Could Lock be heir apparent to Eli Manning?
With just days left until the 2019 NFL Draft, we are closing out our series looking at the top quarterbacks in the class. Whether the New York Giants select one of these passers, or kick the quarterback decision to the 2020 season, remains to be seen. But if they do turn in a card with a quarterback listed, Big Blue View has you covered.
Here’s the next quarterback on the list, Missouri Tiger Drew Lock.
Born in Columbia, Mo., Lock attended Lee’s Summit High School in one of the Missouri suburbs of Kansas City. As a junior, Lock made a name for himself by putting up some impressive passing numbers, throwing for over 3,000 yards and for 35 touchdowns. Those numbers actually took a step back during his senior campaign, as he passed for just over 2,700 yards and 28 touchdowns, but Lock was named the Kansas City Star’s All-Metro player of the year.
His exploits on the gridiron earned him a number of suitors at the Division I level, including some SEC schools as Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Other schools such as Ohio State and Texas gave Lock offers as well, but in the end Lock decided to stay close to home and enroll at the University of Missouri.
It did not take long for Lock to see the field. As a true freshman in 2015 he appeared in the season opener against Southeast Missouri State, completing six passes over two drives at the end of the game. Just a few weeks later, Lock became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Tigers since 1995, completing 21 of 28 passes and throwing a pair of touchdowns in a win against South Carolina. The team, however, struggled that year and finished 5-7, and the University itself endured a difficult fall as a number of racially charged incidents led to protests and resignations on the campus itself.
Lock came back to campus for the 2016 season entrenched as the starter under new head coach Barry Odom. While the QB enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season, throwing for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns against ten interceptions, and while completing 54.6 percent of his passes, the team struggled in the win-loss column, finishing with a 4-8 record.
2017 was the turnaround year for the program. The Tigers finished with a 7–5 record and enjoyed their first bowl season since 2014. For his part, Lock took a big step forward in terms of his production. The junior threw for 3,695 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, all while completing 57.8 percent of his throws, his best mark yet as a passer. His 43 touchdowns broke an SEC record for touchdown passes in a season.
Lock decided to forgo the 2018 NFL Draft and return to campus for his senior campaign. The team enjoyed their best record during Lock’s four years on campus, finishing with an 8-5 record. Lock’s numbers, however, took a bit of a dip under new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley. He completed a career-high 62.9 percent of his passes and threw a career-low eight interceptions, which both bode well for his future, but he threw for just 28 touchdowns and for 3,498 yards, both a step back from his strong 2017 campaign. He closed out his college career in a loss to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl, but he threw three touchdowns in the losing effort.
Lock’s strong career earned him an invitation to the 2019 Senior Bowl, and he enjoyed a very good week of practices down in Mobile, living up to some of the pre-Senior Bowl hype that was laid at his feet. Lock was calm and poised at the podium with the media, and his mechanics and footwork on the practice field looked much improved from what he displayed on his game tape.
When it comes to identifying a strength for Lock, it is a pretty easy selection. Lock has incredible arm talent, perhaps the best in this class. He has the ability to make throws with what can be described as “easy velocity.” He does not need to be set with his feet or crisp with his mechanics to deliver such throws. Tapping into his arm strength as he transitions to the NFL would be a wise move for his future employer. Here are some examples of Lock running vertical concepts that illustrate this proposition.
Here is Lock running an Air Coryell design, that pairs a backside go route with some dig routes working the middle of the field:
While the dig route is pretty open here, Lock does a good job of looking at the go route on the left before throwing the inside dig route. He’d need to be faster on this in the NFL, but this is a good route concept for him, as it gives him some vertical options both on the outside as well as in the middle of the field.
This next play is another example of Lock running a Coryell concept, often termed 585. This is a route design that puts comeback routes along each boundary, as well as a post route in the middle of the field. The comebacks on the outside can be adjusted based on the coverage, such as press-man or trail man technique, as can the post route which can change to a dig against a single-high safety look. But this design gives Lock the opportunity to attack the boundary with his arm talent, while still giving him an option to stress the middle of the field if the defense shows either Cover 2 or Cover 4.
