Jake Locker refers to them as "those guys." They are the draft analysts, with their big boards and their lists, who projected the Washington quarterback as the top NFL prospect at the start of the season and have sent him plunging down their rankings ever since. "I'm being completely honest when I say that where those guys have me ranked doesn't matter because it is not what is important to me right now," he says. "What they say, I just don't pay attention to it."
For almost everyone else, Locker's fall has been, like a car wreck or Lindsay Lohan's meltdown, too cataclysmic to ignore. The 6'3" 230-pounder with the fleet feet to go with the howitzer of an arm was graded to be a top 10 pick in the quarterback-thin 2010 draft, but Locker decided to return for his senior season hoping to further the rebuilding effort under second-year Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian. The 4--6 Huskies and Locker, however, have failed to meet expectations, and some scouts have hinted that Locker (14 TDs, seven interceptions) might fall to the second round.
"There's a lot of talk that he'll go in the second, but I think he still goes late in the first round once he works out for teams," says one NFL director of scouting. "Either way, I think he goes later this year than he would have gone last year." The decision to return for 2010 could end up costing Locker untold millions. Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in April, signed a six-year, $78 million contract.
But Locker's struggles can be blamed, in part, on factors outside his control. He suffered a cartilage injury in his ribs in the sixth game of the season, against Oregon State, and then two games later, against Stanford, that ailment escalated to a hairline fracture. Locker didn't play at Oregon the next week, and in last week's 24--7 victory over UCLA he was clearly hampered by his ribs and completed only 10 of 21 passes for 68 yards. Since the injury, he has not thrown for more than 200 yards in a game and has only one passing touchdown with three interceptions.
"His style of play, making plays in and out of the pocket: He hasn't been healthy enough to do that fully for a big portion of the season," Sarkisian says.
Equally problematic for Locker and Washington has been a porous offensive line that has allowed 16 sacks, the fourth most in the Pac-10. "We haven't protected Jake," Sarkisian says.
The coach believes Locker's draft stock will skyrocket when NFL teams interview him and look closer at the throws he has made under pressure. Locker may believe the same, but now isn't the time to ponder such things. "When the season is over, my goal will be to work and get drafted as high as possible, but at this point my goal is to win these last two games and hopefully win a bowl game," he says. "After that, the draft stuff, what all those guys think about me, it will sort itself out."
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MIKE NELSON/US PRESSWIRE (LOCKER)
TAKE THE JAKE? Sarkisian believes that Locker (left) will fly back up draft boards once teams interview him.