jake Locker is right: It's "a really good year to be a good quarterback." Unfortunately, it's not a really good year to be Jake Locker.

Last year was.

But last year Jake Locker screwed the pooch. By staying in school ... by waiting for the 2011 draft instead of declaring himself eligible a year earlier ... Locker cost himself millions of dollars and maybe, just maybe, a career as an NFL quarterback.

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All I know is that his decision hurt him, and it's at this weekend's NFL scouting combine where we find out how much.

Basically, Locker needs to restore his credibility as a bona fide pro prospect, and that's not exactly a revelation. While Locker said he didn't regret his decision to stay in school because he's "more prepared for the process" now than he would have been a year ago, he also knows that a year ago he would've been a first-round draft choice and a possible top-15 pick.

Now there's no chance. So where exactly does Jake Locker fit in?

"I think it all depends on this process," said one head coach who asked not to be identified. "It's up to him. He's athletic, and he can run, so there are some teams that are going to be enamored with that. If he runs well here, shows an aptitude and throws well, people are going to fall in love with him. And then he could go from, oh, say, a fifth-or-sixth-round guy to a third. Or maybe a second."

Pardon me, a fifth or sixth? That's not a drop in someone's stock. It's a sell-off. It's also a barometer of how far Locker's value has plummeted in one season.

If he entered last year's draft he might have been the second quarterback taken, but now there's no telling. As our unnamed coach said, it's up to Locker, but let's be honest here: If he doesn't improve on his Senior Bowl practices he might be looking at a third-day selection.

"It's a tricky evaluation," said Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, "because it's just like our team last year. When you’re evaluating our team it was 5-11 and players were playing differently. I think it's the same way you have to look at Jake and how he played at Washington. It was a different team and a different set of circumstances. But you have to look at his body of work. You have to look at what he did in the past and what he did last year.

Jake Locker knows he would have been a first-round draft choice and a possible top-15 pick a year ago. (Getty Images)  
Jake Locker knows he would have been a first-round draft choice and a possible top-15 pick a year ago. (Getty Images)  
"Really, what's important is your evaluation of him in this type of situation [the combine], whether it's an interview, whether you're talking to him about football or whether it's on the field where you're seeing him do some of these drills. And that's what critical -- his ability to be able to process an NFL-type of offense and see how he's going to react on the field. This is not something you can decide after watching 11 or 12 games from last year. It's more involved than that."

Lucky for Locker because his performance the last 11 or 12 games was, frankly, not so good. Of course, neither was the play of the Huskies before they -- and Locker -- rallied down the stretch, with Washington winning its last four, including its first bowl appearance since 2002.

But remember what Whisenhunt said: Look at the body of work. Locker didn't improve last season. He took a step backward. His yards were down. His completion percentage was down. His touchdowns were down. Bottom line: He wasn't the quarterback he had been, with one coach at this week's NFL scouting combine so down on Locker suggesting he might have a better chance of making it in major-league baseball than the NFL.

I don't know about that. What I do know is that Jake Locker is not discouraged and insists he feels "a lot better after playing with the coaches I did and [in] the system that I did." And that's great. But he also knows the score, and what he knows is that he better show a lot better this weekend than he did last year.

He will have the opportunity. Locker said he plans to do everything here except lift weights, and he should. He has something to prove -- namely, that he's more the quarterback we saw two years ago than he is the guy who struggled through last season -- and good luck.

"Is it difficult being here and hearing people point out the flaws and make the criticisms?" he was asked.

"No," said Locker, "I think it's stuff that's fixable, and I'm working on it. Just trying to get better every day ... I'm a football player, and that's what my focus has been. Football is where my heart is. I love the game. I love playing the game. And as long as I have an opportunity to play football, I'm going to."

Good for him. Now he must compel someone -- anyone -- to give him that shot. It's your move, Jake, and make the most of it. Because your future depends on it.

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