ESPN’s E:60 program featured a profile this week of Jake Locker, the former Washington quarterback who eschewed last year’s NFL draft to return to play his senior season. It was a fine look at Locker’s off-field life, and it portrayed Locker as a good young man, which I have no doubt that he is. But it was also a classic example of a news outlet creating a false storyline to boost the narrative it wanted to push.
That narrative was explained at the outset, as E:60 correspondent Lisa Salters and executive producer Andy Tennant both said Locker would have been the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft — even though that claim is almost certainly false.
“Last year he was projected to be the No. 1 pick, but in one of those rare moves, he decided to go back for his senior season,” Salters said. “That worked out OK for Sam Bradford, because he ended up being the No. 1 pick.”
Tennant added, “Bradford got $50 million guaranteed last year. This guy left $50 million on the table, and there’s no way possible that he doesn’t regret this decision.”
The reality is that it’s impossible for anyone to know what would have happened if Locker had entered last year’s draft, and it’s ridiculous for ESPN to assert that Locker left $50 million on the table. As NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock pointed out in discussing Locker this week, teams don’t start doing full work-ups on juniors unless those players have declared for the draft, so it’s wrong to suggest that any team had put Locker at the top of its draft board — or put him on its draft board at all.
But to the extent that we can determine where Locker would have gone in the 2010 NFL draft, it’s extremely unlikely that any NFL team would have graded Locker higher than Bradford. As I wrote late in 2009, when Locker announced he would return to Washington in 2010, Locker was nowhere near as good a college quarterback as Bradford. To say that Bradford benefited from Locker’s decision is unfair to Bradford, who was drafted first overall because the Rams rightly saw him as a future star, not because he was the Rams’ second choice behind Locker.
In fact, not only would Locker not have been a likely No. 1 overall pick in 2010, he might not have even been a first-round pick. As we reported at the end of the 2009 season, the NFL’s draft advisory board didn’t even give Locker a first-round grade when he inquired about where he might have gone in the 2010 draft.
ESPN apparently thought it was making its E:60 profile more dramatic by portraying Locker as a man who gave up a surefire $50 million, but the reality is just the opposite: ESPN weakened its own story by portraying Locker as something he’s not.