Missouri quarterback Drew Lock makes a pass against Kentucky

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock throws a pass during the first half of the home game against Kentucky on Saturday on Faurot Field.

In the month of regular-season football he has left the University of Missouri, Drew Lock wants to soak up his dwindling time in the black and gold. The Tigers’ senior quarterback is looking forward to playing in raucous road environments at Florida and Tennessee, and feels excited for the emotions he’ll feel on Senior Day against Arkansas.

Lock is eager to take on Vanderbilt at home on Nov. 10, too. That’s his birthday.

But with four regular-season games left in his college career, Lock still has things he’d like to prove.

“I know I can play as a quarterback. I know this team can win,” Lock said earlier this week. “I’d love to prove that.”

Scouts and analysts will be watching Lock’s performance to inform a complete answer to a question that will soon dictate the direction of the 21-year-old gunslinger’s future: Is Drew Lock the surefire first round draft pick they all thought he was back in August?

Lock’s follow-up to his record-breaking 2017 season, when he led the nation with 44 touchdowns and first asserted himself as a top-tier NFL prospect, has not gone according to plan. While he is completing a slightly higher percentage of passes from a year ago (60.6 percent versus 57.8) with a thin group of pass catchers, Lock has not come close to matching his touchdown clip from a year ago, and his quarterback rating has dropped some 26 points. In Missouri’s four games against Southeastern Conference opponents in 2018, he’s has completed only 49.6 percent of his passes, and tossed just one touchdown to five interceptions.

NFL talent evaluators have taken notice.

“Teams are no longer so sure about taking him in the first round,” said Jon Ledyard, the senior NFL Draft analyst at The Draft Network. “There’s just a dichotomy with him that just makes teams uncomfortable.”

What has troubled analysts like Ledyard and the droves of scouts who have come to see Lock play this fall is not just the way he’s performed in big games, but the way he’s looked.

Against nonconference opponents, when he’s had time to operate in the pocket, Lock has often looked flawless and the numbers reflect it. In Missouri’s four games outside the SEC, Lock has completed over 70 percent of his passes and thrown 15 touchdowns. When matched up with the likes of UT Martin, Wyoming, Purdue and Memphis, scouts saw the 6-foot-3 quarterback use his superior arm strength and above-average accuracy to pick those opposing secondaries apart. Scouts have seen Lock make impressive throws when the pocket is clean and his feet are set, but when forced out of the pocket and into making secondary and tertiary reads, he’s been far less effective.

“When there’s pressure, he kind of retreats. He’ll drop his eyes. He holds the ball loose,” Ledyard said. “Those sorts of things don’t think really get fixed when the speed of the game accelerates in the NFL.”

Despite his struggles, Lock has continued to impress scouts with the same tools that made him a big board darling in the first place: his arm strength and his ability to drive the ball into tight windows.

Those are the sort of traits that have turned past quarterback prospects into Pro Day stars and made NFL teams fall in love with them. A big arm and a pretty deep ball can make it easy to forget about all the other problems.

Lock’s particular set of tools has earned him comparisons to former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who was selected seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2018 NFL Draft. Like Lock, Allen possesses the sorts of physical traits and abilities that can wow scouts and NFL general managers at a Pro Day or the NFL Draft Combine, and sway their opinions away from previously formed opinions.

“I think his arm strength will impress teams,” Ledyard said. “But they all have tons of tape on Lock, and that’s going to tell the story on him.”

Lock still has a chance to salvage his draft stock somewhat as well. Big games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee or Arkansas won’t do much to push the needle. But a strong performance in a win over No. 13 Florida on Saturday would turn some heads, and provide a foil to the notion that Lock struggles when faced with a top-tier defense.

Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.

  • A Missouri football beat writer for the Columbia Missourian, Eli Lederman is a native of Mamaroneck, NY. He's a junior studying sports journalism at the University of Missouri. Previously, he was the sports editor at The Maneater.

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