Jake Locker Has More Fantasy Football Potential than You Think
Single-quarterback leagues are still the norm in fantasy football, which means everyone will have a potent signal-caller in August. No, really, I’m not just saying that as a firm pusher of the late-round quarterback strategy: every team in standard, one-quarterback leagues will have a more-than-serviceable option at quarterback this year in fantasy.
Tony Romo, who’s consistently been a high-end quarterback option in fake football throughout his career, has been the 12th quarterback selected in early mock drafts. Jay Cutler, who combined with Josh McCown went for more weekly top-12 performances than all but four quarterbacks last year, is the 14th passer being selected. Ben Roethlisberger, who was a top-five option over the second half of last season, will basically be free in fantasy drafts this year.
Because the supply of quarterbacks in 2014 is so large, a worse-case scenario gives you nothing to be upset with. Even if you were to draft a passer as your top quarterback, and even if he were to fail miserably as your top option, you’re still fine. There are legitimately 25-plus usable options at the position in 2014, and only one will be started each week by teams in your fantasy league. Relax about the position – it’s going to be OK.
But as the title of this article suggests, why Jake Locker? Why is Jake Locker the quarterback to take a chance on as a possible QB2, or even a QB1 if you’re feeling a little frisky?
From the pessimist’s standpoint, forget Jake Locker's bad side. Ignore the fact that his only season with 300 or more drop backs brought forth a -27.36 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total, good for fourth-worst among relevant passers in 2012. Forget the fact that he seems to be injured more than he’s healthy, or that his offense is full of ambiguity.
Just look at his upside.
In 2013, Jake Locker was a lot better than you think. In terms of our Net Expected Points metric, Locker’s per pass NEP average was sandwiched between Alex Smith and Jay Cutler. Not bad. But what’s more impressive is that, in just seven games played, Locker accumulated the 10th-best Rushing NEP among 100-plus drop back quarterbacks. On a per rush basis, he was adding nearly as many points for his team as Andrew Luck was for his. And as I showed last month, Luck is no joke when he takes off to run.
His rushing metrics translated to the fantasy stat sheet. If you’re not aware, there’s this idea that writer Rich Hribar came up with last season regarding rushing quarterbacks called “The Konami Code”. In essence, Rich describes and shows why quarterback fantasy scoring is broken for the signal-callers who can run effectively with the football. Typically, this idea catapults average passers from low-end QB2 value all the way to fringe QB1 play in fantasy football.
Jake Locker is the perfect Konami Code quarterback. In 2013, he started and [mostly] finished six games. In those six games, Locker had four with 15 or more standard fantasy points, including a monster 29-point performance against the Chargers. Meanwhile, he averaged just over 200 passing yards per game, and only threw for three touchdowns in one contest. Why was he relevant? He ran the ball well. Very well.
In those six contests, Locker had at least 10 yards rushing in all but one, scored two rushing touchdowns and reached 29 yards twice. And don’t forget that, in the San Diego game, Locker rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Locker completed six games last year (actually more like 5.5), and ended the year with three weekly top-12 quarterback performances. That’s roughly a 50 percent rate of being a QB1 in fantasy in a given week, which was a higher rate than Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick last year.
Now, the reasonable, realistic side of me says that this sample size is completely insignificant, and that may be the case. But remember, we’re looking at upside here. And part of that upside also includes his new situation.
His Situation May Be Better
There’s a fresh regime in Tennessee, and it’s led by new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. As I pointed out when the team signed him, that’s great news for Jake Locker, as Whisenhunt has historically gotten the most from his quarterbacks. Clearly Locker isn’t the same type of passer as Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner or Philip Rivers, but don’t underrate what Coach Whiz was able to do with those passers – each had interesting career situations when he coached them, and Whisenhunt got a lot from them.
There are also two very capable receivers at Locker’s disposal. Kendall Wright, a great possession receiver, finished 27th in terms of Reception Net Expected Points among all receivers last season. Justin Hunter, a soon-to-be second-year receiver, finished fifth among receivers with 15 or more receptions in Reception Net Expected Points per target. In other words, while his volume was low, he was unbelievably efficient when he was targeted. More targets should lower his rate, but there’s at least signs for optimism.
Locker also has Delanie Walker, who finished 13th in Reception NEP last year, ahead of Martellus Bennett. And although the running game may seem to take a hit with Chris Johnson out of the way, well, you can read how I feel about that here. Bishop Sankey, too, could be an upgrade in the passing game for the Titans.
In essence, Locker himself doesn’t only provide upside given the work he does with his legs, but a youthful offense combined with a quarterback-driven coach only adds to his allure.
What This All Means
Given the depth at the quarterback position in fantasy, it wouldn’t necessarily be the smartest idea – unless you’re confident in your streaming abilities – to draft Locker as your top quarterback. Someone like Jay Cutler is a smarter bet later in your draft.
But the idea here is to not write him off – don’t assume that Jake Locker, who hasn’t done anything of real worth in his NFL career, will be worthless in fantasy football this year. He has the tools to be a Konami Code quarterback, his head coach has historically brought quarterback relevancy, and Locker's weapons are youthful and hold a lot of potential. I'll more than likely regret writing this once December hits, but there's still a chance - albeit a slight one - that Jake Locker moves into QB1 conversation this year.