Against Wyoming, the Missouri Tigers ran a very similar design, but paired it with a cursory run fake in the backfield:
On this play the routes along the boundary are more curls than comebacks, but the concept is very similar. Wyoming drops into a Cover 3 look and the cornerbacks give the routes along the boundary a great deal of cushion. Lock trains his eyes on the safety in the middle of the field, and as he stays deep over the top of the post, the QB then comes to the boundary curl along the right sideline for an easy throw and completion. Once more we see the easy arm talent from the prospect.
Tapping into Lock’s arm talent and ability to make impressive throws to the boundary, while incorporating options that can draw on his growing ability to attack the middle of the field, is a good path to early success and continued development for him as a passer.
Lock’s numbers might have taken a step back on the whole, as his touchdowns and yardage was down from his 2017 numbers, but his completion percentage was up, while his interceptions were down. Two things NFL scouts are going to love to see.
They will also love seeing plays like this:
The Tigers employ some eye candy here, with a play-action fake and jet motion, but they run the Yankee concept, a two-receiver concept with a dig route and a deep post route. Lock climbs and slides away from the pressure and throws a strike on the post for a touchdown against the Gators. Plays like this one are going to go a long way towards moving Lock up the board. This is a great example of the development Lock made under Dooley this past season. He moves well in the pocket, feels the pressure well, and then makes a perfect decision and throw.
While Lock’s arm talent and downfield passing ability are his strengths as a passer, he has shown development in other areas of the game. While he will need to get faster and faster with his reads and decisions, his growth last year under Dooley in this area should be a consideration:
Here Lock runs a Levels concept with three in-breaking routes from the right side of the formation. He makes a very quick read and decision, throwing the inside shallow cut because the middle linebacker drops deep under deeper route from the inside receiver to the trips. More consistency in this area would be a huge boost to his draft stock.
In the end, however, it comes back to the easy arm talent. If there was one play to pick when describing Lock, it would be this throw against Alabama:
The Tigers face a play that starts inches outside of the red zone, and as Lock drops to pass the coverage – and protection – are sound. He stays calm and poised in the pocket and keeps himself on the balls of his feet as he starts to look for an option late in the play, He identifies a deep crossing route and then delivers an absolute rope of a throw, deep in the back corner of the end zone with perfect placement for the touchdown.
This look from the replay angle illustrates just how much velocity Lock generates on this throw, that covers at least 30 yards in the air:
But as we will see in a moment, this can be a double-edged sword.
Arm talent, and perhaps more specifically velocity, is one of the more difficult traits at the quarterback position to properly weigh. Every draft cycle we see quarterbacks move up boards thanks to their ability to throw a football far and fast. But does velocity truly determine just how good a prospect is at this position? Especially when you consider that in many of today’s offenses, the bulk of throws come at or near the line of scrimmage? Last draft season I put today’s offenses under the air yards microscope, and found that most teams execute the large majority of their offenses within ten yards of the line of scrimmage.
Now last year, we had a quarterback to evaluate that perhaps put all of this to the test: Josh Allen. Allen was not a player that I was high on, and I was not alone in this view. However, Allen showed at times during his rookie season that his ability to generate velocity would get out of trouble, although there were times that his reliance upon his arm would get him into trouble to begin with.
Lock might face a similar situation in the NFL, where his arm talent can bail him out of sticky situations, but his reliance upon it (or more specifically, using it as a crutch) can create problems for him and perhaps stunt his development. All quarterbacks, as they enter the NFL, need to get faster with his reads and decisions. However, if you arm has continually bailed you out in the past, relying on that as a crutch might continue to put you into bad spots as a QB.
This video dives into that concern with Lock:
If Lock continues to develop the play speed part of the position, and forgoes using his arm talent as a crutch, then his development can proceed apace. However, if he relies on his arm too much, it might delay or impair his development as a QB.
