SEATTLE — It was against California a year ago that Jake Locker turned in the performance that did the most to create his status as an apparent No. 1 draft pick whenever he decided to turn pro.
It’s against Cal this week that he has to begin to earn that reputation back, according to one draft expert.
Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, published an updated prediction this week for the first round of the 2011 Draft, as he has done regularly throughout the season.
But for the first time, he did not include Locker’s name, saying that he thinks there is now a serious question whether the Washington quarterback will go in the first round, let alone be considered as a top pick, which at one point seemed a given.
“I don’t know anymore,” Rang said Tuesday when asked if he thinks Locker will be taken in the first round. “I have argued long and hard that he would be, and I think there is still a chance that he will because he’s got so much upside. But at some point you’ve got to see him be more consistent with his accuracy.”
Rang says his evaluation isn’t just his own but also is based on what he hears in talking to NFL scouts.
“If he had come out last year, there is no way of saying he would be a better NFL player,” Rang said. “But the belief then was more widely held in the scouting community that he would someday be great than it is right now. Now there are a lot of concerns, and it’s those concerns that are going to drop him down.”
Rang says most of those concerns involve Locker’s passing accuracy. Locker tantalized scouts last season when he improved his accuracy markedly, completing 58.4 percent, roughly 10 points better than his combined average his first two years.
He capped off his 2009 season with a stunning performance in a 42-10 win over Cal, completing 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns without an interception while also rushing 14 times for 77 yards.
It was after that game that speculation grew that Locker could be a high pick if he declared for the 2010 draft. Locker, however, quashed the talk quickly when he decided less than two weeks later to return for his senior season.
Still, the Cal game resonated, and when draft experts like Mel Kiper Jr., of ESPN.com later made comments that it was “etched in stone” that Locker would be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft, it was that performance that was on the top of the mind.
In fact, Locker is completing 55.4 percent of his passes this season (148 of 267), down from 58.4 last year, and nowhere near the goal of 65 to 68 percent Washington coach Steve Sarkisian set before the year began.
Some around the program say there are other reasons for Locker’s decreased completion percentage. Notably: injuries and defections from the receiving corps.