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Locker’s draft status appears to have grown

Thu., April 28, 2011

Jake Locker’s offseason journey to this week’s NFL draft has like the joke about the two campers who come upon a bear. When one of the campers begins tying his shoes, and the second camper questions his ability to outrun a bear, he responds: “All I have to do is outrun you.”

Locker has spent a good part of the past 3 1/2 months not necessarily trying to win over 32 NFL teams. All he has to do is win over one of them to prove that he’s worthy of a first-round pick.

“Everybody wants a guy to be liked by all 32 teams and every analyst on every channel,” University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after Locker worked out for NFL scouts on March 31, “but the reality is you only need one team to like you.”

Locker’s long-time dream of bring drafted by an NFL team is nearly assured of coming to fruition tonight. And as the draft draws closer, it appears more likely that a first-round call is in Locker’s near future.

A sampling of the most well-known online mock drafts included Locker in seven of eight first-round projections. Only did not include Locker among its top 32 picks. The other mock drafts ranged from Pro Football Weekly projecting him to go to Tennessee at No. 8 to Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, who had Minnesota taking Locker 28th after trading up from Round 2.

Even ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who anointed Locker as the No. 1 overall pick this time last year but later dropped him all the way out of the first round, has the UW quarterback back among the top 32 picks – to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25.

Locker used to profess to be a bit of a draftnik, having watched the annual event while trying to project which player would go where. But when it comes to the future of Jake Locker, he says: “This is one guy I won’t guess on.”

Locker worked out for representatives of 17 NFL scouts at the UW Pro Day late last month, then he went on a series of private workouts that reportedly included the Seahawks, New England, San Francisco, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Denver. But guessing his future destination isn’t easy.

The NFL lockout – lifted by a judge for the time being – had prevented quarterback-hungry teams like San Francisco, Minnesota, Washington and Arizona from tapping the free-agent market and has also hamstrung teams like the Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals, whose quarterback situations are unsettled. Even some of the NFL’s most quarterback-rich teams – namely Indianapolis and New England – could be in the market for a rookie because their stars are aging.

That leaves Locker with an unknown future – not that he’s had much time to ponder it. Since the end of the UW season, the quarterback has been on a hamster cycle of workouts, beginning with the Senior Bowl in January and continuing through the NFL Combine, Pro Day and the individual workouts.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Locker, who delayed his inclusion in the NFL draft by returning for his senior year. “It’s something I dreamed about since I was a little kid, so I’m going to make the most of it.”

After Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton, both of whom could be top-10 picks, there doesn’t seem to be another quarterback with the skills of Locker. Six-foot-7 Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett most looks the part and probably has the best arm, but recent character questions may have dropped him out of the first round. TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick are proven winners, but neither of them has Locker’s raw ability. Florida State’s Christian Ponder has injury questions.

And so Locker, despite his .400 winning percentage and .540 career completion percentage, seems to have risen above most of the pack.

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