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Is it accurate to say Locker is inaccurate?
Rich Linde, 4 March 2011; Updated 11 March 2011

The answer to the question posed above is an emphatic no.

In my opinion, Jake Locker's alleged accuracy problem is a canard. Obviously, his critics haven't examined the record thoroughly enough; they have the accuracy problem, not Locker.

Along with the data below, Locker's post-graduate appearances in the Senior Bowl, the All-Star Football Challenge and the NFL combine support my contention.

Note that Locker has none of the character issues dogging a couple of his quarterback competitors in the NFL 2011 draft, nor the injury issue surrounding another.

(Editor's note: At the bottom of this article is Locker's response to the accuracy questions, as taken from a transcript provided by the NFL Network; the response was added on 11 March to this article, and his quotes were made subsequent to the original publication of this article, which took place on 4 March.)

Performance at the University of Washington

As a dual-threat quarterback, Locker set a school record for total touchdowns (accounted for) with 82 -- 53 passing and 29 rushing. He holds the school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,856) and the single season record (986, 2007). Locker is second to Cody Pickett in career passing yards (7,583; 2007-2010). In 2010, he led Washington to a victory over Nebraska in the Holiday bowl, the Huskies' first bowl appearance in eight years.

In keeping with his dedication and loyalty to the team, Jake twice won the Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award (2009, 2010), the UW's oldest and most prestigious team honor.

The Willingham era (2007 - 2008) gave birth of the criticism

In his first two years at Washington, caught up in a death spiral that had whirled around Montlake since 2003, Locker played on teams that had a combined record of 4 wins and 21 losses. He completed 48.7% of his passes, with a pass efficiency rating of 104.68. Both years the Huskies ranked last in the conference in total defense, meaning Locker and the offense were playing catch-up most of the time. These two years gave rise to the criticism relating to his passing accuracy, and in my opinion, unfairly so, considering the mediocre support he received from his teammates, the deteriorating state of the Husky nation and the fact he was primarily a running quarterback.

After Locker suffered a season-ending thumb injury in the fourth game of 2008, the backup QB ended up completing just 45.2% of his passes on the season, with a PE of 85.1. In other words, he was less successful than Locker throwing the ball.

Figure 1. Locker's career pass-efficiency rating in his first 16 games (the 2007/2008 seasons, starting at 136.46 and ending at 104.68).

The Sarkisian era (2009 - 2010) refutes the criticism

When Steve Sarkisian assumed the head coaching position, he turned UW away from the spread-option (under Willingham) to the pro-set formation for the most part, meaning Locker, now under center and in the pocket primarily, ran less often than in his first two years at Washington.

In his last two seasons, Locker raised his career passing efficiency from 104.68 to 118.95. He completed 57% of his passes in 24 starts, with a pass-efficiency rating of 127.22, which includes two games with defensive-minded Nebraska. (See Figure 2 below.)

Because Locker's completion percentage slipped from 58.2% in 2009 to 55.4% in 2010, his detractors were quick to question his accuracy once more and his projection as a first-round draft pick.

This criticism is refuted by the data and some mitigating circumstances, in my opinion.

For example, in his last 14 games as a starter, which date back to WSU and Cal in 2009, it is notable that Locker went 9-5 overall and 7-3 in the Pac-10. Throw out the two Nebraska games and Locker's completion percentage rises to 60.52% for the other twelve encounters. In 2010, the Huskies lacked the services of a pass-catching tight end, and fielded six different versions of an offensive line; Locker played with a broken rib in the last three games of the regular season.

Why toss out the Nebraska data from 2010? The Blackshirts, who finished third in the FBS in pass-efficiency defense, smothered the Huskies' receivers, forcing Locker to wisely throw the ball away on a number of occasions. In his two games against the Huskers, Locker went 9 out of 36 for 123 yards, with 1 touchdown and 2 picks. In the 2009 Holiday bowl, highly regarded quarterback Nick Foles of Arizona met a similar fate against Nebraska, going 6 for 20 for 28 yards, with no touchdowns and 1 pick.

Figure 2. Locker's improvement in career passing efficiency over his last 24 games. (104.68 - 118.95). Note the three dips in stats that are outlier with the rest: (1) after the first game with Nebraska; (2) after the OSU game (injury to ribs); and (3) Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl (ranked 3rd in PED in the FBS).
 

