It seems crazy now. You might not even remember it; nobody seems to. But Jake Locker was Andrew Luck before Andrew Luck was Andrew Luck. The former University of Washington quarterback, at the tender age of 24, has already lived through the hype machine and lived to tell about it. This is the best thing that could have happened to him, because now no one remembers ‘Jake Locker, Can’t Miss Prospect.’ Now He’s ‘Jake Locker, Let’s See What the Kid Can Do.’
In the 2010 draft, Jake Locker was widely considered to be the number one overall pick. Adam Schefter tweeted that an NFL GM had told him that Locker was a “bigger, taller, right-handed version of Steve Young.” Mel Kiper Jr. stated that even if Locker stayed for his senior season at Washington , he would be the number one overall pick in 2011. The hype machine had officially begun to chew up Jake Locker before he had even taken a snap in the NFL.
Jake Locker did decide to stay his senior season and had a severely disappointing one. While his arm strength remained and his athletic scrambling ability remained second to none, he began to make “poor decisions,” the kiss of death in NFL draft parlance. He threw more interceptions and made costly mistakes in big moments. His 2011 draft stock was rumored to be slipping into the second or even third round.
How in the span of one year did a can’t-miss NFL QB turn into a third round pick? He didn’t; it was only the expectations for him that shifted downward.
Of course, that doomsday appraisal was way overblown, and Locker was picked with the eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2011 draft. In the preseason, he immediately showed flashes of raw brilliance. In spot starts during the regular season, often replacing the injured or ineffective Matt Hasselbeck, Locker threw for a sterling 542 yards, four TDs, no interceptions, and a 99.4 QB rating. He showed glimpses of promise, but that’s all he was allowed to show. Now, as we head into the 2012 season, Jake Locker is about to get a chance to show a heck of a lot more.
As I mentioned earlier, all pressure is off of Locker to succeed. He wasn’t the number one overall pick. He isn’t Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. He won’t be expected to come in on day one and put the franchise on his back. In many ways, his disappointing senior season at Washington was the best thing that ever happened to him. It allowed him to follow more of a natural progression for young quarterbacks. Instead of being taken first overall and thrust into a starting position he wasn’t ready for, Locker got to sit behind a cagey vet for a season before seizing the reins. It’s ideal.
Locker showed last season in the small windows of opportunity that he received that he can be a good, possibly great, quarterback in the NFL. But the team won’t know until they try. They know what they have with Hasselbeck. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Locker represents hope for the future, but why stash that hope on the bench if he’s ready now? Titans fans should get ready for a new era of football. With Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright back on the field and Jake Locker under center, this team suddenly became a whole lot more dynamic. Locker may not be the football wunderkind he was once hyped to be, but he may be something even better and more long-lasting: a solid, productive NFL quarterback.