Drew Lock Is (Probably) Not What You Think He Is
Updated: Dec 29, 2018
We, as humans, tend to gravitate towards people that represent our beliefs and agree with our ideas. With that said, it is a miracle you clicked on this article. When it comes to quarterbacks, football fans are one in the same. Polarizing passers, whether it be Cam Newton, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, or Lamar Jackson, have the tendency to possess more than their fair share of fans, but an overwhelming amount of critics as well. But what happens when we choose our allegiances before we inform ourselves of the matter at hand?
The result is a type of hyper-partisanship, manifested in our opinions, leading to extreme views and an exclusion of opposing voices. Recently, the draft community experienced the most polarizing quarterback class of the decade, if not ever. The two passers in which opinions varied the most? The aforementioned Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Now, this is not a criticism as much as it is an observation, as both drew incredible amounts of hype, had play riddled with inconsistencies, and flaunted almost incomprehensible upside. Debates raged on as draft season continued, spurning cringe when either was touted a top-five pick or unworthy of a draft pick. At what is essentially the end of year one, both have looked to be something separate of the rhetoric following them... average.
Anyhow, the draft cycle has continued and brought forward news that failed to shock many, but sent a ripple throughout the NFL and its front offices: Justin Herbert decided to stay at Oregon for his senior season. Chaos ensued, well as much chaos as a bunch of nerdy guys on twitter can create. The widely-deemed "QB1" and future top selection abandoned an already weak draft class, spiraling conversations out of control. Questions pertaining to the quarterback class have spread to the Senior Bowl, the Shrine Game, and various levels of collegiate competition in search for some order. The aftermath resulted in the propelling of Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock into the top-ten selection conversation (disregard Kyler Murray for now). This inflation of draft stock justified the opinions of some, but angered portions of the community who felt Lock was a third round pick at his height.
Drew Lock, whose scouting report can be viewed here, is the SEC's most prolific passer statistically over the past few seasons. Known for his electric arm and ability to produce splash plays, some have fallen in love with Lock, naming him the best passer in this class. His issues intangibly have scared a certain portion of the population off as well, along with a lack of production against quality opponents. The polarization of such a prospect is starting to rear its ugly head once again.
Before this article progresses, it needs to be understood that Drew Lock is not Josh Allen. Understood? Carry on.
One striking young journalist feels the truth lies within the film and is a happy medium between the Lock die-hards and Lock haters. While there are some distinct strengths and weaknesses in his game, his development will rely heavily on his landing spot, not because he needs to be carried, but because young quarterbacks, like toddlers, are impressionable, fragile, and filled with potential. Lock's game is filled with building blocks that, when capitalized upon, could result in a franchise quarterback; when toppled over, could result in a bust and a waste of a first round pick.
To start, it is important to note that without the upside Lock possesses, this article would not be written, the hype would be absent, and the conflict would fail to exist. It is plays like this that spurn potential and get decision makers excited.
This play unequivocally captures a ton of what Lock does well, and throws in some positive elements of Lock's usually inconsistent game. Traveling more than 40 yards in the air, the touch and tightness of the pass becomes even more impressive. To put it simply, it was an absolute dime. With pressure developing around him, Lock climbs the pocket, progresses from right to left (something he never does) and eventually places a deep pass right where it needs to be, for the score. This is the true height of his game, and if done consistently, will put Lock up there with the best in the sport.
Another area in which Lock exceeds expectations is his level of comfort in the pocket. While his decision making fluctuates whilst under pressure, revelatory of his shaky pocket presence, he is poised in the pocket. In structure, Lock seems comfortable and calm. Being in control is something Lock thrives off of and should be emphasized by the offensive coordinator for wherever he lands.
Here, Lock (obviously) is aware of the pressure practically on his lap, and knows he will not be able to step into the throw. Without drifting back in the pocket, he is able to rely on his arm strength and get the pass off instead of taking a sack. This development moves chains at the next level. When so many college passers would panic, attempt to scramble, or rush the throw only to end up off target, Lock succeeds. Though it was merely a six yard "zig" route, Lock shows there are some impressive intangible traits in his game.
Furthermore, the last true strength Lock currently possesses as a passer lies in his ability to retain velocity and touch on intermediate passes. Oftentimes an intimidating area for young passers and a threshold for declining accuracy, Lock is at his best between 10 and 20 yards down the field.
Similar to the first clip shown, this is just a pretty ball. Lock, with a guy in his face, is able to fit a near-perfect pass into the available window. He utilizes the inside leverage taken by the corner back to exploit the bare sideline and gets the first down. His willingness to throw into smaller windows exemplifies the trust he has in his arm and a sense of aggression necessary to complete passes in the National Football League.
While the strengths are fun to watch and easy to point out, there are also obvious flaws in his game that need to be ironed out. They resemble that of a volatile passer and one that deserves to fall in the draft, contrary to his lucrative highs.
