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Friday, April 22, 2011
Why the Titans could consider Locker at 8

By Paul Kuharsky

Jake Locker
Is Washington quarterback Jake Locker worth the No. 8 pick in April's draft?
If the Tennessee Titans really like Jake Locker, like him in a way where they feel like he’s the guy they have to have out of this draft, then they’re going to have to take him at No. 8.

Picking someone else and hoping to move back up from the 39th overall pick for him is too risky. Trading down to a spot later in the first round leaves no guarantee either. The Washington Redskins may go another direction at No. 10, but the Minnesota Vikings might not at No. 12.

If the Titans love Locker and watch him become a Viking, they’re left with regret, and that regret isn’t something they should carry if they are going to look at Ryan Mallett, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick or Ricky Stanzi early on and pine a bit for Locker.

If they love Locker, they have to stick their neck out for him. If they love Locker, they have to overspend. If they love Locker, they have to give more than a little on staying true to draft-board values.

“Half a round too early is better than a pick too late with quarterbacks in this draft,” a person from a team not in search of a quarterback told me this week.

So do the Titans have Locker roughly 24th on their board, ahead of any other quarterbacks who would be around? I don’t think the board is set yet. The later it is set, the less likely a crucial detail escapes the room.

A second person, a scout, said a move like Locker at No. 8 is a matter of conviction.

“If you look at Jake Locker and say, ‘He is the guy, no question, clear-cut, this guy here is our franchise,’ you have to,’” that scout said. “But that’s going to be a hard one for them to justify if he doesn’t turn out to be the one they think he’s going to be. ... You better like him better than those other two guys that everybody loves right now.”

That scout wouldn’t go quarterback eighth if he was the Titans. He sees too many good defensive players who can step on the field in the fall and make a big impact for the Titans in that spot.

But it would be risky. Risky is uncharacteristic for Mike Reinfeldt, a measured and methodical general manager. I think to Reinfeldt, rounding up the value of a player a half a round is the same thing as reaching. And he doesn’t want to reach.

If Reinfeldt takes Locker at eight, he’s could be staking his career on him. If he takes a second-round quarterback or trades up and takes one late in the first round, it’s not as daring. He’d be more insulated in the event of a failure by that choice.

Personally, I’d rather have a lower pick who faces lesser pressure. You can roll him out and say “We think he’s got a chance in time.” Take a guy eighth and you have to say, “He’s the answer.”

But if you are as quarterback needy as the Titans are right now, you don’t necessarily get the luxury of choosing how you choose your next signal-caller.

At some point, for a certain guy, for the guy you think is the right guy, you have to jump out.

The guy will face a different kind of scrutiny because he didn’t line up with majority opinion. But if he’s Jerod Mayo or Vernon Davis or even Tyson Alualu, you reap dividends and look like individualistic thinkers. If he’s Tyson Jackson, Darrius Heyward-Bey or even Tim Tebow, you stand to get crushed for him and look like a fool for straying from the pack’s thinking.

If the Titans are planning on waiting until their second round choice, 39th overall, I count 13 picks by 10 teams that could be used on quarterbacks before then. They could be left in a situation where everyone else’s orders determine their entrée and they aren’t even handed a menu.

Locker’s accuracy is the biggest question. Can good coaching make him more accurate? Can Mike Munchak’s choice as offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, make him more accurate?

(Side note: Interesting stuff on how college accuracy correlates to NFL accuracy in a different division.)

“Every really good quarterback can do one thing well: throw the football accurately from the pocket,” draft analyst Mike Detillier said. “Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger -- what breaks them away from the pack is they throw the football so well from the pocket, with accuracy. Jake doesn’t do that right now.

“I think it can be fixed. Remember he was a Wing-T quarterback in high school. That first year at Washington, he was running for his life because they could not protect him. The last two years have been an adjustment. His offensive line was average at best and his receiving corps was not real good, they dropped a host of passes.”

“I do think it’s fixable and it can be managed better. He reminds me a little bit -- playing-wise, not personality-wise -- of Jay Cutler.”

If the Titans could trade No. 8 for Cutler right now, I believe they would. Even with the questions about his personality, they’d be hard-pressed to turn the pick into a quarterback with better skills.

So do the Titans think they can help Locker be Cutler?

Is it time for them to stick their neck out?