Jake Locker has become a dynamic weapon with room to grow.
There is no quarterback competition. Whether by eye test or by results, Jake Locker is clearly the better player. In his first year as the starting quarterback he has consistently been the difference maker in games. He's outplayed most members of his QB draft class (save for probably Newton and Dalton) and if things go as we hope they will, he's going to get better with age. When he's been healthy, there's just no denying that he makes the team a lot better offensively. But I was curious as to just how much better.
Here are Locker's passing stats on the year (click to enlarge).
from left to right, G, ATT, CMP, CMP%, YDS, YPA, TD, LNG, INT, FMBL, QBR*, RAT
Here are Hasselbeck's.
He's really not having a terrible year. He's played well against some of the better teams he's faced this year (Pittsburgh instantly comes to mind) and has been about as reliable as you can expect a backup quarterback can be. I know that when it's all said and done, I'll look back on his time as a Titan with good feelings because of his play last season and his willingness to step aside when he knew it was time. Moving on!
Looking at what they've done so far, you'd probably hesitate to instantly write off Hasslebeck given that he has a higher completion percentage and more yards/touchdowns, but obviously you get a better picture when you see that he has also played in three (really four, Locker attempted 2 passes in the Houston game) more games than Locker and that the extra production is kind of marginal based on that. I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to argue that Hasselbeck has been the better player because he completes 3% more of his passes. While I can't find the exact numbers, I'd bet my bottom dollar that Locker has definitely been attempting, on average, longer passes than Hasselbeck.
In any case, the average fan looks at these two and sees that Locker's been the more efficient and more prolific passer and knows that he's been more effective as a runner. The hard numbers are as follows: Locker averages 225 yards a game through the air and 25 on the ground. Hasselbeck averages 170 through the air and around 5 on the ground. I'll admit, I expected Locker to be a little better through the air, but I think that this still shows the type of discrepancy we're dealing with here.
Then we have that old adage about the running game opening up with a strong passing game, but I don't think that this is going to be a great category for making a point. Locker's first few cracks at being the starter directly coincided with CJ's "rush shaking off" stage. He really didn't explode until the Pittsburgh game, Hasselbeck's first start of the season, however I think it's important to note that he absolutely shredded one of the best run defenses in the league with Locker in last week. However much that has to do with what QB lines up under center and how much of it is just CJ being amazing is impossible to tell. I don't think that total team offense is going to help us settle this argument, though. We should have a better idea at the end of the season.
In times like this, I like to turn to Football Outsiders to throw some extra math on this.
To make things easier, here is how the categories are divided on FO.
This is how Locker stacks up. Overall, he hasn't been terribly impressive, according to FO. Conventional stats show the huge perceived difference, but advanced stats tell a different story.
It's very important to notice that Locker is still clearly the better QB, his DVOA (which measures efficiency per-play, taking the fact that Locker only took two snaps in the Houston game out of the equation) is nearly twice as good as Hasselbeck's. I think what this tells us is that there's still clearly one man for the job in Tennessee, but perhaps he hasn't played as well as we'd like to imagine. I think that it's probably a combination of this and that Jake Locker refuses to be measured. The effect that he's had on the offense this year has been undeniable, even if the numbers don't necessarily think so. Football is a weird game. One play can change an entire season. Purely judging on numbers, especially over 13 games, is a dangerous game to play. It doesn't mean that they don't have value, but it means that there may be something flawed about how they measure things. You and I both see how much smoother that offense runs with Locker at the helm. We watched him fall down, get up, and scamper down the field for a 20 yard pick up against Miami last week. Plays like that only go in the stat book as "20 yard gain", they don't take into account the fact that that play would have been an absolute disaster for most other teams. I think there is one thing that is certain about Jake Locker, we've gotten a glimpse, but the best is yet to come.