Jake Locker somewhat mysteriously chose to return to the University of Washington following his junior season in 2009. Locker was thought by many to be a top 5 pick had he declared for the NFL draft in 2010. Locker was coming off a junior season which saw him play in 12 games, completing 230 of 395 pass attempts(good for 58.2%) for 2800 yards and 21 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions. He averaged over 7 yards per completion, and had a quaterback rating of 129.7.
One Problem. Locker's Huskies finished with a 5-7 record, and were left on the outside looking in come bowl season.
Why is this a problem for a kid who could simply put all this behind him, turn to the NFL with his eyes set on millions, and proceed on to the next chapter in his life? Because Locker came to Washington with one main goal; to help turn the program around, and lead the Huskies to a bowl game(they had not been to a bowl game since Rick Neuheisel's final season as head coach in 2002, and had not won a bowl game since 2000).
Locker was recruited by former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham, who was entering his third season as the head man at Washington. After narrowing his choices from over 25 offers down to eight schools, Locker choose Washington over USC, Cal, Michigan, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State, making him one of the most heralded recruits in the history of the program.
Locker was a four star recruit, and was rated the #7 quarterback in the country by Scout.com. As a senior, he led Ferndale to a 14-0 record and the 2005 Washington 3A state title. He passed for 1,603 yards and 27 touchdowns with just three interceptions as a senior, while also rushing for 1,338 yards and 24 touchdowns. Locker was named a Parade All-American, and earned first-team All-America honors from EA Sports. He was chosen as the overall and 3A state player of the year by the Seattle Times and the Associated Press, while also being tabbed as a 2005 3A first-team all-state selection by the Seattle Times and AP. Locker was chosen as one of four Seattle Times "Blue Chip" recruits folowing his senior year. Durring his senior season, he led Ferndale to a No. 8 final ranking in USA Today's high school football rankings for the West, and a No. 12 final national ranking on MaxPreps.com.
On his own areas of development coming out of high school: "I've got a great ability to find the open space on the field and run the ball, and I've got some decent arm strength. I want to get faster for sure, and I want to learn different pass coverages a lot better."
Well, Jake surely progressed as a player and a person at Washington. He took a redshirt his freshmen year in 2006. In 2007, he was named starter, and played in 12 games, throwing for over 2000 yards with 14 TD's. He was named to the AP freshmen all-american team. In 2008 Locker played in, and started, the first 4 games before breaking his thumb against Stanford. He finished the season with just 512 passing yards. In 2009, Locker had his best season at Washington. He played in 12 games, and set career bests in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage, yet one thing still eluded him; a winning season and a bowl game.
So by now we all know how the story plays out. Locked shunned NFL millions, for an opportunity to return to school, and fulfill his promise to lead his team to a winning record and a berth in a bowl game. He accomplished both of these goals, leading his team to a 7-6 record and a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska.
What would have happened if Locker had decided to enter the NFL draft following his junior year?
The Redskins we sitting at #4, and must have realized, as most pundits did, that the Rams were going to select Sam Bradford #1 overall. The only two teams that would have stood between them and Locker, would have been the Detriot Lions, who had Matt Stafford, and the Tampa Bay Bucs, who had Josh Freeman.
Shanny was entering his first season as head coach, and was obviously not impressed with Jason Campbell as his QB.
Had Locker entered early, and had Shanny decided not to waste picks in the trade for McNabb, would Jake Locker have been a Redskin in 2010? Would we have waited until the 2nd round to try and secure the services of a LT?
Now hindsight is always 20/20, so it's easy to see how everything unfolded, but had the situation been different, would the circumstances still have remained the same?
Were the events that led to a sub-par season for the former Huskie star, a blessing in disguise for Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins, for if Locker had improved on his 2009 season like most expected he could, would there be any doubt that he will be a top 5 pick in this years draft?
Loyalty to a team, the desire to accomplish what he set out to do, and fulfulling a promise he made when he signed his letter of intent to the University of Washington, may have cost Jake Locker a shot at being a top 5 draft pick, but becoming the 10th overall pick would certainly be a nice consolation prize.