University of Missouri

‘This is the defining stretch for Drew Lock:’ NFL scouts weigh in on his draft stock

Drew Lock likes what he sees in Mizzou offense

Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock said the offense has a different feel under new coordinator Derek Dooley in Tigers' opener against Tennessee-Martin
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Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock said the offense has a different feel under new coordinator Derek Dooley in Tigers' opener against Tennessee-Martin

Drew Lock’s first three games couldn’t have gone much better. The Tigers are 3-0 heading into Saturday’s game against No. 2 Georgia, and Lock has thrown for 11 touchdowns and just one interception.

A 2019 NFL Draft projection by CBS Sports earlier this week had the Lee’s Summit native going No. 1 overall to the New York Giants, while others projected him to go the top half of the first round.

But Lock is far off from securing a green-room invite to April’s draft.

While Lock has started hot, the Tigers’ next three games — against Georgia, South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama — could ultimately determine his fate in the eyes of NFL teams.

“This is the defining stretch for Drew Lock,” said Kyle Crabbs, a senior NFL Draft analyst for Draft Network LLC. “These are going to be the most referenced games for him. The next three weeks for Lock are paramount. They’re going to set the narrative for him for the rest of the draft cycle.”

Lock’s numbers are already in better shape than they were three games into the 2017 season. His completion percentage is at 69 percent, up from 50. He’s only thrown one interception after having five through three games last season. He also has two rushing touchdowns and has shown the ability to make plays with his legs. Last year, under former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, Lock stayed in the pocket more.

Nobody is expecting Lock to turn into Michael Vick, but his ability to take off on the ground when his receivers are covered gives him something else to sell to NFL scouts.

“It shows people I’m athletic,” Lock said. “Even though I know I was athletic.”

New offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has helped Lock’s stock in the eyes of scouts. Dooley, who came from the Dallas Cowboys, has put more pro-style concepts into Missouri’s spread offense, which will help Lock when he has to meet with teams and draw up plays.

In the past, Lock has relied on his arm to make plays, sometimes at the cost of his fundamentals.

Against Purdue, Lock fired a laser beam to wideout Jalen Knox for a 59-yard touchdown. But despite having time in the pocket, Lock’s legs were uneven and his hips were out on the throw, which scouts saw.

“There’s very little torque when he throws,” said Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl and former NFL scout. “If he gets his lower half squared away and cleans that up, and learns to incorporate his lower body in some of those throws, it’s going to be scary.”

Nagy said if Lock was currently in the NFL, his arm would “put him in the top 10 of the league.”

A knock on Lock in Heupel’s system was his lack of intermediate throws, because Missouri’s offense was simplified and took a lot of shots downfield. In his last two games, 41 percent of his throws were for 10 yards or more, which shows Missouri has brought more emphasis back to short-yard plays.

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Lock said the Tigers threw the ball 50 yards or more downfield more than any other team in the country under Heupel, and if NFL teams expected his numbers to be better than offenses that live on short-yard packages then “I’m not sure what their thought process is,” he said.

In the past, Lock has drawn criticism for his pocket awareness, but that hasn’t been an issue this season. Missouri ranks fourth nationally in both sacks allowed and passing offense, which shows the Tigers’ offensive line has given the quarterback plenty of time to get the ball out.

“He was hanging in there, his focus downfield was really good,” Nagy said. “There weren’t any signs of pressure getting to Drew’s ability to distribute and pump the ball out fast.”

While Lock’s pocket awareness has been one of his strengths, it will be challenged the most in the next three weeks. Both Georgia and Alabama are both ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense.

He hasn’t had to operate much under pressure, which is what scouts will have their eyes on during the Tigers’ three-game stretch. Lock was the only quarterback to throw four touchdowns against Georgia last year.

Georgia and Alabama boast talented defensive lines that won’t give Lock as much time. And when Missouri is struggling, what is Lock’s demeanor and body language like? How he handles both will say a lot about his decision-making.

“In the past it was pretty obvious that he relied on his arm to make plays,” said Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic. “When the passing windows get smaller and he has less time to think about it, will he revert to the old Drew Lock where he pops it up in the air and hopes his receiver comes down with it?”

While Missouri likely won’t go 3-0 against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, the Tigers don’t need to win every game for Lock to see his stock move, be it up or down.

Because he’s being looked at as a franchise quarterback at the next level, he could go to a team that is rebuilding around him and won’t be very competitive early on. Teams will be looking for Lock to keep them in the game.

“If he can keep them competitive in those games, that’s going to bode well for him,” Nagy said.

Dooley hasn’t tried to hype Lock up since taking the job, but the coach understands what Saturday would do for both Lock and the Tigers. Lock has yet to beat an established team in his college career, and an upset on Saturday would change that.

“Every week is going to present challenges for him, especially when you’re playing the No. 2 team in the country,” Dooley said. “This will be a big one for him.”

Alex Schiffer

Alex Schiffer covers University of Missouri athletics for The Star.