SEATTLE — It could be said that Jake Locker lived the past five years under the microscope, which comes with the territory when one turns down offers from more high-profile programs to play quarterback at a college two hours from his hometown.
And so when the University of Washington senior and Ferndale native stood at the center of one of the most anticipated UW Pro Days in recent memory Wednesday, he showed no signs of jitters.
“To be honest, I like you guys, but I didn’t care that you were out there watching,” Locker told reporters after being the most notable of 11 former Huskies to show off for the NFL scouts. “It was a workout to come out and prove what we could all do out here, and I feel like across the board I was really proud of everybody.”
With about 1,000 sets of eyes — the most notable of which belonged to representatives from 17 NFL teams — watching an event that was closed to the public, Locker closed out the three-hour session by completing 38 of 40 passes to uncovered receivers.
After a wait of three hours while some of UW’s other graduating seniors went through sprints and position drills, the scouts and onlookers were rewarded with what was lauded as one of Locker’s best performances of the offseason.
“I think every time he throws, he throws better,” said Keith Gilbertson, a Snohomish native and former UW coach who now works as a special assistant for the Cleveland Browns. “The work he’s done from the end of the season to the all-star game and the combine, he’s thrown better.”
CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang, who has been following Locker’s UW career closely, said Wednesday’s passing performance was a big step in the right direction for the former Husky.
“If I had to give it a grade, I’d give it a B-plus, A-minus,” Rang said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be at a couple of Pro Days where (former college quarterbacks) Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez have really legitimized themselves and really pushed up their stock. I wouldn’t say (Locker’s performance) was that good, but that’s comparing it to two players who absolutely skyrocketed (up the draft charts) after their Pro Days.
“To me, what this showed is that, given time, Jake Locker has shown significant improvement — in terms of his footwork, in terms of his accuracy, the whole package. It just leads you to believe that with more time, he could absolutely be the accurate passer that’s needed to be a starter in the NFL.”
With a career completion percentage of 54.0, Locker hasn’t shown enough accuracy in games to warrant a first-round draft pick. But his improvement in the January Senior Bowl, the February NFL scouting combine and Wednesday’s Pro Day might be enough to push him back into the discussion for a top-20 pick.
“The talk you hear is the accuracy,” Gilbertson said. “I think that’s the question. And he threw it very well today. He was very accurate.”
Locker himself felt as if he’d shown something to the people in attendance.
“I feel like it went well,” he said. “I came out and threw as well as I could today. I’m working on the same things I’ve been working on throughout this process, and I just want to keep improving on them, and I think I was able to do that today.”
It may be hard to believe that a player can improve his draft stock by leaps and bounds after throwing for 15 minutes without a defender in sight, but the constant nit-picking of the draft process is a world all its own.
And so NFL scouts flew in from all over the country — for geographical reasons, the Seattle Seahawks were the most well-represented — and watched 11 UW seniors go through a series of workouts. Most of them were there to see Locker, who stood and watched for an hour, 45 minutes before beginning to warm up. And hour later, he took off his sweatpants. Fifteen minutes after that, he began throwing in a scripted series of short, medium and long passes to former teammates Austin Sylvester, Dorson Boyce and D’Andre Goodwin.
Locker’s only two misfires came on his longest throws — a pair of deep post routes by Goodwin.
Afterward, Locker felt confident that he’d done enough to satisfy the scouts. And his experience under the microscope might have been the big reason he was able to thrive.
“I think he’s probably a little more comfortable than other guys would be,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who was among the attendees. “There’s been so much more scrutiny from this time last year, for 12 months now of digging on every throw that he’s made — good, bad or indifferent. To come out here and throw today, I don’t think it was as big a deal for him as maybe for some other guys.”
But the way Locker threw might be a big deal when it comes to draft day.
“I’m encouraged — and I know from speaking to a couple scouts and front-office executives as well — that he has made the steps in development to lead you to believe that he can be that type of (productive NFL) quarterback,” Rang said. “The inconsistency is something that just needs repetition. After only two years of doing this in a pro-style offense, that’s to be expected.”
Among the attendees at Wednesday’s Pro Day was Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, who was in town to interview for the Huskies’ open job after Tia Jackson resigned last month. Graves, who led the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, appears to be among a short list of contenders for the UW job. … Former Seahawk Shaun Alexander, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife and five children, was also in attendance. … The other former Huskies to join Locker, Goodwin, Sylvester and Boyce at Pro Day were linebacker Mason Foster, safety Nate Williams, cornerback Vonzell McDowell Jr., linebacker Victor Aiyewa and offensive linemen Cody Habben and Ryan Tolar. Of the 11, only Locker and Foster appear to be sure-fire picks in next month’s draft.