Senior Bowl

Criticism notwithstanding, Locker had a most respectable passing-efficiency rating of 142.32 in the Senior Bowl, the best rating of the three quarterbacks playing for the North; a defensive pass interference penalty robbed him of a sure touchdown pass. He completed 60% of his passes on the game.

All-Star Football Challenge

In the 2011 All-Star Football Challenge, Locker and WR Austin Pettis of Boise State won the quarterback/receiver competition, which was a measure of accuracy and delivery as far as the quarterback was concerned. Locker and Pettis beat out the quarterback/receiver combinations of Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Torrey Smith (Maryland), second, and the combination of Andy Dalton (TCU) and Jordan Todman (Connecticut), which finished third.

Mike Shanahan on Locker's accuracy

When people question Locker's accuracy, it is his accuracy from the pocket. He's as accurate as any quarterback in this draft throwing on the move, so says Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins. "He can do some things outside the pocket that most quarterbacks can't do."

Performance at NFL Combine, Indianapolis, Sunday, 2/27/2011

"On Sunday, Jake Locker shined in the three-cone drill, edging Tyrod Taylor and putting up the fastest time by a quarterback this year. Locker had already run a sub-4.6 40 and a top broad jump measurement, but it was the three-cone drill where he came through in a big way. In it, he put a fair amount of distance between himself and Cam Newton, beating out the other top quarterback prospects with ease." -- Brian Floyd, at NFL combine.

"Jake Locker came out and ran a blazing fast 40-yard dash on Sunday at the NFL Combine, but he also put together a complete performance in front of the scouts in attendance. Locker, like most of the top quarterback prospects at the combine, went through throwing drills at Lucas Oil Stadium, throwing the route tree to a variety of different receivers. One of those wide receivers, A.J. Green of Georgia, may just be the top prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft.

"Green had high praise for Locker after the workouts in an interview with NFL Network. Locker said he felt he did well in the workout, but Green had higher praise. Asked to single out a quarterback in his group, which included Locker and Ryan Mallett, Green was quick to point out Locker helped himself and threw the ball well. In fact, he said Locker has shown marked improvement and put on a show in front of the scouts on Sunday." -- Brian Floyd.

"QB, Washington: Locker had a phenomenal workout Sunday. His work in the agility drills showcased his athleticism, as he finished the day among the top performers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill for QBs. While most expected him to shine in those exercises, Locker was surprisingly one of the standouts in throwing drills. He showed accuracy and touch, while his footwork looked vastly improved from his erratic performance at the Senior Bowl. He set up with better quickness and body control at the top of his drops, which resulted in more consistent and accurate throws. He threw the speed out with excellent timing and zip to both sides. His touch on the post corner and go-route were also impressive. Although his workout must be kept in perspective given his accuracy issues throughout his career, his rapid improvement from the Senior Bowl will force scouts to evaluate if he is worthy of going in the first round." -- Bucky Brooks, NFL.com

Rob Rang, NFLscout.com: Thinks Locker helped himself at the Combine with a "pretty solid performance'' during the throwing session, particularly in that he "made his most accurate throws on the most difficult throws that the scouts want him to make, those being the deep outs, the fade and the deep ball, the post corner routes. Those were also the final three throws, so it was like he was building momentum as the practice went on.''

Locker responds to accuracy question: (Updated 11 March 2011)

The following are quotes from Locker, as provided by the NFL network relating to his appearance on March 9, 2011. The following quotes appeared on Bob Condotta's blog (the Seattle Times) and were made subsequent to the publication of this article.

"I'm very proud of what I accomplished while I was at school and I don't believe the numbers are indicative of the success that we had and how far we came as a program, and myself as an individual. I'm excited about the opportunity to play at the next level and I know that I will be a more accurate passer than that and I can [be]."

What he believes to be untrue criticism: "The accuracy. I think that obviously the numbers aren't where they'd want to be but I believe that I truly am a more accurate passer than that. That's my goal throughout this process, to prove that in the Senior Bowl and then to the Combine and now to my Pro Day and individual workouts, that I can make the throws that I'll be asked to make and I can make it on a consistent basis."

 "A lot of people ask me why I went down [in completion percentage] from my junior year to my senior year, and I think that the biggest thing [is] I believe it's because I was a smarter player [my senior year]. I threw the ball way more than I did a year before, maybe didn't force the ball into holes where it got intercepted or was a tight completion but didn't give us a better chance to have success..."

See our notes on the two Nebraska games above.

Also see Bob Condotta's blog, "Some quotes, video of Locker on NFL Network."

 

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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