This could be it for Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker. Despite some mild progress in 2013, the team declined his 2015 option, effectively making his 2014 season a contract year.
With new head coach Ken Whisenhunt taking over, Locker does appear to be a sitting duck as he enters his final year. In order to spark negotiations for a long-term deal with the team, he will easily have to put forth his best season with the team, while staving off sixth round pick Zach Mettenberger in the process.
That will likely mean winning more games than he ever has, putting up solid numbers and quite obviously staying on the football field.
All of those things haven’t come easily for Locker, who has struggled with pocket play, accuracy and decision-making in his young career. He did seem to be on the right path last year, as he burst out of the gates with a hot start, putting up six touchdowns to no interceptions through the first four weeks.
His solid run even included a game-winning comeback against the San Diego Chargers in week three, as well as a three-touchdown first half against a quality New York Jets pass defense in week four.
With so much money on the line and one year not necessarily being able to tell the whole story. The Titans could easily move on from Locker and pick their own guy in the 2015 NFL Draft.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t be an asset to fantasy football owners in 2014.
It’s true that it’s not all that realistic to expect Locker to suddenly “get it” and be an ace in the pocket, make all the right decisions and have accuracy much better than his career best of a year ago.
To be a QB1, though, he doesn’t have to do all of that. He’ll need to hover somewhere around his 60.7% completion rate from 2013 and he’ll need to stay healthy. Those two things are obvious. Beyond that, he has the size, arm strength and athleticism to give him the personal talent to take his game to another level.
He also has the weapons around him to help him to do so. Kendall Wright has evolved from a one-dimensional burner to a reliable possession guy, Delanie Walker has developed into a solid chain-moving tight end, Nate Washington can make plays down the field and second-year man Justin Hunter could factor in as an improved red-zone option (if not much more).
Add in the impressive Bishop Sankey and the versatile Dexter McCluster in the running game, as well as a beefed up offensive line, and there is enough balance on paper to help Locker be the best he’s ever been.
The good thing is that we saw progress out of Locker a year ago. It was moderate, at best, but it was in a predictable offense with young and/or first year weapons. Still, Locker was playing the best ball of his career and was slowly starting to show life as a starting quarterback.
Beyond his progress as a passer exists his elite rushing ability, as well. It’s still strange how little the Titans have used his speed, but the potential is there for it to assist Locker greatly.
If you extrapolate his passing numbers from the first four weeks through a full 16-game season, Locker could have wound up with roughly 24 passing touchdowns and about 2,884 passing yards. The touchdowns are solid and the yardage is weak, but if you add in his stretched out rushing totals over those first four games (400+ rushing yards and about four rushing scores) Locker would have put up an estimated 275 total fantasy points. If he had stuck around long enough to even put up those numbers, that would have been good for 8th place a year ago, just barely behind Matthew Stafford (279) and ahead of Russell Wilson (270).
That’s pretty nice company. Granted, there is no way in knowing just what type of numbers Locker would have actually put up stemming from those first four games, but the pace isn’t even all that generous. In fact, we did have another small sample size to work off of when he played three more games, which were sandwiched in between his two injuries (hip and foot) that held him to just seven starts in 2013.
If you combine the numbers from all of his starts and stretch them out over a full season, the final numbers are 18 passing scores, 2,870 passing yards, 354 rushing yards and 4.5 rushing scores. That rate brings his passing scores way down, yet he still would have been projected to finish with about 248 fantasy points. Even if you tend to believe this is his more realistic finish over a full season, that still puts him right there with Matt Ryan from a year ago and good for a 15th place finish. His projected interceptions (9) do add a -18 to both totals, but the range he falls in is quite clear, even with a less than generous projection.
This isn’t even factoring the games Locker got hurt in and got knocked out of (he was destroying the Jets in one half before hurting his hip), or how the missed time and injuries themselves may have impacted his play when he returned. This also doesn’t factor how his chemistry with his weapons and momentum in the offense could be affected, either.
The point is, Locker has a lot more fantasy value and upside than many think. He was a legit sleeper going into 2013, but still wasn’t even drafted on average. In the end, that was probably a good thing.
He’s still not being drafted on average going into the 2014 fantasy football season, and that’s probably still suggested. However, Locker is absolutely a player to watch and has the tools necessary to turn into a very viable QB1 in fantasy football.
A huge part of his fantasy success is going to hinge on his health. If he can simply appear in all 16 games, he’s going to have a decent shot at approaching top-15 value. If he can keep progressing, utilize his weapons and make good decisions, he could be even better.