What Locker’s decision means for the draft

On Monday, it was reported by a number of media outlets that Washington QB Jake Locker has decided to return for his senior season and will pass up the opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft. It’s no secret how highly I think of Locker, having him as the top overall prospect on the National Football Post’s Super 30 since the list was first released in September.

It isn’t often you find a quarterback with his overall skill set. Locker possesses the ability to make all the throws, anticipate routes, create on the move and, most important, be a team leader in the face of adversity.

Locker improved dramatically this season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, completing a career-high 58.2 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. His combination of athleticism and accuracy on the move made him an ideal fit for Sarkisian’s offense as he was consistently able to make plays outside the pocket and force opposing defenses to react to his run/pass threat.

Did Locker make the right decision choosing to stay for his senior year? Right now, it’s a tough call. If he comes back, has a phenomenal year and improves his overall grasp of Sarkisian’s offense, then yes, it’s the right choice. One more year playing college football definitely gives Locker the best chance to be successful at the next level. From a decision-making standpoint, he’s still raw at this stage, and having another year to learn under Sarkisian will only further his preparation and readiness for the NFL.

However, if Locker comes back and gets hurt, much like we saw with Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, he would likely never see his stock recover to where it is now, as one of the few prospects being discussed as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft.

So it’s a tough decision. By returning, Locker is likely throwing away a chance to be in the running for the draft’s top overall pick, along with millions of dollars and a lifetime of financial security. That’s not to say he won’t be in the same position next year; it’s just that there are a lot of unknowns that can occur over the course of a season. Either way, I can guarantee you this: Locker will be my top-rated prospect coming into the 2010 season, and I still expect him to be the top overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Moving on, where does this leave the quarterback class without Locker?

Notre Dame’s quarterback Jimmy Clausen has already decided to come out early, and you have to believe that Locker’s return has almost cemented Bradford’s decision to also come out early.

So as of now, we likely have a two-horse race for the top quarterback spot between Clausen and Bradford. But what makes this competition so unique is that Bradford might never have a chance to work out or even compete with Clausen for the top QB spot after undergoing shoulder surgery in late October.

Somewhere in the weeds you have to feel there’s a wild card out there ready to seize this opportunity, similar to USC quarterback Mark Sanchez last year. Sanchez elected to come out early after seeing his competition decrease and his potential value skyrocket once Bradford decided to return to Oklahoma. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a situation similar to that take place again, this time involving Arkansas redshirt sophomore Ryan Mallett.

There have been reports out of Fayetteville, Ark., that Mallett and Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino have had some discussions about the NFL but are obviously more focused on their bowl game at this point. However, it’s tough to overlook Mallett’s impressive size (6-7, 238 pounds), cannon right arm and endless potential at the next level.

Now, we likely won’t be hearing anything on the Mallett front until after the bowl season, but with Bradford’s injury and Locker’s decision to go back to school, this could very easily open up the possibility of Mallett not only entering the draft but ultimately cement himself as the nation’s top quarterback prospect and potential No. 1 overall pick.

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