Jake Locker has taken a noticeable step backwards this season and it has left many to wonder why he didn’t enter the 2009 NFL Draft. Some members of the media claimed that he was a lock to be the first-overall selection, yet he returned to play another season for the struggling Washington Huskies.
The first thing to remember is, Locker as not guaranteed to go No. 1. In fact, the NFL advisory committee gave him a 2nd-round grade. Just because certain members of the media love his skills does not mean the NFL feels the same way. Quite frankly, I would have been shocked if the Rams selected Locker over Sam Bradford.
But regardless of what could have happened, Locker didn’t leave. So now we have to wonder: was it the right decision?
At the time I applauded Locker for staying in the school. I did not believe he was ready for the NFL. If the Rams had selected him first overall and thrown him into the fire as they have with Bradford, I’m afraid we may have been looking at a Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith-like debacle.
This isn’t just my opinion, however. There are stats to support the theory that Locker was destined for failure – and may still be doomed once he does finally enter the NFL.
From 2002 to 2007 (I cut it off at 2007 to allow each quarterback at least three full seasons) 18 quarterbacks were selected in the 1st round. Of those 18, seven had either a completion percentage below 60 or a yards-per-attempt average below 8.0 in their final collegiate season. Check out the chart to the right to see the names that fall into this not-so-elite group.
Of those seven players I think it’s safe to say that all but Jay Cutler failed to become quality NFL quarterbacks – a bust rate of 85.7 percent
Of the 11 who were both both thresholds, I’ll conservatively call five players busts – a rate of 45.5 (even if you want to say six, the rate is still significantly lower than 85.7)
Now this list shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Meeting both thresholds does not guarantee NFL success – just ask Matt Leinart. But it is clear that players who fail to meet these numbers are at much greater risk of failing to adjust to the speed of the game in the NFL.
Now the Locker apologists will quickly point out that Washington was a terrible football team last year. Surely Locker would put up those numbers if he was surrounded by more talent. Well, Locker’s yards per attempt ranked 63rd in the nation last year, behind other quarterbacks on very mediocre teams such as Thaddeus Lewis (Duke), Tate Forcier (Michigan) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State).
So despite his struggles this year, I do believe Locker made the right call by returning to school. The NFL isn’t a place to be learning the fundamentals of running of offense. If you can’t produce above average statistics at the college level, it is highly unlikely that your numbers will dramatically improve in the NFL. Being surrounded by better players does not make up for the fact that the defense also gets significantly more talented. And a further issue for players like Locker is that they are rarely drafted into winning organizations. If a team drafts a quarterback in the 1st round, it is almost always because they are rebuilding.
Someday Locker may become an Pro Bowler, but I will always stand by my assessment that he is learning more about playing quarterback under Steve Sarkisian than he would by suiting up for a team like the Rams, Browns or Bills this season.