Drew Lock seemed a little annoyed as he answered a question about the NFL after a recent Missouri football practice.
It makes sense, because Lock, a junior quarterback from Lee’s Summit, had helped the Tigers win four straight wins — now five, after Saturday’s win at Vanderbilt clinched the program’s first bowl game since the 2014 season.
“I think it’d be awesome to make it happen this year — keep winning, keep the streak alive,” Lock said 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.”
There’s a good chance the NFL Draft advisory board will not give Lock a first- or second-round grade, an indication he should return to MU for his senior season. But the board is conservative and the quarterback position is different than most positions.
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 opted to leave Missouri early. The NFL Combine or other workouts along with team meetings to assess his mental makeup and football knowledge would determine his ultimate fate.
“One thing he’s always felt is physically he has the tools to make it to the highest level,” Drew’s father, Andy Lock, said. “But a lot of things have to go right.”
They’re going right now.
Lock leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 38 touchdown passes, four more than Heisman Trophy favorite Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, and ranks fifth in the nation at 9.5 yards per pass attempt.
Mizzou’s coaches have said in recent weeks that Lock, who has thrown 21 touchdowns against only three interceptions during the current five-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 earlier this month.
Heupel also downplayed the possibility of Lock leaving early for the NFL, noting that “there’s plenty of ways for him to continue to improve.”
Lock has completed just 58.0 percent of his passes this year, which ranks him 67th in the country, but that figured has trended up all three seasons. MU’s penchant for deep balls, which are harder to complete, and drop passes also factor into his completion percentage.
“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 — Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — projected as first-round picks.
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 his throws in the middle of the field and movement in the pocket.
Heupel would like to Lock 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 Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm 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 might have been Lock’s first as a starter.
Instead, Lock was thrown into a tough situation before he was ready and lost games unlike ever before in his life. But he hasn’t lashed out at teammates on the sideline or in the media.
“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 California. Like Lock, he started as a true freshman, guiding the Golden Bears to records of 1-11, 5-7 and, finally, 8-5 during his final season.
“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. Unlike scouts, they watch fewer regular-season college games, so bowl season provides a big opportuity for Lock.
Edholm said North Carolina’s Sun Bowl loss to Stanford propelled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky up draft boards.
During the game’s final drive, when North Carolina had a chance to tie the game, 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.
The former Tar Heels quarterback, despite making only 13 college starts, went No. 2 overall to the Chicago Bears in the 2017 draft and already is the team’s starter.
It’s farfetched that Lock might be selected that high, especially this year, but Edholm believes he has the physical abilities and 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.”