As promised, the Minnesota Vikings are working through the process of privately working out the top quarterbacks of the 2011 draft. They've scheduled a session with Auburn's Cam Newton and TCU's Andy Dalton, among others, and on Tuesday they were planning to hit the field with Washington's Jake Locker. (Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post has the news.)
We introduced you to Locker last month during the NFL scouting combine, but since then we've focused more on Newton and Arkansas's Ryan Mallett as the Vikings sift through their possibilities. In the end, however, Locker could well be the fulcrum point of the Vikings' decision. Here's how I see it:
Locker, who might have been the top pick of the 2010 draft if he had declared a year earlier, seems likely to be available at the Vikings' No. 12 overall pick next month. Concerns about his accuracy have dropped him to at least the third spot among quarterbacks in this draft, behind Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert; ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's most recent mock draft had Locker going to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25 overall.
So in many ways, Locker will represent the first domino in the Vikings' decision-making process. (Call it a decision tree if you will.) Do they think he can be their quarterback of the future? If yes, is he a value pick at No. 12 or should they trade down to get him? If no, should they trade up for Newton or Gabbert, presuming they like both of them?
If the answer is no to all of those questions, should the Vikings select another player at No. 12 and target a quarterback in the second round or later? Possibilities include Mallett, Dalton, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, Florida State's Christian Ponder and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi. (There you go, Ben from Denver.)
I'm sure we will hit this issue in more detail in the weeks ahead, but here's the bottom line on Locker's accuracy: He completed 55.4 percent of his passes as a senior and never managed a completion percentage better than 58.2 percent in his career. The general rule for college quarterbacks is that their accuracy doesn't improve significantly when they move to the professional level, and statistical research has shown that any college quarterback with a career completion percentage below 60 percent is likely to have trouble in the transition.
With that said, scouts and media analysts alike have raved about Locker's leadership, competitiveness and presence. Last month, ESPN's Todd McShay said: "Love, love Jake Locker the competitor. Love the physical tools. Tremendous athlete, obviously. He wants it. He makes accurate throws at times. He just hasn't put it together."
And at a time when many observers are wringing their hands about the proliferation of the college spread offense, one that rarely asks quarterbacks to drop back from under center, Locker is an exception. As the chart shows, Locker made more throws after taking the snap from under center than Gabbert, Newton or Mallett last season.
The draft is six weeks (!) from Thursday, and there is much left to be decided and debated. But as the Vikings move through the process, it seems clear that Locker is their first big decision.