Speaking of play speed, it does remain a concern. Lock has gotten better in this area, especially last season under Dooley, but there are still instances of him being much too slow in the pocket. We actually saw some of this in the previous section, but here is another example:
The Tigers run a variation of the Stick concept on this play, and Lock looks to throw the stick route to the inside trips receiver. He waits far, far too long to pull the trigger there, and making matters worse the throw is high. The Missouri quarterback is lucky this throw was not intercepted.
Lock’s ability to rely on his arm as a crutch has stunted his development in another way: Mechanics. Because he can dial up easy velocity from any platform, and from any throwing base, Lock sometimes delivers passes with less than textbook mechanics. Now, I am on record as saying about mechanics that they do not matter, until they matter. If the QB is putting the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there, with poor mechanics, then I am not concerned about how the quarterback throws the football. Behind his back, through his legs, with his back turned to the target, none of that matters as long as the ball is getting to the right spot at the right time.
But if the ball isn’t getting where it should be when it should be there, well, that’s when mechanics matter. Looking again at the previous play, you see Lock step in the bucket a bit. That leads to the ball sailing high and wide of the target, creating the near-interception. With Lock, mechanics might matter.
Manipulation is another area where Lock needs to improve. He is getting better at moving defenders with his eyes, but there are still times when he will (for lack of a better phrase) lock onto his primary target and fail to move a safety or two with his eyes and get that defender out of position. On this play against Missouri State, Lock gives a cursory look to the left and then stares down a post route on the right:
By bird-dogging this route, Lock allows an underneath defender to get under the post route, and the throw is nearly intercepted. Lock will need to get much better with his eyes as he develops in the NFL.
Again, Lock’s arm talent is his strongest trait as a passer. Whether it becomes a crutch or a solid foundation remains to be seen, but it can be a great building block for him as he transitions to life as a professional.
Mechanics might be a consideration here, but from where I sit I believe the trait that needs the most development is his decision-making and processing speed. Perhaps this is due to using his velocity as a crutch, but Lock will need to be much, much faster with all of his decisions when facing NFL defenses.
Lock projects best as a passer in a downfield, Air Coryell passer. Getting him into a system such as Norv Turner’s down in Carolina, that is heavily influenced by Coryell designs, would be the ideal fit for him.
He could also fit well with what Pat Shurmur wants to do offensively. When you look back a few seasons ago, when Shurmur took over the play-calling for the Minnesota Vikings and ran a lot of Turner’s designs, Shurmur was able to guide Case Keenum to a very impressive season and a deep playoff run. Shurmur relied on some schemed throws in the downfield passing game, working off play-action, to create opportunities for his QB.
Now fast-forward a season, and Shurmur is dialing up some downfield concepts for a quarterback in Eli Manning who – at least early in the season – did not take those chances. Whether that was an issue with Manning or in philosophy remains to be seen, but with Lock the Giants would find a passer with the arm talent, and mental makeup, to make those throws downfield.
Projecting both a future and a draft spot for Lock is one of the tougher projections in this draft. He could come off the board as early as the tenth overall selection, to the Denver Broncos, or he could come off the board as late as the 30th spot, to the Green Bay Packers. Daniel Jeremiah recently mocked Lock to the Packers with that pick, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that Lock falls there.
If the Missouri product lands in the right spot for him, an offense designed around vertical concepts while giving him some half-field reads to speed up his processing and decision-making, Lock could play early in his career and develop nicely. Ideally Lock pushes for the starting job in his second season and follows a bit of a Patrick Mahomes path to the starting job. Given Dave Gettleman’s desire to follow a similar path, that might be the way forward for the Giants.
Arm talent moves the needle when it comes to quarterback prospects, and Lock might be the latest example of that one trait pushing a player up the draft board. He does have the knack to make impressive throws along the boundaries and deep down the field with easy velocity, and from a variety of throwing platforms, but there is obviously more to playing the position than throwing the football. With some of the areas he needs to develop and refine, such as decision-making and processing speed, scheme fit and landing spot could be supremely critical to his future in the league. In the ideal landing spot Lock could develop into a solid starter in this league, but in the wrong kind of offense Lock could see his development stagnate.