This is the second installment in Fifth Down’s series comparing the best players from college football today to former stars. This edition will take a little different spin than last time, and you’ll see why…
Jake Locker, Washington QB – Alex Smith, Utah QB (2004)
As a junior, Locker is shooting up draft boards faster than Miley Cyrus is flying up the billboard charts. His size and mobility have pro scouts chomping at the bit to make Locker the face of their franchise. Here’s warning those scouts to be a bit more cautious when projecting Locker as an NFL quarterback.
Alex Smith came from out of nowhere to become the top NFL prospect after his junior season at Utah. Smith was the perfect quarterback in Urban Meyer’s spread option offense. He ran for 631 yards in the Utes’ perfect 2004 campaign, and his ability to race past defenders on designed quarterback runs was unmatched.
Smith also showcased a cannon arm, as most number one draft picks do. He averaged nearly nine yards per attempt in 2004, which was third in the nation. He was the second-highest rated passer at 176.5, behind only Louisville star Stefan LeFors.
Locker has shown a strong arm like Smith’s, and in 2009 he is averaging a career-high 7.3 yards per attempt. As a freshman, he ran for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Smith’s swift feet did not help him in the NFL, and Locker appears to be carved from the same mold. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian dials up many designed runs for Locker.
Smith already had better passing numbers than the Huskies’ quarterback, who has a 1.4:1 career touchdown to interception ratio. Smith threw 32 touchdowns with only four interceptions in his final collegiate season.
Locker is falling dangerously close into the same trapdoor that doomed the careers of Smith and 2007 top pick JaMarcus Russell. All three have combine-friendly skill sets that can earn them a high reputation among draft experts, but when it comes to on-field production, none of their skill sets translate well to the NFL.
Smith has also had durability issues with the 49ers. As a rookie, he missed nearly half the season due to injury. In 2007 he missed several weeks with a shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. He was also placed on injured reserve in 2008 with the same shoulder injury.
Locker missed most of 2008 with a broken thumb. Who knows if that is a sign of an injury-prone career ahead, or just a bump in the road for his career.
Until Locker takes a step forward as an accurate passer and proves he is a durable leader, he seems too much like the draft bust Smith for my taste.
He is a very exciting quarterback and the biggest reasons the Huskies have turned their program around after going winless in 2008. That being said, the NFL is quite a big step up from the Pac-10, and Locker has not showed on the field that he is worth the hype…yet.