Jake Locker didn’t cost himself millions of dollars when he put off the National Football League a little more than a year ago.
The University of Washington’s senior quarterback cost himself millions of dollars nine months later, when Nebraska’s defense spent a fall afternoon making him look like, at best, an undrafted invite to an NFL training camp.
Locker will finally get his chance to make amends – and possibly earn back a few of the greenbacks he lost along the way – on Thursday in San Diego. But if you think Locker is champing at the bit to win back some bucks by husking the Cornhuskers next week, you don’t know Jake Locker.
“We’ll have a good game plan in place, and it’s just up to us to go out, do our best job of executing it and playing hard,” he said when asked about getting another shot at Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
So there’s no extra motivation to put on a better face this time out?
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us,” he said with a shrug, “and I’m really looking forward to it.”
While Locker seems genuinely uninspired by the draft talk, scouts will tell you that his second chance against one of the top defenses in the country might have significance in terms of his proverbial NFL stock.
“The sense is that if he is successful, he could boost his stock,” said Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for CBS Sports. “But I don’t believe he could hurt it too much. Scouts are cognizant of how Nebraska’s physical defensive tackles dominated the line of scrimmage (in the last meeting) and that their corners are very, very good. … Scouts who watched the last game realize Jake Locker didn’t have a chance.”
One week from today, Locker will re-live the biggest challenge of his senior season. Nebraska ranks seventh in the nation in pass defense, allowing 159.9 yards per game, and is one of only three NCAA teams to hold opposing passers to less than 50 percent in completion percentage. The Cornhuskers have first-team All-America cornerback Prince Amukamara, two second-teamers (defensive tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David) and third-team safety Eric Hagg.
The last time Locker played the Cornhuskers, it resulted in gridiron disaster. He completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards while throwing two interceptions.
Once considered by some to be the potential No. 1 pick in April’s draft, Locker saw his stock drop markedly after that game. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. moved his projected No. 1 pick to No. 8. By mid-October, he’d dropped Locker to No. 16.
By mid-November, CBS’s Rang had dropped Locker out of the first round altogether.
But Rang said this week that Locker’s performance against Nebraska, in retrospect, wasn’t as bad as it seemed because of the way the Cornhuskers rattled opposing quarterbacks all season.
“It’s a game that served as a symbol for Jake Locker’s falling stock,” Rang said. “Scouts who’ve watched him over the years know that there are areas of concern in Jake’s game that have manifested in a lot of other games over time.”
Rang is among those draft experts who don’t necessarily believe that Locker needs a good game next week to move back into Round 1 of the April draft.
“When all is said and done, he’ll probably creep back up into the first round,” Rang said. “He’s still got the Senior Bowl and the (scouting) combine. He’s going to dazzle people; his athletic ability is going to knock their socks off. Everything that people (locally) have watched and kind of gotten used to, some people will be seeing it for the first time.”
In a live chat conducted earlier this month, ESPN’s Kiper said that Locker could atone for the Nebraska game with a solid performance in the bowl.
“If he can have a good bowl game and good Senior Bowl week, that would help,” Kiper said in a Dec. 9 internet chat. “This is a rematch against the team that really started his downward spiral.”
Locker said after the Apple Cup win against Washington State that he hasn’t once second-guessed his decision to put off his draft eligibility, while father Scott Locker summed up the family’s view on the situation by saying: “The truth is, money doesn’t make people happy. Living life makes people happy.”
Jake Locker isn’t thinking about future contracts so much as he is the Cornhuskers these days. And when it comes to Nebraska’s game plan, he knows one thing.
“They’re the same football team,” he said. “They have no reason to change; they’ve been successful all year.”
Nebraska might not change. But if Locker is going to earn back some money, he might have to.