Two years ago in April, the NFL draft unfolded in a way that would forever have Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker compared to each other. Or so I thought.
The Tennessee Titans, under new management and coaching, took their first player with the 8th overall pick and selected Washington QB Jake Locker. Less than 20 minutes later, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded with Washington to move up 6 slots and take Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall selection, just 2 spots behind Locker.
You’ll remember that going into this draft, Cam Newton was the first overall pick, and after that Gabbert was the consensus #2 QB. The rest, Locker, Ponder and Dalton were considered mid to late first round picks or early second round picks. The problem was the extreme number of teams that had QB as their #1 need.
The Titans blew up the analysts by taking Locker, who was considered a project with accuracy issues as the 8th overall. Jacksonville, seeing this, traded picks to Washington to make sure they got the consensus #2 guy in Gabbert. With only an offensive tackle between them on the draft board, playing in the same division, and with the hope of struggling franchises squarely on their shoulders, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert were destined for careers of comparison.
Gabbert got the nod early as many QB’s in the current era do. Throw them to the wolves and they’ll learn as they go. We may take some lumps, but in today’s NFL, you can’t take the time for your first round pick to ride the pine. On the other hand Locker did exactly that. Without an offseason of preparation coupled with a more than qualified veteran in Hasselbeck, the new Titans regime elected to groom Locker and allow him to learn behind the ex-Seahawk. Old school.
There has been a lot of debate over whether you should start rookie quarterbacks or bring them along slowly. In years past it was uncommon to start a rookie quarterback. However with impatient owners and coaches ready for the quick hook, it’s a rarity to do that these days. Before you rattle off a handful rookie signal callers that have found success in the league, let me name a few that sat for a year or more. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Brett Farve, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and oh yeah, Steve McNair. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Just as the Titans are ready to turn the reins over to Locker, it looks as though the Jaguars are taking the controls out of the hands of Gabbert. He looked less than stellar in his first year, but was said to be making strides in the right direction during the off season. That hasn’t been the case as poor throwing decisions and even worse pocket presence has Gabbert ranked one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks with a career passer rating of 70.1.
Locker, on the other hand won the starting spot from veteran Matt Hasselbeck during training camp. He gave Titans fans a lot to be hopeful for during his relief efforts in 2011 and has shown his ability to make plays with both his feet and arm during games this season. After a dismal first half of the season, it looks as though the veteran behind Gabbert will take over, just as Locker is returning from an injury and leading his team both in play and heart.
While we haven’t seen a lot of Locker yet, these two quarterbacks are clearly trending in opposite directions. And unfortunately for this Titans fan, the rivalry I thought we were destined for may be over before it even began.