Drew Lock is improving at Missouri, but he's not ready for the NFL just yet
Probably more than most people who cover the SEC on a daily basis, I’ve been pretty hard on Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.
We hear all the time that Lock has an NFL arm, and far be it from me to question that. As the expression goes, he can make all the throws. Whether it’s the deep comeback along the sideline or the post to the middle of the field, the kid can sling it.
The production is there, no question about it. With 5 more touchdown passes Friday, Lock set the conference’s single-season record with 43 — three more than Kentucky’s Andre’ Woodson in 2007. He’s also been more accurate as a passer, as his completion percentage has risen from 49 as a freshman to 54.6 as a sophomore and now 58.2 as a junior.
Nevertheless, Lock isn’t ready to declare early for the NFL Draft. He needs to return to the Tigers for his senior season.
Everything scouts love about Lock was on display in a 48-45 triumph in Fayetteville. He completed 25-of-42 passes for 448 yards with those 5 scoring strikes, but he was dubiously credited with 2 interceptions and could’ve had one or two more.
We’re early in the evaluation process — draft-eligible players won’t even be in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine for another three months or so — but there are approximately five QBs currently being given a first-round grade. While there isn’t necessarily a no-brainer No. 1 overall, we have some depth at the game’s most important position.
Lock could very well be in the conversation for Round 1 himself, although there are plenty of holes in his game that are somewhat easy to notice when studying tape.
Since he has such a gifted arm, he has a lot to learn in terms of touch and timing. CBS color man Rick Neuheisel repeatedly pointed out on the broadcast that Lock wasn’t putting enough air under the ball — he left a touchdown or two on the table, no doubt — on some of his downfield throws. Every now and then, he needs to dial down the RPMs.
Additionally, with 30 INTs now in a little less than three full seasons, that’s not an insignificant number and will raise red flags.
The margin between winning and losing on Sunday is even more narrow than it is on Saturday. The best signal callers in the pros protect the ball at all costs and don’t hurt their franchises with ill-advised throws that lead to costly turnovers.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder — ideal size for the next level, by the way — isn’t short on confidence, though. There’s something to be said for not being afraid of the occasional tight window and having the gumption to pull the trigger. The field general he faced in this one, Austin Allen of Arkansas, can’t make many of the throws that Lock can.
That being said, it’s not like the Razorbacks are loaded with future draft picks. They’re dead last in the league in scoring defense.
Lighting up the Hogs isn’t much of an achievement in 2017, which leads to another common complaint of Lock. Even if his passing stats are some of the most prolific in the country, they’ve been padded to some degree against inferior competition.
Last year, 10 of Lock’s 23 touchdown passes came in wins over a couple of cupcakes in Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. Against the only three ranked teams he faced (West Virginia, LSU and Florida), he had just 1 TD and lost each time.
To be fair, his splits haven’t been so egregious this season. Yes, there was 7 scores in a blowout of Southwest Missouri State and 6 more in a laugher over Idaho, but he did have a combined TD-to-INT ratio of 6-to-2 when battling powerhouses Auburn and Georgia — even if Lock came up short on the scoreboard both times. That was more due to his defense giving up a pair of 50-burgers.
The NFL is definitely starting to incorporate more college-style concepts offensively, but what the Tigers do is far from a pro-style scheme.
Mizzou ran a ridiculous 102 plays against Arkansas, which is about a third more than what’s typical in the pros. Naturally, that’s one of the reasons Lock is able to keep putting up these video game-like numbers more often than not.
On top of that, Missouri has only given up 12 sacks all year long. First, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel designs the scheme to get the ball out of Lock’s hand in a hurry — he takes every snap out of the shotgun, too. Second, when an offense runs 80, 90 or 100 plays in a game, defenses don’t have enough gas in the tank to keep up the pass rush.
Unfortunately, advantages like that aren’t reality in the NFL. Lock will be running fewer plays against fresher pass rushers.
With the Tigers happily bowl-eligible for the first time in three years and finishing the regular-season schedule on a six-game win streak, a case can be made that Lock would be leaving Columbia on a high note. Not to mention the fact that he just broke a sexy SEC record.
But if he comes back for his senior campaign, maybe Mizzou can be a factor in the East come 2018. Remember, Lock has played in few games that matter in the eyes of talent evaluators. He’s 0-7 when taking on ranked opponents — all of those losses were by two or more scores, by the way. More than anything, a quarterback is supposed to lead his team to wins.
From a pure skills perspective, Lock has earned his degree. However, he would be wise to stay in school for some post-graduate work.