Heading into last week's game against Nebraska, many considered Washington quarterback Jake Locker to be the top prospect for the 2011 NFL Draft.
Following an embarrassing 56-21 loss at home against Nebraska in which Locker completed just four of 20 passes, it looks as if his draft stock may be falling.
Locker entered the season viewed as a prototypical pro quarterback with elite size—6'3", 230 pounds—and a cannon for an arm, but as the season progresses, it appears more likely that he was simply a victim of the preseason hype machine that consumes athletes every season.
Leaving early for the NFL draft after last season would have guaranteed Locker a top-10 draft spot and millions in guaranteed money. Deciding to stay will once again bring up the debate on whether athletes should opt to stay in school if they are consensus first-round draft choices.
After his passing debacle against the Cornhuskers, the opinions on Locker and his draft stock seem to be as varied as any player in the nation.
Last season Sam Bradford, an All-American quarterback at Oklahoma, decided to return for his junior season despite being regarded as a potential top-three pick in the draft. Subsequently he severely sprained his throwing shoulder, effectively ending his season, though he returned weeks later only to aggravate the injury.
Though Bradford still ended up becoming the No. 1 overall pick, scouts across the NFL were less convinced that he was far and away the top choice as he was prior to the season. The same fate seems to loom for Locker.
Locker always gains the extra yard and puts his body on the line, something that could also draw a little groan from scouts. If Locker experiences the same type of injury as Bradford did, his outcome may not be as flattering.
Locker, unlike Bradford last season, is still an unproven player on the field. His 28 interceptions in just 28 games show his inaccuracy, as does his career 52.6 percent completion percentage. The biggest reason he is viewed as a potential top-five draft pick is because of his natural tools; if he suffers a serious injury, it could loom with many NFL general managers come draft day.
Despite the tough start to the season, Locker still has plenty of time to regain his confidence down the stretch, though the schedule does not get any easier.
After playing at Southern Cal and at home against Arizona State in the next two weeks, Washington will play four consecutive ranked teams, and two of those games—Arizona and Oregon—will be on the road.
Arizona showed in last week's impressive victory over previously unbeaten Iowa that it can be a force in the Pac-10, especially at home. Oregon has been as impressive as any team in the nation, outscoring its first three opponents 189-13. In two home games the Ducks have not allowed a single point and have outgained their opponents on the ground a combined 897-99.
Though some believe that Locker was not to blame for their latest loss against Nebraska, it is evident that the national media is getting to the star QB, and he needs to step it up.