As NFL Draft media, I think we’re a little bit scared to like big-armed passers with accuracy concerns. Naturally we’re drawn to the highlight reel plays of course, the how-did-he-do-that deep shots from an off-balance passer while being hit, but we’ve also seen many of these types of quarterbacks try and fail in the NFL.
Quarterbacking is a science as much as it is an art; perhaps even more so. Having exceptional physical and athletic tools can lead to a nice tapestry or two, but quarterbacks who rely on a process that has been proven over time – fundamentals, mental processing, mechanics, decision-making – are the ones who succeed long term in the NFL.
Josh Allen was billed as more performance art than scientific as a passer, which was a fair assessment when scouting his college tape. For some reason, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has been compared to Allen as a prospect, despite the extreme differences between the two signal callers.
One of those major differences is the ability to throw with anticipation. Allen consistently struggled to process things quickly from the pocket, relying on his golden arm to exploit tight windows that he often created by staring down receivers or being late with a throw.
Lock has his issues, but one of his biggest strengths is his ability to throw with anticipation in the vertical passing game. I saw it a couple of times against Tennessee and Arkansas, but the trait was really on display against Auburn last fall.
This is one of my favorite throws from the five games I’ve studied of Lock. He recognizes two-high safeties at the snap, and notes the man coverage turns from the slot defender and outside corner. With the linebacker and safety high-lowing no. 3, Lock knows he only has a slight window to throw his receiver open before he’s in trouble.
Quickly processing, when Lock’s back foot hits in his drop, he knows where he wants to go with the football. As you can see, he begins the throwing motion before the receiver is even out of his break, ensuring the pass can arrive safely before the safety closes over the top. The perfectly-timed and exquisitely-placed throw is dropped, like most of Lock’s throws last season, but it’s an outstanding play by the then-junior quarterback.
This play is a little simpler from a physical standpoint, but again shows good mental processing and anticipation by Lock. No. 1 and No. 2 are running vertical clearing routes for no. 3, who is running an out to the vacated space left by his teammates’ push down the field.
Auburn is running a matchup zone, with the outside corner (Carlton Davis) executing a zone turn into his deep third. Lock has to wait until no. 1 has taken Davis far enough down the field that he can throw the out without the concern of the corner jumping the route. Lock does stare down the route a little bit in this process (something he needs to improve), and the placement isn’t perfect either. But Lock again throws before the receiver is out of his break, but not so early that Davis could be in position to make a play either.
Throwing to a spot requires quick mental processing and trust in teammates to execute. Lock got burned by his supporting cast more times than I could count last year, but he continued to execute better and better each week. Against Tennessee, Lock made one of his better throws of the year, lacing this fastball to the perfect spot for his receiver to run onto it (yes, I paused it for dramatic effect).
Lock begins that throwing motion before his receiver has even begun to split the defenders. Once the safety steps on the play-action fake, Lock knows he has the middle of the field open and the rest is just mechanics, timing and arm talent.
One more against Auburn. Hitch route by no. 1 sucks up the squatting corner, leaving the window open for the corner route by no. 3. Arguably the hardest route for a quarterback to hit perfectly. Lock lets it rip before the receiver is out of his break, hitting him perfectly in stride before he reaches the boundary.
If Lock doesn’t get this ball out early, the safety could have a shot at the play, or the receiver could run out of real estate and have to stop and wait for the ball. It’s a perfect throw 33 yards in the air with elite timing and mental processing by Lock.
Now, Lock is not perfect as a prospect, despite what these four throws may indicate. His ball placement, recognition of pressure pre-snap and nine route accuracy need work. Lock isn’t the greatest athlete, and he can still make some poor decisions at times, although that part of his game is improving. His eye manipulation could also stand to improve, as too often he stares down his targets immediately after the snap.
But you can’t be a great vertical passer in the NFL without this kind of an arm, this kind of mental processing and this kind of anticipation. Missouri relied on Lock to drop back and win them games with his arm by attacking defenses down the field. The senior averaged 9.5 yards per attempt last season, the leading reason (along with tons of drops) why his completion percentage isn’t anything to write home about at 57.8 percent.
Lock is throwing low percentage passes a large amount of the time, but still putting a lot of them on the money due to the ability to process and attack small windows in a defense’s structure. Right now Lock isn’t a finished product, but isn’t that why he went back to school in the first place? I don’t think we should be scared to get excited about Lock’s potential, especially considering how evident his growth every year at Missouri has been.
At the end of this season, maybe he won’t have taken the steps we needed him to in order to ensure a first round grade. But when I scout Lock, I see the potential to be a big-time passer who makes high degree of difficulty throws and reads with good consistency. There’s a lot to clean up that could derail a potential rise to QB1, but with a season still to go, I think Lock has plenty of traits to get excited about.