Heading into the 2014 season, most would agree that the largest question mark on the Titans roster is the quarterback position. Entering his 4th year in the league, Jake Locker remains an unknown. And, like most cases in the NFL, fans and media alike are ready to put him into a neat box and move on - bust or franchise QB. Yet, when we actually take the time to study the tape, the answer becomes far more complicated. Locker is unique in that he's shown the ability to flash the potential that got him drafted with the 8th pick in 2011, but still shows a wide variance in terms of execution. It's easy to come away from one game thinking Locker has a future as a top end quarterback, and then watch another and think he has no future in this league.
It's this enigmatic performance that has a fan base divided. As I set out to study Locker's 2013 games, I did so as objectively as possible. Yet, having watched every play from 2013 in detail already, I was admittedly coming from a position of bias. What I expected to find was a QB that flashed pre-injury, and struggled post-injury due to physical limitations. After really combing through the film, I came to a somewhat different conclusion.
At least worth noting here is the fact that Jake Locker's injuries remain a very real concern, perhaps the largest question mark. Whatever the conclusion with Locker, all can agree that his ability is meaningless if he can't stay on the field. These things are not lost on me. For the purpose of this analysis, I was just looking to understand Locker's performance when he actually made it on the field.
Coming away from the review, I think I spent as much - or more - time reconciling what I had just seen into something resembling a coherent thought. Really, as I began working through this post, I was still gathering my opinion. I also found that in an effort to articulate my thoughts, I had captured some 70+ plays that I found interesting for one reason or another. About halfway through my writing, I had 21 GIFs posted, and plenty more I intended to add. No doubt, this would end up causing processing problems for some. As a result, I decided to cut the post up into 4 parts.
This post will be the first of four. The remaining three will go up later this week.
It wasn't planned this way. Procrastination - and a project that proved much more laborious than originally intended - led to this delivery date. The timing seems to work, though. While nothing short of Jake Locker putting together consistent healthy seasons will put our minds at ease, at least we may get a glimpse of what we have at the quarterback position as we begin the 2014 season.
Even among his peers, Jake Locker has shown an ability to do things that make it easy to understand why he was drafted so high. Not only with his arm, but also his legs. A skillset that, if used in entirety, opens options in a playbook that few quarterbacks can provide. Yet, it will be his ability to consistently convert that special skillset into production that will ultimately matter.
Locker has been able to do that at times. This isn't just a case of Jamarcus Russell throwing 60 yards from his knees. Jake has flashed his unique skillset on tape. In this section, we'll take a look at these physical tools.
For the purposes of this discussion, the things that fall under this category will be exclusive to physical capability - Arm Talent and Athleticism.
This is a term that is often overused. Many times, it's used to just describe a "live" arm. Jake has that in spades. But, more specifically, the question is - Can the QB situationally manipulate the ball trajectory and velocity? This was one question in this study that was probably the easiest to answer. Not only does Locker have the strength to drive every throw the NFL requires, but he's also shown the ability to manipulate trajectories in the intermediate game in order to fit the ball into tight spots.
Delanie Walker runs a seam route here. Locker fits the ball in over the linebacker and under the safety. Great ball placement, velocity, and trajectory.
In terms of just sheer ability to throw with distance and velocity, Locker shows he has in spades here. The decision to throw the post against a single high look might be questioned, yet it's hard to argue the result. Perfect trajectory, timing and placement that gives Hunter an opportunity to catch a touchdown pass.
Another throw to Walker. Like the previous one, Locker shows great ability to manipulate trajectory and place the ball only where his receiver can make a play.
Nate runs a go route here. Locker puts just enough touch on the throw to allow Nate to separate, but with adequate velocity so the safety can't make a play.
I don't think you'll find anyone who will question Jake's athletic ability. In a class that included Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, Locker had the 2nd fastest 40 time (Taylor), the 3rd highest vertical leap (Portis, Taylor), 3rd fastest shuttle time (Ponder, Taylor), and the fastest 3 cone time among participants at the NFL Combine that year. In fact, his 40 time and 3 cone time are among the top 10 recorded at the combine since 1999.
Plays like this are arguably the most valuable thing provided by Locker's athleticism. His ability to extend plays, keep eyes downfield, and deliver the ball provides a critical advantage that more traditional pocket passers don't have the luxury of utilizing. Of course, like any tool, it needs to be used correctly, and only when necessary.
While the decision making on this play is questionable (though worth noting they were considerably behind at this point), the athleticism is undeniably special. Locker doesn't like his initial reads He steps up as the outside rusher presses the edge, slides to open space, and then ropes a throw 35 yards as if it were a 5 yard out.
Somewhat of a mixed bag here. The play is intended to illustrate Locker's ability to punish the defense on the ground, but it also highlights his issues with not knowing when to slide. Given that his health is a concern, understanding that long term play is more important than a few extra yards will prove crucial in his maturity process.
Titans run a lead draw here. Jake's speed allows these types of playcalls to be mixed in, creating another dimension the defense must account for.
Not surprisingly, the physical tools Jake posses are a highlight in reviewing his capabilities as a player. As we continue forward, we'll delve more into how these things translate to the field.
Next time, we'll begin with a category that is probably the most polarizing of the bunch - Accuracy.