The Tennessee Titans have named Jake Locker their starting quarterback, heading into their 3rd preseason game, when teams typically have their depth charts finalized. Though this seemed like the likely outcome a week ago, the move actually comes as a bit of a surprise after Locker’s last preseason game, as he went just 4 of 11 for 21 yards and an interception in his 1st preseason start. For reference, Matt Hasselbeck, the other candidate, went 5 of 9 for 45 yards, though with 2 interceptions, in his start.
Locker 8th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, saw limited action last season, showing off his arm by averaging 8.2 YPA and throwing 4 touchdowns to no interceptions. He also showed off his wheels by rushing for 56 yards and another score on 8 carries. However, Locker also completed just 51.5% of his passes and has accuracy issues dating back to his days at the University of Washington, where he completed just 53.9% of his passes and maxed out at 58.2% in 2009. Locker has done nothing to ease those concerns by completing just 11 of 24 (45.8%) this Preseason.
Locker has plenty of talent around him and the Titans are strong on both sides of the field. They have 3 good wide receivers, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and the rookie Kendall Wright, as well as a great pass catching tight end in Jared Cook. They have one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the league and should get a bounce back year from Chris Johnson. Defensively, they allowed the 8th fewest points per game last year, 19.8, and they should be able to make up for the loss of Cortland Finnegan in free agency with an improved pass rush, strong cornerback depth, and overall their youth coming of age (6 of their 11 defensive starters last year were in their 3rd season or younger, including a whopping 4 rookies).
However, if Locker has the growing pains associated with a young, raw quarterback, which is definitely a possibility, the team will struggle to live up to the talent of their supporting cast. Locker will also be thrown out to the wolves as the Titans face a brutal early season schedule (vs. New England, @ San Diego, vs. Detroit, @ Houston, @ Minnesota, vs. Pittsburgh, @ Buffalo). It’s for this reason that I argued that Hasselbeck would have been the better choice. He is a reliable veteran who game managed this team to 9 wins last season and, had he been the starter, they would have been a much safer bet to make the playoffs. As a team, they obviously have more upside with Locker, but the downside is there as well. They could go anywhere from 6-10 to 11-5.
For what it’s worth, the Titans were better offensively with Locker on the field than Hasselbeck last season. Hasselbeck led the Titans to 264 points (not counting XPs or 2 PT conversions) on 162 drives (not counting end of half kneel downs/run out the clocks), good for 1.63 points per drive, while Locker led them to 33 points on 18 drives, 1.83 points per drive. It’s definitely worth noting that Locker did his work in very limited action and provides a small sample size.
In fantasy leagues, Locker has some upside as a QB2 because of his talent, his receiving corps, his pass heavy offense, and his rushing ability, but I wouldn’t be too excited about him until I see him be more accurate. Also, if he struggles, the Titans have the option of going to a proven veteran backup, Matt Hasselbeck, and benching Locker. Hasselbeck would be one of the league’s most expensive backups at 5.5 million this season, but the Titans have shown no desire to cut him and their trade options for him would be very limited as he’s making a starting salary and teams aren’t going to want to trade for a starting quarterback this close to the start of the season.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2