Jake Locker’s decision to return for his senior was derided by many. No longer.
The Tennessee Titans took the former Washington quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick, providing an early jolt to the NFL draft Thursday night.
Not that Locker was staring at the TV waiting to hear his name.
“I was just kind of hanging out trying to buy some time, make time go a little faster,” Locker said. “I got the call from the Nashville area code there and was just hoping that that was what it was for.”
Locker was likely the most scrutinized and debated prospect entering this year’s draft. Questions about his accuracy were trumped by assurances about his character.
But the self-proclaimed draft experts whiffed on Locker’s placement. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who said last season Locker was a lock to be the No. 1 pick if he left as a junior, slated Locker at 12th overall.
ESPN’s Todd McShay had Locker falling to 38th overall in the second round. Profootballweekly.com had Locker going 25th to the Seahawks.
“As a competitor, you want to get drafted as high as possible,” Locker said. “I wanted to go as high as I could.
“I did not want to come up with the expectations and expect to go in the top 10, expect to go even in the first day. I was very happy with how this process went for me. I felt really good about it and I knew that I had put myself in a good situation coming into the draft.”
An accurate Pro Day workout at Husky Stadium in late March likely upped Locker’s draft stock. Considerations made about his supporting cast during his four playing years at Washington also seemed to help.
Tennessee was at Locker’s Pro Day workout at Dempsey Indoor and stayed late after it ended, then worked him out a second time.
“We were ecstatic when he fell to us,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said.
Going to the AFC South’s Titans gives Locker a shot to play right away. The three quarterbacks currently on the depth chart are Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith and Chris Simms. The Titans plan to release quarterback Vince Young.
“I think hes a guy that you draft this high, obviously we think a lot of him,” Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak said. “Hell have the opportunity to come in and compete right away. If we feel hes the best fit, if (offensive coordinator) Chris (Palmer) thinks hes the best fit, if (quarterbacks coach) Dowell (Loggains) thinks hes the best fit, I think well feel that when the time comes in August or September when we have to make that decision, then we wouldnt hold it against him that hes a rookie.”
The core of Tennessee’s offense comes from outstanding running back Chris Johnson. Johnson has run for at least 1,228 yards in each of his three seasons. He ran for 2,006 yards in 2009.
Johnson’s most effective play is the stretch. Locker, with his own wheels and high-end ability to throw on the run, would be an excellent bootleg complement to that.
“The running game they have there with Chris Johnson obviously is very explosive for them and a big threat,” Locker said. “I think you are able to use the play action off of that and that is something that I have done my whole life. I feel very comfortable doing it.”
Palmer has been a coach in the NFL for decades. He was the New York Giants quarterback coach from 2007-09 where he worked with Eli Manning. Manning’s completion percentage those three years went 56.1 to 60.3, to 62.3.
“We think we have some drills that will be able to help him,” Palmer said. “I think with Dowell being here, I think the combination of both of us working with him, well see strides in his accuracy.”
Palmer even ran the Wing-T offense back in 1976 (before Locker was born) when he was a coach at Colgate, the same offense Locker orchestrated in high school. Colgate led the country in total offense that year. Not that the Titans will be shifting to a Wing T, but Palmer thinks Locker’s time in that style helped develop his ability to throw on the run.
“In my 21 years in the league, I dont know that I remember a quarterback throwing as well as he does outside the pocket,” Palmer said.
The Washington coaches explained to Palmer that Locker had a subpar supporting cast.
“Those guys had to take and adjust their offense to some deficiencies they had at other positions,” Palmer said. “I think that really attracted us to Jake because he played in a different kind of situation and he adjusted to a number of situations.”
Palmer also said injuries hurt Locker’s accuracy last season.
“The guy is a very courageous football player and had some injuries during the course of the year that affected that,” Palmer said. “But I will say this to you: When we went out and worked him out the second day, his accuracy was very good.”
Locker’s selection at No. 8 is 51 spots higher than the previously highest drafted quarterback from Washington, Marques Tuiasosopo. He went 59th in 2001.
Despite being invited to attend the draft in New York City, Locker chose to watch at home in Ferndale.
Locker was the second quarterback selected, behind Auburn’s Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers.
“I just pictured myself in the huddle with this guy and I thought, Man, these guys will love playing for this guy, ” Munchak said. “I think hes got something special like that where hell bring out the best in other players.”
Only eight players besides Locker in UW football history have been selected in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft: Steve Emtman, No. 1, 1992, No. 7 Reggie Rogers in 1987, No. 8 Dean McAdams in 1941, No. 8 Ron Holmes in 1985, No. 9 Hugh McElhenny in 1952, No. 9 Doug Martin in 1980, No. 9 Lincoln Kennedy in 1993 and No. 9 Reggie Williams in 2004.
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected quarterback Blaine Gabbert two picks after the Titans took Locker.
“Blaine was in the mix of guys that we considered, at the end of the day I think the consensus was Jake made more sense for us,” Reinfeldt said.