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Jake Locker Is A Value Trap; Let’s Talk About Zach Mettenberger
Courtesy of Parker Anderson via Flickr.
Courtesy of Parker Anderson via Flickr.

In my first article examining QB values during the 2014 offseason, I suggested that it does not really matter what strategy you use to draft QBs, so long as you get good value. Jake Locker is a name I have seen on multiple occasions as a potential draft day steal. As a Titans fan, I wish that were true. As a realist, I doubt it very much.

Let us start by examining Locker as a prospect. I know that seems like a strange way to evaluate a quarterback who is entering his fourth season, but the truth is he has yet to show us much at the NFL level. You can count me among the crowd who thinks that the Titans reached to draft Locker with the eight overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, I think it was more than a simple reach. I believe that as a prospect, Locker was undraftable. That sounds harsh, but let’s look at his college statistics. He only passed for 6.6 adjusted yards per attempt his final season in college, which is not only well below the NFL average, but the only current starting QB with a lower final season AYA is Matt Ryan. Ryan was the first QB off the board in the 2008 NFL Draft at 3rd overall, which is a pretty significant difference. Ryan also happened to be significantly more accurate than Locker, as Locker only completed 55.4 percent of his passes in his final season, and only 54 percent for his career. Rich Hribar showed that QBs who complete less than 60 percent of their passes in college tend not to improve significantly or make an impact in the NFL. The highlights of that group are Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler–two QBs who have been considered underachievers for significant stretches of their careers.

Of course, one advantage Locker has over QBs like Stafford and Cutler is that he is a talented rusher. That is what they tell me at least, because the numbers do not really back it up. In college, he only averaged 4.3 yards rushing per attempt. He has actually been more effective in the NFL where he has averaged 6.9 yards rushing per attempt. The simplest explanation is that college stats include sack yardage in rushing yardage, whereas NFL stats do not. Locker has had 46 sacks in 23 career NFL games, or exactly two a game. When you consider he didn’t start five of those games, and did not finish a few more, you can safely assume he is actually getting sacked at an even higher rate. If he ever plays a full season, 40+ sacks would not be a surprise. Efficiency aside, the volume has just not been there. Locker has only averaged 21.8 yards rushing per game in the NFL. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is known for his work with QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, and Philip Rivers. If he has any interest or ability to maximize a QB’s rushing talents, he certainly has not showed it in his career. I do not think there is much reason to expect Locker’s efficiency or volume to increase in 2014.

Of course, all we really care about is fantasy points. Here were his starts from 2013:1

Year Opp. 4PT TD 6PT TD
2013 PIT 5.3 5.3
2013 HOU 14.92 18.92
2013 SDG 28.76 30.76
2013 NYJ 19.66 25.66
2013 SFO 21.94 25.94
2013 STL 10.4 10.4
2013 JAX 0.76 0.76
2013 MEAN 14.53 16.82

Basically, he had one really good start against San Diego, who allowed 260.8 yards passing per game, three starts that were terrible, and three starts that were pretty good. The mean averages are not exactly appealing. His 2012 results are a similarly mediocre spread:

Year Opp. 4PT TD 6PT TD
2012 NEW 12.26 14.26
2012 SDG 11.06 13.06
2012 DET 26.62 30.62
2012 MIA 16.88 20.88
2012 JAX 12.54 14.54
2012 HOU 14.16 16.16
2012 IND 15.58 17.58
2012 NYJ 16.26 16.26
2012 GNB 8.8 10.8
2012 JAX 6.38 6.38
2012 MEAN 14.05 16.05

You can see that he really did not improve much in 2013, his results just had a wider spread.

It may seem unfair to include the 2012 and 2013 Jacksonville games considering he got injured, but getting injured seems to be Locker’s forte. Going back to college, Locker has torn a hamstring, broken a thumb, injured his non-throwing shoulder twice, injured a hip, and suffered a Lisfranc injury. I believe the term injury-prone is overused, but if you are going to use it anyway, you should direct it at Locker. Basically, it is hard to feel comfortable starting him regardless of his health, and when you factor in his injury history it becomes a very uncomfortable prospect. In best ball formats like MFL10s, that may not seem like a problem. I would argue that it is, as you can not replace him if he gets injured. 

I should probably mention that his current average draft position is QB28, so he may seem worth the risk. The problem is the QBs being drafted in his neighborhood. I already explained Geno Smith’s value, and he is currently going later, at QB29. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who also played for the Titans last year and was recently named the starter in Houston, actually outscored Locker in fantasy points per game last year. He is currently being drafted at QB31, but his value should creep up soon. Sam Bradford was far more efficient in 2013 and is also returning from injury, and he is being drafted at QB24. Talented rookie Teddy Bridgewater looks likely to start this year, and he is being drafted at QB27. That is just a handful of examples: Most of the QBs drafted either shortly before or shortly after Locker seem to be better values.

Critically, I believe there is too much opportunity cost in drafting Locker. If Locker gets injured, you will have used up a draft selection and roster spot on him for no reason, especially since his ADP essentially dictates that he has to be your QB2. There is also the chance he loses his job outright midseason. It makes more sense to draft a different QB with more upside who is also less of an overall risk.

If you really want some skin in the Titans QB situation, I suggest you invest in the possibility that Locker gets injured. The Titans drafted Zach Mettenberger, RotoViz’s fifth-ranked rookie QB. He has some red flags, but there are also some indications that he could be a great prospect, certainly better than Locker. Because he was drafted so late by a team that nobody pays much attention to, you can obtain him relatively cheaply in dynasty. That is unusual for a QB who has a very good chance of seeing the field in his rookie year. In redraft, just wait to see if Locker gets injured and pick Mettenberger up if he does. If Mettenberger is the real deal, the only thing stopping him from showing it are Locker’s frail body and “Clipboard” Charlie Whitehurst. I believe that possibility is more likely and more cost-effective than hoping 2014 is the year Locker finally lives up to his status as a 1st round pick.

  1. I used the standard 1 point per 25 passing yards, -2 points for interceptions, 1 point per 10 rushing yards, 6 points for rushing touchdowns, and displayed both 4 and 6 point touchdown results.  (back)

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