Wed Apr 07 05:22pm EDT
Earlier this week, we were treated to the first pangs of "darkhorse" hype for Washington, a bandwagon almost wholly dependent on the widespread projections of grandeur for Jake Locker: So goes their senior quarterback, so go the Huskies, as evidenced by the Huskies' descent to 0-12 after Locker suffered a season-ending hand injury in 2008 and their subsequent five-game improvement -- complete with upsets over USC, Arizona and California -- when he returned to take every snap in '09. So far, those projections have come from a handful of pro scouts, especially the ones working for a certain network in Bristol, Conn., who generally can't seem to believe Locker passed up certain riches in this month's draft to return to Seattle for his senior season. Even as Locker was preparing to announce that decision, ESPN's Todd McShay was tabbing him as the No. 1 overall pick, a sentiment McShay's epically coiffed partner in draft hype is already willing to wholeheartedly endorse for next April, senior season be damned (emphasis added):
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., held his annual conference call with reporters today to preview the upcoming draft, and when the conversation briefly veered into the future, Kiper made a strong statement about the future of UW quarterback Jake Locker.
"If you had to ask me right now who is going to be the number one pick in the 2011 draft, I would say it's etched in stone it's going to be Jake Locker," Kiper said. "You can mark that down. Jake Locker, if he's not the number one pick, it's an upset."
A non-ESPN guru, Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, told the Seattle Times that Locker is "considerably more gifted" than Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, almost certainly this year's No. 1 pick when the Rams step to the podium on April 22, and he'd "feel more comfortable" drafting Locker based on "raw talent," "character," and a "super competitive" streak.
That's not bad for a guy who was apparently not given a first-round grade when he submitted his information to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee last winter, and was only an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick by conference coaches. On paper, I pegged Locker after his announcement to return to school as maybe the third or fourth-best quarterback in the Pac-10 last year, decidedly behind Stanford's Andrew Luck, with Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles all matching or exceeding Locker's production in various ways. Unlike the prolific Bradford (or his closest competition in this year's QB crop, Jimmy Clausen, and on down the list through Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Tony Pike), Locker doesn't stand out as a special player on any stat sheets in any way.
NFL scouts, of course, don't make their decisions on paper -- just as baseball scouts don't care that he hasn't played and apparently doesn't plan to play much baseball, Locker's prototypical size/arm/speed, along with last-second scoring drives to beat USC and later take Notre Dame to overtime in South Bend will override occasional issues with accuracy and a mediocre pass efficiency rating. Washington's record, on the other hand, definitely cannot. So goes Locker, so go the Huskies: He threw two interceptions apiece in the blowout losses against Stanford and Oregon and in the last-second heartbreaker at Arizona State, with the team failing to top 20 points in any of them. He was held to a season-low 140 total yards in the blowout loss at Oregon State, adding a pair of garbage time touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pad one of the worst outings of his career. The Huskies were held below 24 points in seven different games, and lost six.
If draftniks' opinions are "etched in stone," then, Locker's legacy at Washington certainly is not, and with this kind of hype, Husky fans have every right to expect production worthy of a No. 1 pick -- 3,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, etc., and (most of all) an actual bowl game, that most modest of rewards, which the Huskies haven't sniffed since Rick Neuheisel was fired seven years ago. The only other first-round quarterback in the last 20 years who failed to guide his team to at least one winning record in the course of his college career was Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt. Locker's a very similar player, but with a far more talented offense at his disposal. If all the pieces are there, it's time he put them all together for the Huskies just once before he goes.