Column: Is an NFL career in the cards for Drew Lock?

Lock threw for 18 touchdowns and two interceptions in four October games.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock walks onto the field for the Tigers game against Tennessee in Knoxville in 2016. Maneater File Photo

Drew Lock looks the part of an NFL quarterback, but will he be one?

He’s tall. Well-built. Can throw a football quite far. But how does his actual play on the field, which is sometimes bypassed in favor of hokey “intangibles,” measure up?

Lock’s play during the month of October has been a great sign for him and the Tigers. Missouri was blown out in three straight games in September against South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn, but since October the Tigers have looked far more competitive.

The Tigers fought Kentucky to the end in Lexington, falling 40-34. Lock threw for three touchdowns and no picks. The following week, he played gunslinger as the Tigers hung with Georgia, currently the No. 2 team in the AP poll, for a half on the road. In that game, Lock finished with four touchdowns and a lone interception.

As it has been throughout Lock’s career, when the level of competition goes down, Missouri’s QB dominates. In four nonconference games this year, he’s managed 18 touchdowns and just four picks. Remove the Purdue game (as Missouri would certainly want to do) and that goes to 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His sole turnover against Idaho was an interception on the first play from scrimmage — Lock closed the game on a run of six touchdowns without turning the ball over as the Tigers cruised to a 68-21 Homecoming win.

Lock’s career stats against nonconference opponents have looked much the same. He’s managed 33 touchdowns to only six interceptions against teams outside of the Southeastern Conference. But in conference games, Lock’s play has been noticeably inconsistent.

This year alone, Lock struggled greatly against South Carolina and Auburn, putting up three touchdowns and three interceptions. While he picked it up against Kentucky and Georgia (seven TDs to just one INT), many Missouri fans think Lock’s play hasn’t improved enough in big games from his true freshman season.

It’s a valid criticism. Since his Missouri tenure began with the usurpation of former starter Maty Mauk in October — excuse me, Locktober — 2015, Lock has often looked lost or outmatched against SEC opponents.

The Florida Gators, who visit Columbia on Saturday, have particularly victimized Lock. On Homecoming in 2015, Lock threw a pick-six along with another interception in a 21-3 Florida win. It was Teez (formerly Jalen) Tabor who had the touchdown return, and Tabor did it again in Gainesville’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in 2016. In that Missouri-Florida contest, Tabor and Quincy Wilson each returned a Lock pass for a touchdown, tying the number of touchdowns Missouri managed in the 40-14 loss.

The two Florida games highlight Lock’s struggles against NFL-caliber talent. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, the SEC is chock-full of future NFL draft picks. In the 2017 draft, both Wilson and Tabor were taken in the second round, Wilson by the Indianapolis Colts and Tabor by the Detroit Lions. With Florida’s firing of its coach, Jim McElwain, on Sunday, Lock could have a Florida revenge game this Saturday.

On the first day of Locktober 2016, Missouri traveled to face LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tigers lost 42-7, with Lock throwing for zero touchdowns and one interception. That pick went to Tre’Davious White, a first-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2017 draft and a possible NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

It’s not like Lock’s struggles are coming against subpar college talent. While his success may be coming against the likes of Eastern Michigan and Connecticut, his shortcomings have come at the hands of some of the most talented defensive players in the SEC. But will Lock’s talent — which is undeniable, in spurts — translate to the NFL?

Since this is Lock’s third year at Missouri, he’s eligible to leave school and enter the draft after the 2017 season. But with little meaningful success in terms of conference wins for the Tigers, it seems doubtful that he will. Lock’s improvement has, not coincidentally, mirrored Missouri’s substantial about-face since its three September losses. If he could lead Missouri to a surprise bowl game after a 1-5 start, Lock would go a long way toward cementing his legacy with the Tigers. I expect him to be back for a senior year that looks full of promise and, possibly, full of NFL hopes.

Edited by Joe Noser |

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