In November, The Star published a story titled “Drew Lock leads college football in touchdown passes. But should he go pro early?” By now you probably know what happened: Lock elected to come back to Missouri for his senior season.
Is it the right choice? Time will tell. But everyone The Star spoke to about Lock this season thought it made more sense for him to return to school, rather than compete with a loaded 2018 draft class for quarterbacks.
“In general, I think it’s better to stay in school, especially if the team and the offense is willing to challenge you in the next year, help you have a little bit of an NFL environment in your final year,” said Trent Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback and analyst for ESPN.
Dilfer has known Lock since he was a high-schooler attending the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp, and he said this when Josh Heupel was still Missouri’s offensive coordinator and Lock’s immediate future was still uncertain.
Now that Lock has made his decision and Missouri has hired offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, who is expected to bring more pro-style offensive looks to the Tigers, let’s look at what Lock needs to do to improve his stock for the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s never too early, right?
Show he’s comfortable in a more complex offense
It’s unclear how different Missouri’s offense will look under Dooley. A total overhaul seems unlikely, given how successful the Tigers were a season ago with personnel that is mostly returning for next season.
But Eric Edholm, of Pro Football Weekly, said in November that NFL teams viewed offenses such as Heupel’s to be “simplistic.” And Lock’s father, Andy, said on Tuesday that he sensed “a little bit of negative feedback” regarding the Tigers’ offensive system while he was gathering information for his son to use before making a decision.
Dilfer wants to see Missouri introduce more NFL concepts to facilitate Lock’s development. Dooley’s hiring makes that seem likely.
What exactly are “NFL concepts” that can get Lock ready for the pros? Lock could handle calling protections at the line of scrimmage. Missouri’s offense — heavy on screens and deep balls last season — could include more complex routes, too.
Under Heupel, Lock did not regularly have to read the entire field before making throws, and that hindered him. Multiple analysts said his overall decision-making requires improvement.
“How much flexibility will he have?” Edholm said of Lock playing in Missouri’s new offense next season. “How many adjustments is he going to be able to make?”
Speaking of routes, how about some that utilize the middle of the field?
The NFL draft advisory board told Lock he needed to improve his intermediate throws over the middle of the field. He believes Heupel’s offense just didn’t provide enough opportunities for him to show he can complete those passes. A pro-style offense will include more chance for those.
“The change in system moving forward, in my opinion and Drew’s opinion as well was a positive, for sure,” Andy Lock said.
Which of Lock’s other skills need work?
His accuracy has been better each season but is still not great. He completed 57.8 percent of his passes this season.
Eric Galko, the owner of Optimum Scouting and a draft analyst for Sporting News, said in November that Lock was too stationary in the pocket this season.
“I’m eager to track his development next season with new OC Derek Dooley,” Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout said in an email after Lock announced his decision. “The fact that he’s been part of a NFL coaching staff the last few years will also help (Lock’s) pro preparation.
“There is a good chance he enters the 2018 season as the No. 1 senior QB prospect for several teams and scouting services.”
Where will Lock place among next year’s quarterback draft class?
Multiple underclassmen — Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Southern California’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen — seemed like certain candidates to leave school early all season, and all of them have now declared for the draft.
Next year’s quarterback class isn’t as loaded. Brugler thinks Lock will be one of the top senior quarterbacks in the country, along with Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson and West Virginia’s Will Grier.
That means Lock will have a chance to be a top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and his father said the potential of that “certainly” played a role in the quarterback’s decision to return to Missouri.
But Lock has also exposed himself to increased criticism from scouts now that he is coming back to school. Edholm said most NFL teams don’t spend too much time evaluating underclassmen before they declare for the draft. So there’s less time for professional teams to figure out what is wrong with those players.
Before this past season, Darnold was the consensus choice to be the top quarterback selection in the 2018 draft. After a good-but-not-spectacular sophomore campaign, he has lost that status.
Missouri plays at Alabama next season. That will be a game for Lock to show off what he can do against lots of NFL talent. But what if he struggles?
“What did he throw this year — 44 TDs?” Edholm said of Lock. “If he throws 32, is it a slump?”