When Drew Lock answered a question about the NFL after a recent Missouri football practice, the quarterback from Lee’s Summit’s tone carried a bit of annoyance, which made sense. The junior, who has helped the Tigers win four straight games, is still working toward making his first bowl game.
“I think it’d be awesome to make it happen this year, keep winning, keep the streak alive,” Lock said last week when asked about his legacy. “But I think I definitely want more out of the year to come.”
So it’s decided? He’s staying for his senior year, even though he might finish the season with with the most touchdown passes in the country?
“It’s not a front runner in my mind right now,” Lock said about the NFL. “I’m focused on these upcoming games. But if the opportunity presents itself, then that’s just a decision that was eventually going to have to be made.”
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There’s a good chance the NFL Draft advisory board does not give him a first- or second-round grade, meaning it will tell him to return to school. But the board is conservative, and draft analysts believe Lock’s physical traits would give him a chance to go between the second and fifth rounds of the seven-round draft, if he decides to leave MU after this season. How high he goes will depend on what he reveals about his mental makeup and football knowledge in meetings with NFL decision makers.
“One thing he’s always felt is physically he has the tools to make it to the highest level,” said Andy Lock, the quarterback’s father. “But a lot of things have to go right.”
They’re going right now. Lock leads the NCAA FBS in touchdown passes with 35 and ranks fifth in the nation in yards per attempt with 9.5. Missouri’s coaches have said in recent weeks that Lock, who has thrown 17 touchdowns to three interceptions during MU’s four-game winning streak, is playing the best football of his career.
“The light bulb is coming on for him, and it’s coming on when it typically does with the young quarterbacks I’ve coached,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said two weeks ago. He then downplayed the possibility of Lock leaving early for the NFL and said “there’s plenty of ways for him to continue to improve.”
Lock has completed just 59.4 percent of his passes this year, which ranks him 59th in the country. But that number has gone up each of the three seasons he has started.
“If you think of him as a 2019 quarterback prospect, he’s a lot more exciting,” said Eric Galko, the owner of Optimum Scouting and a NFL draft analyst for Sporting News. “… I think that’s how scouts feel right now about Lock.”
No NFL team should draft Lock with intentions of starting him immediately, analysts said, but he might have the best arm in what’s considered a deep quarterback class, with as many as four of them — Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — projected to go in the first round.
Lock can throw downfield with accuracy, but what Galko likes most about him is how he’s able to adjust the velocity of his passes to the situation. Galko thinks Lock must improve at making throws in the middle of the field and moving in the pocket. Heupel has said Lock needs to look to run more.
Heupel’s offense has not always required Lock to read the entire field while deciding where to throw the ball. An NFL offense would demand that more often, but Eric Edholm, of Pro Football Weekly, said playing in a “simplistic” offense does not work against a prospect in the same way it did just a few years ago. The Chiefs’ 2017 first-round pick, Patrick Mahomes, came from an Air Raid offense, which is based in the shotgun formation and is pass heavy.
Something else that’s becoming less of a concern for NFL evaluators, analysts said: winning. Lock, who started as a true freshman, was 6-14 coming into this season, but analysts said his poor win-loss record, combined with a strong finish to his junior year, could show teams he knows how to handle adversity.
Had Maty Mauk stayed at Missouri, this year could have been Lock’s first as a starter. Instead Lock lost unlike ever before in his life, and he has rarely displayed body language that has sold out teammates or placed blame on others when talking to reporters.
“You need a quarterback who’s going to be that field general who, even in the tough times, is going to be that leader that everyone else looks to,” said Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout. “… But just because he’s gone through that doesn’t mean he’s going to be that way at the pro level.”
Jared Goff, now the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback, went No. 1 overall in 2016 after starting three years at Cal, including, like Lock, as a true freshman. Cal finished 1-11 Goff’s freshman year, 5-7 the next and 8-5 in his final season with the Golden Bears.
“It’s less about what the record is and (more about) how a quarterback factors into that record,” Galko said.
High-level NFL decision makers — general managers or team presidents — often make the choice of whether to draft a quarterback, and those people watch few regular-season college games, so making a bowl game could help Lock.
Edholm said North Carolina’s Sun Bowl loss to Stanford propelled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky up draft boards. On the game’s final drive, when North Carolina had a chance to tie, Edholm said, Trubisky threw four touchdowns — and receivers dropped three of them.
“His guys kept letting him down, and he kept willing them back,” Edholm said, and the North Carolina quarterback who only made 13 college starts went No. 2 overall to the Chicago Bears in the 2017 draft.
Going that high is farfetched for Lock, especially this year. But he believes he has the physical abilities, and he might soon have to make a choice.
“Lock is that one quarterback prospect who could really shake up the rankings if he does decide to declare,” Brugler said. “From a physical perspective, it’s all there.”