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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:19 PM

It was announced a couple of days ago that Jake Locker would be the starting quarterback this year for the Tennessee Titans, and that Ryan Tannehill would be the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. The franchises wanted to make those announcements before the dress rehearsal games so everyone would be on the same page about the direction going forward. As handicappers, it’s our job to figure out if those are smart moves…or disasters that will cause those teams to go backward!

Locker’s debut as official first team starter will be Thursday Night in a national TV game against the Arizona Cardinals (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). So, today’s the perfect time to talk about him. Tannehill doesn’t play until Friday, but we’ll include him in today’s discussion since Locker and Tannehill were announced as starters virtually minutes apart the other day. Tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK, we’ll look at four other rookies who will be under the spotlight as starting quarterbacks in their dress rehearsal games (Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III in schedule order).

Let’s start with Locker. Is he really a guy you can build a franchise around? Some quick notes:

*Locker was a highly publicized quarterback at the University of Washington because he had NFL size, and because he was playing for a “QB guru” as his head coach (Steve Sarkisian). Locker certainly had his moments at Washington…but he was much more in the mold of a Pacific Northwest Tim Tebow. He put the ball under his arm and ran way too often. His accuracy came and went (mostly went). He would make the highlight reels with occasional plays. He wasn’t a consistent quarterback.

*Locker accumulated weak stats in terms of accuracy (generally in the mid 50’s) and volume despite playing in a conference where it’s very easy to rack up huge passing numbers. Pac 12 defenses are notoriously soft, notoriously passive, and basically INVISIBLE against quarterbacks who know what they’re doing. The NFL has found this out the hard way by playing high expectations on guys coming out of college from that league. We could name a few Oregon quarterbacks. Matt Leinart goes on the list. Supposedly “great” quarterbacks from the Pac 12 turned out to be pretenders in the NFL. Locker didn’t have great numbers in that conference, which is a big red flag against him.

*Locker saw limited action in the NFL last year as a rookie. In 66 pass attempts, he only completed 51.5% of his throws. He showed promise and some poise. But, he didn’t at all look like a future star. MAYBE a future starter if he ever develops any accuracy (who does that at the NFL level?).

There are a lot of young quarterbacks in the league right now…and any of them could surprise and have a real breakthrough season in 2012. It’s telling that Locker DIDN’T get much of a shot as a rookie when so many other rookies are getting chances. That already tells you he’s behind this year’s rookies AND guys like Cam Newton or even Blaine Gabbert on the development curve. As handicappers, we’re not optimistic about Tennessee’s chances to thrive this year. Last year’s 9-7 record was helped greatly by playing the 31st ranked schedule according to USA Today.

JAKE LOCKER’S FORECAST: GLOOMY

We’ll look for indicators in Thursday’s dress rehearsal game against Arizona on ESPN that might change our mind.

Moving to Tannehill, a rookie who gets the call Friday at home against Atlanta.

*It’s easy to fall in love with Tannehill because he’s 6’4” and a great athlete. He played wide receiver for the Texas A&M Aggies before finally winning the quarterback position. It’s telling that even the Aggies didn’t see him as their best quarterback for quite some time. It took turnover disasters from the first-teamer for Tannehill to become the starter. And, he turned out to be turnover prone himself.

*Like Locker, Tannehill’s college stats aren’t really that impressive to begin with…then get worse when you adjust for context. The Big 12 also has some soft defenses…and so many teams down there played fast break football that it was easy to accumulate some passing volume even if you weren’t all that great a quarterback. Colt McCoy accumulated great passing volume. How has he looked in the NFL? Sam Bradford had big numbers and an NFL body, but has been a disaster so far in the NFL in terms of real accomplishments. Tannehill wasn’t as good as those guys.

*Tannehill is the more impressive prospect between he and Locker in our view, because he’s the better passer but can also pick up yardage as an athlete when scrambling. That’s why he was drafted so high as a rookie…and that’s why Miami is willing to take a shot on him now under a first year head coach who used to be the offensive coordinator for Green Bay. This could be something that works out longterm, making Miami dangerous in 2013 or 2014 (though we’re still skeptical of Tannehill in general, and what we’ve seen on “Hard Knocks” this year has us questioning the readiness of Joe Philbin too). In 2012…there’s a chance things could get very ugly as both the head coach and rookie QB are thrown in the deep end to see if they can swim right away.

RYAN TANNEHILL’S FORECAST: VERY GLOOMY IMMEDIATELY, BUT BRIGHTER LONGTERM

There are several veteran quarterbacks in the NFL right now who are known quantities. You don’t have to do much research to figure out at what level Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees are going to be playing. The bulk of your success or failures this year as a Las Vegas bettor will very likely involve your reads on all the first and second year quarterbacks. A lot of guys are in the deep end trying to swim. Cam Newton looked like Michael Phelps for a month last year until some water polo guys started to pull him under. Blaine Gabbert was wearing a snorkel and hoping everyone would leave him alone.

It wouldn’t be right to call this “The Year of the Quarterback.” ESPN tried that last year and it didn’t make any sense because QB’s are important every year anyway. It’s probably accurate to call 2012 “The Year of the Question Mark at Quarterback.” We can’t ever recall a season where there were this many FIRST AND SECOND YEAR STARTERS at the position in a way that created so much volatility across the league.

*If you’re skeptical about both Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, who are you going to pick in the two games Tennessee plays against Jacksonville?

*If you think the offenses of both the Jets and Dolphins are doomed because of their quarterbacks, who are you going to pick in the two games New York plays against Miami?

*Are you going to bet on RGIII being the next Cam Newton? Are you worried that Cam Newton is just the next Vince Young or Kordell Stewart?

*Is Andrew Luck a third Manning brother? Or, will he break hearts like Tony Romo and Philip Rivers do by mixing bad turnovers with big yardage?

JIM HURLEY will be all over these issues during the dress rehearsal games the next few days, and all season long in the NFL. You can build your bankroll for the full season with game day selections today through Sunday. Plays go up a few hours before first kickoff every day. Sign up for the full season, and these last two weeks of the Preseason are included at no additional charge.

If you have any questions, please call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on our red hot baseball too. Combination packages are available for football and pennant race baseball.

Back with your tomorrow to talk more the other four rookies making starts this weekend (the “raw firm” of Weeden, Wilson, Luck, and Griffin). Then we pick up this weekend with our final college conference previews (the two SEC divisions Saturday and Sunday, the two Big 10 divisions Monday and Tuesday).

It may be the year of the Question Mark at Quarterback in the NFL…but there are no question marks in the world of handicapping. THE UNDISPUTED WORLD CHAMPION IS JIM HURLEY!

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