MOBILE, Ala. – Jake Locker showed up for Senior Bowl week with the mindset that he has nothing to lose and nothing to hide. Which shouldn’t be all that surprising considering his surprising decision little more than a year ago.
In early January 2010, with Sam Bradford’s surgically repaired shoulder still a big question mark, Locker was being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. But Locker decided to stay in school, pursue his degree and try to get the struggling Washington Huskies program back to respectability.
Locker got his degree – in history. After a 0-12 season in 2008, the Huskies are at least relevant once again after finishing 7-6 this season following a big Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska.
But Locker’s numbers went down in 2010. Missing one game with a broken rib, he threw for 535 fewer yards than he did in 2009 and threw four fewer touchdown passes. As the predraft process hits high gear this week at the Senior Bowl, no one is talking about Locker as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick this year. But can Locker still be the first quarterback taken in the 2011 draft?
That’s what he’s shooting for.
“Obviously,” Locker said. “I think if you ask anybody here if they want to be the first guy taken in their position, that’s what you’re working toward. The way I approach it is I’m going to get better every day. And I’m going to do my best to outwork the other guy every day. And if that’s enough, it’s enough.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL, and I’m going to make the most of any opportunity I’m put in, or any situation I’m given.”
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett all made headlines in recent weeks by deciding to turn pro early. Locker’s appearance at the Senior Bowl underscores his intention to show pro scouts that he’s still a viable alternative and that he has nothing to hide.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything that I want to keep from people,” Locker said. “I’m confident in who I am as a person and a player, and I wanted to show that this week.”
Underclassmen who turn pro aren’t eligible for the Senior Bowl, but it’s unusual for seniors who have top 15 potential – particularly at the quarterback position – to participate. The thinking is that elite prospects can only hurt their draft stock.
And with a new “playbook” and different terminology thrown at them in a week’s time, it’s easy enough for a quarterback to have trouble with timing, or to simply look bad at times.
“But I think the people that are evaluating you know that,” Locker said. “They understand what this game is about and what the players go through. I hope that they take out of it that I love the game of football. That I’m going to play any opportunity I get.”
Gabbert seems to be the presumptive No. 1 quarterback in the draft, which some find amazing.
“He’s a good quarterback,” said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who now heads the GM Jr. NFL Draft scouting service. “People talk about him being in the top 10 – he’s not an elite prospect to me. … I don’t know where the hype is (from).”
When all is said and done, Lande said he’s probably going to give Gabbert a high second-round grade. If enough NFL teams feel the same way, that could open the door for Locker to become the first quarterback taken.
“Locker physically, there’s no doubt,” Lande said. “But accuracy-wise, he’s terrible. I don’t think he’s a first-round quarterback in any way, shape or form.”
“This process is still a couple months long,” Locker said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that happen throughout that time. And so just being consistent with who you are and how you prepare for it, I think, is going to be the most important thing.”