Below is a list of the 2011 NFL Draft class of the Tennessee Titans.
Round 1, Pick 8: Jake Locker
Round 2, Pick 39: Akeem Ayers
Round 3, Pick 77: Jurrell Casey
Round 4, Pick 109: Colin McCarthy
Round 4, Pick 130: Jamie Harper
Round 5, Pick 142: Karl Klug
Round 6, Pick 175: Byron Stingily
Round 7, Pick 212: Zach Clayton
Round 7, Pick 251: Tommie Campbell
Each player has had three seasons to prove himself. Which players are ahead of the curve? Which players remain with the team? Which players have yet to meet their potential?
Let’s begin this series with Jake Locker:
Let’s start with the first 11 picks from that draft. In order from No. 1-11:
- Cam Newton
- Von Miller
- Marcell Dareus
- A.J. Green
- Patrick Peterson
- Julio Jones
- Aldon Smith
- Jake Locker
- Tyron Smith
- Blaine Gabbert
- J.J. Watt
Nine of those 11 players are at least one-time Pro Bowlers. Six of the 11 prospects have playoff appearances. Aldon Smith and Miller have played with Super Bowl representatives. Those nine players enter the 2014-15 season among the top-tier talents at their positions.
Then there’s Locker. After playing sparingly in backup duty during the 2011-12 season, injuries have forced Locker to miss 14 of a possible 32 starts. Some of his 18 starts have come while he was playing with an injured shoulder, leg and/or hip. I’m now left to evaluate and grade a three-year veteran who has endured fewer than 16 healthy starts, some of which came in meaningless games toward the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
Smith and Watt weren’t the only recent Pro Bowlers whom Tennessee missed out on. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley went No. 13. Other first-round Pro Bowlers include defensive end Robert Quinn (No. 14), center Mike Pouncey (No. 15), defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (No. 16) and defensive end Cameroon Jordan (No. 24). Other quarterbacks who’ve enjoyed more success include Andy Dalton (No. 35) and Colin Kaepernick (No. 36).
Drafting Locker hasn’t come with an immediate payoff. Will he make up for it and become the quarterback whom many projected as a potential No. 1 overall selection before he returned to the University of Washington for his senior season? Not unless he can stay healthy. Injury resistance was one of the main knocks on him when he entered the draft. Those fears haven’t subsided.
What’s funny to me is that, unlike most fans, I wasn’t a big fan of the pick. His collegiate resume didn’t impress me. Neither did his game film. Now that more fans are turning against Locker, I’ve been somewhat impressed with what he has shown. Locker was extraordinarily efficient and effective during a four-game stretch when Tennessee started 3-1. His highlight moment came when he orchestrated a 10-play, 94-yard game-winning touchdown drive in a Week 3 victory against the San Diego Chargers. The following week after a hot start versus the New York Jets, Locker would get injured.
Not everything was perfect. Even before that injury, the team was babying their quarterback in an aggressive effort to make sure he made no mistakes. Had he completed a relatively simple slant pass to Kenny Britt in the waning minutes of the Week 2 matchup versus the Houston Texans, Tennessee starts 4-0. Capitalizing on those opportunities is the difference between a mediocre team and a playoff team.
Up to this point, the problem with Locker is that, albeit talented and a hard-working individual, his potential relies on many “ifs.” IF Locker can stay healthy, IF Locker can become more accurate, IF Locker can learn quickly enough in his third offense in as many seasons, IF the ground game can simplify things for him…
So many “ifs.” Is it just wishful thinking?
Back to the grade. There are two ways to grade this pick:
- F (with B+ potential)
- I (with B+ potential)
“I” means incomplete. It’s a grade given to those who haven’t completed enough coursework to earn a failing grade. Suits Locker perfectly. He has potential to become a very good quarterback. But for that to happen, Locker must attend class. Injured Reserve 101 doesn’t come with a promising career afterward. Maybe a minimum-wage backup gig somewhere else.
Locker didn’t flunk out before finishing the course (e.g. Gabbert). Consider this fourth season as a type of final exam. His performance will dictate whether he’s a franchise quarterback or job hunting in 2015.
Grade: I (with B+ potential)
UP NEXT: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA.