Trying to decipher the dozens of reports coming out of the 2011 Senior Bowl can be quite tricky - particularly when the 2011 NFL Draft prospect involved is a high-profile name like Washington quarterback Jake Locker. It's rather like using reviews from dozens of your friends, as well as critics, to decide whether you're going to go see the latest must-see film; you'll get a degree of agreement, but also conflict on key points that could ultimately sway your decision.
With a film, however, you can spend a few bucks and a couple of hours to go form your own opinion. Once you've seen it, it's done. With scouting reports, you can "see it yourself," but in the end, you're still trying to project what you see and hear to some mysterious future. NFL Draft scouting isn't just about what you see; it's also about what could be. The stakes are clearly higher, and for NFL fans, there can be a great deal of angst - and thus, controversy and debate - surrounding raw prospects like Locker.
Still, the attempt needs to be made to understand Locker's strengths and flaws, and try to project the senior into your favorite team's colors. What follows is an attempt at merging the reports of several well-respected football analysts into one cohesive whole; like the movie reviews, you'll see points of unanimous agreement, as well as conflicting reports in key areas. How does that affect Locker's draft stock?
Let's start with the basics - Locker's mechanics and technique, which he's honed for two years with Steve Sarkisian and his pro-style offense.
Doug Farrar (Shutdown Corner) was impressed with Locker's mechanics and technique early in the week, saying "...whether in shotgun or under center, he looked poised and natural dropping back, rolls out easily, and throws out of motion as well as any quarterback I've seen in a long time. Locker also has the quickest release and a compact motion that will serve him very well in the NFL."
Scott Wright (DraftCountdown.com) also added on Wednesday that "Locker looked like he refined his footwork and technique a bit from Day 1".
Wes Bunting (National Football Post) agreed in general with those two opinions, but brought up mechanical flaws, as well: "Plus, his balance in his base is really poor when asked to set and throw from center, causing him to struggle to properly drive off his back foot and accurately deliver the football."
Typically, if a quarterback is mechanically sound, he doesn't have problems delivering the football accurately. The consensus on Locker, however, is that accuracy is his biggest weakness, despite earning a moderate amount of praise for his mechanics.
Tony Pauline (DraftInsider.net) didn't sound particularly fond of Locker on any of the first three practice days: "... for every one good pass he would toss there would be four or five terrible throws. Was high of the mark and constantly had receivers reaching backwards to grab the ball."
Rob Rang (NFLDraftScout.com) also didn't like Locker's accuracy: "... he struggled again to connect consistently with receivers while standing in the pocket, coming up short on multiple throws to the wide side of the field. It is clear the Pac-10 star passer is aiming or pressing, trying to be perfect on every throw instead of allowing his athleticism and arm strength to shine through."
Farrar, Wright, Bunting and ESPN's Todd McShay all mentioned accuracy issues, as well. This is the one area in which a group consensus was reached.
At least two of the columnists featured here mentioned Locker's struggles in deciphering very basic coverages.
Said Rang: "Senior Bowl rules dictate that defenses can only run Cover One and Cover Three schemes, meaning either a single safety or three-deep looks are allowed. A fifth-year senior shouldn't be fooled by simple coverage."
Bunting brought up the coverages as well: "However, even vs. seeing exclusively cover one and cover three looks the past three days, he just doesn't seem to trust his eyes. The game seems to be moving too fast for him at times, he's not overly decisive with the football and his eye level too often drops at the first sign of pressure."
McShay (ESPN), however, saw Locker get more comfortable with the football as the week progressed: "He was more decisive, he was more comfortable in the pocket, and he just looked like a confident quarterback that knew what he wanted to do with the football, and he was throwing more accurately."
One of the most coveted abilities in a quarterback these days is the ability to keep plays alive and make throws from outside of the pocket. (Why? See Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV.) Here, again, we get mixed reviews on Locker.
Wright saw glimpses of brilliance: ""On one particular play during 12-on-12's early in the session, Locker rolled to the left and threw a strike. That was the type of play that keeps scouts salivating about what Locker could potentially be."
Pauline, perhaps Locker's biggest critic this week, liked what he saw here, too: "Shows a nice arm and effective throwing on the move..."
Rang brought up one play as evidence of Locker's ability on the move: "Among his highlights: A rollout to his right, throwing to Marshall tight end Lee Smith for a long gain..."
Here, again, we have a degree of consensus: Locker is at his best when he's on the move, whereas when he's in the pocket, he struggles to make accurate throws down the football field.
A huge factor for NFL teams is whether or not prospects on the field take to their first NFL coaching and improve throughout the week. So... did Locker improve throughout the week?
McShay thinks so: "We saw each and every day, Locker got better. His accuracy improved, and I think as a mid-first-round draft pick, Locker will be better off than if he's drafted first overall."
On day one, Wright was harsh, saying of Locker "Overall, if I had to give Locker a grade for his performance today I'd say it was either a C+ or a B-." By Wednesday? "For his first two days Locker played at about a B- level but today he was a solid B+, if not an A-."
Pauline, however, didn't see much tangible improvement: "Slightly better yet still struggling. High of the mark and still has receivers getting vertical to grab the ball."