Lock's closest trait to a red flag is his inability to go through progressions. Too often, Lock sticks to his first read and panics when it is covered. This leads to disheartening out of structure plays and a reliance on slants and screens that his Mizzou offense employed. His failure to progress through his reads regularly will immediately become a massive detriment in his game if he starts in year one.
This set of progressions allows for Lock to focus on one spot on the field, rather than a circumstantial set of moving parts. After the initial out route, Lock has the option to check it down to the running back or move his eyes downfield and focus on the "C" route. A vertical read, Lock is set up in a simple manner to run an efficient offense. At least in college, it is often the path of least resistance. However, this play is extrapolated to show that difficult, horizontal reads are above his pay grade. This certainly needs to be ironed out moving forward, but expect sail and smash concepts to be staples of Lock's rookie year passing offense.
Moreover, Lock lacks other intangible necessities as well. Although he can sit in the pocket and deliver with pressure in his face, he is not immune from playing hero ball. Late in his showdown with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Lock is forced into hurrying a throw and the result is a crippling interception.
Context matters, and it is undeniable that Lock has to get the throw off. With that being said, he drifts in the pocket and off of his back foot lofts a prayer to the corner of the end zone, where it is well off target and intercepted. Sure, there was not much Lock could have done to better the situation for himself, but the traits exhibited will concern a fair amount of scouts. He misses a larger (though not very accessible) window over the middle, instead throwing an ugly interception where critics could point to his accuracy, mechanics, and pocket presence as an issue. At the very least, his play under pressure is inconsistent, and against a stifling Alabama defense, the raw Lock was not going to work a miracle for Missouri.
Now that his strengths and weaknesses have been established, the following clips can portray the building blocks that reveal the grade I gave him, and the crucial developments Lock will face as a young passer. His raw talent is undeniable, and when credit is given to the mental aspects of his game that many write off as poor, his floor is raised above that of a day three pick. On the contrary, his somewhat scarring negatives limit his ceiling outside of the top fifteen picks of the first round.
The building blocks referenced previously are inconsistencies in his game, or bright spots that have not truly been showcased yet. Whether they were hindered by scheme or yet to be seen on a regular basis, these traits could make or break Lock, increasing the importance of his landing spot.
Lock, who tends to be comfortable while stationary in the pocket, will run into problems when he relies on his arm too heavily, or drifts backwards out of the pocket. This makes his job more difficult, subsequently increasing the likelihood of a mistake occurring.
In the above clip, Lock does everything one could ask for out of a quarterback. After dropping back, he evades pressure by keeping his eyes downfield, and delivers a strike to his crossing receiver for a big gain. The only problem is, Lock does not default to making these types of plays. It is more likely that he blindly checks it down to his running back or uses a confounding excuse for pocket movement in an effort to make a play, instead of making a "big boy" throw in the wake of pressure. If Lock can begin to step up in the pocket and deliver, like the clip above portrays, there will be a clear increase in his productivity as a passer.
An additional inconsistent part of Lock's game is his footwork. While at times Lock can get messy with his feet, attempt off-balance throws, and rely too much on his arm, there are moments where everything just clicks. Plays like these are not common throughout the film of any quarterback prospect, but act as a catalyst for excitement when shown.
Above is one of those plays where mechanically, it seems to all be put together. Lock combines his already solid arm motion with properly managed footwork and the result is a great pass down the sideline. It is no coincidence that the ball was placed as well as it was. With mechanical flaws ironed out, Lock's accuracy problems would decrease and more consistent quarterback play will follow.
Accuracy is not the only thing improved footwork aids. With clean feet and a clean pocket frequently comes a clean slate on certain plays. When given a second chance, passers can capitalize on a defensive mishap and make the opposing team pay. In the absence of this, defenses can make more mistakes, leading to a correlated increase in risks and blitzes, which no quarterback wants.
On this play, Lock finds himself free from pressure. With all the time in the world, he keeps his feet alive and well, and when something opens up, he is able to reset and deliver a quality pass for a touchdown. When Lock uses his base well, manages his feet, and gives himself more opportunities to hurt defenses, he comes across as a much more effective quarterback.
The Senior Bowl is almost here and Lock looks to lead the pack in his campaign for the top quarterback spot. It is expected of him to play like the best senior out there, mainly because he is. There is enough time between now and the draft circuit, and now and his rookie year where these issues could be improved upon. If he does so, and continues to do so, Lock should develop into a quality, NFL-caliber passer. A failure to do so could result in a franchise wasting a first round pick. In summation, Lock is not the top-five pick many are looking for, or a day three developmental selection, but a second round quarterback with a ton of upside.
In retrospect, my grade is meaningless, as the real question lies in where he will be picked, not where he deserves to.