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Good News: Drew Lock Will Stay at Mizzou. But Was it a Good Decision?

For Mizzou and fans of the MU football program, the return of Drew Lock for a senior season was good news for obvious reasons. And you don’t need to wear the Truman the Tiger costume to get fired up about Lock’s decision.

Lock is exceptionally talented. He’s experienced. He puts up crazy, prolific passing numbers. This past season Lock led the nation with 44 touchdown passes and threw for the most yards (3,964) in the SEC. He’s coming off a seven-win season. He’s a leader. As corny as it sounds, Lock was true to his school. And that’s nice. The NFL draft, and professional paydays, can wait another year.

Of course it isn’t quite that simple.

Let’s go with a pro and con format here:

1. Did Lock make a smart decision to come back for a final year? No one doubts that he’s a “True Son” of Missouri. But a “True Blood” season could be detrimental in several ways. 

PRO: In their draft-assessment recommendation, the NFL advised Lock to play another year of college ball. Several quarterbacks — at least — would have been in line ahead of Lock on most 2018 draft boards. By staying and improving, Lock has a chance to command more attention from NFL scouts, enhance his prospect rating, and position himself as an early first-round pick in 2019. And I respect Lock for having the critical but necessary self-awareness to recognize his shortcomings and place a bet on himself … confident that the extra season will fully prepare him for the NFL.

CON: The risk factor is undeniable. There’s always a chance for adversity to hit Drew and damage his future draft stock. A shoulder injury. A mangled knee. A mediocre season. Working in a new offense, for a new coordinator, and discovering that it’s a difficult adjustment that leads to regression. Instead of moving up on those war-room charts, he slips down.

2. Missouri hired Derek Dooley as the new offensive coordinator, to replace Josh Heupel. Dooley is said to favor a pro-style offense. Lock has said it would be positive for him to get experience in a pro-style offense to sharpen his NFL readiness. 

PRO: Yes, getting acclimated in a pro-style offense would refine Lock’s skills and increase his appeal among NFL scouts.  Just about every quarterback coming out of college football is a child of the spread offense. They must be, in effect, reprogrammed mentally and reconditioned mechanically to make a smooth transition to the NFL way. In theory, Lock gets a one-year head start on the process.

CON: A pro-style offense may be beneficial for Lock’s NFL accreditation . But is this best for Mizzou’s entire team? Heupel’s spread offense was often annoying, because we watched Lock and his mates roll up gaudy yardage totals — but come up short on points. Many of the passing yards were junk calories, with Mizzou failing to get the football across the goal line with enough frequency. That said, Heupel’s offense was more reliable in 2017, compared to 2016.  Mizzou’s returning starters are accustomed to operating in the spread.  The Tigers’ offense cranked up the point production in 2017, averaging 37.5 points per game (14th among FBS teams.) That was up from 31.4 points per contest (48th) in 2016.

The Heupel offense moved way up in the FPI efficiency rating in 2017; after being ranked 65th in offensive efficiency in 2016, the Tigers climbed to No. 19 this past season. So now that the spread offense was clicking … and despite returning nine starters including Lock for 2019 … is it sensible to convert to a radically changed system?  The pro-style attack may give Lock more points for his draftability … but will it lead to fewer points scored by the Mizzou offense next season?

I guess this is where I should point out that Dooley, while very experienced, and having worked with Nick Saban and other prominent coaches, has never served as an offensive coordinator. He’s never been a quarterbacks coach.

What if Lock struggles to master a pro-style offense?

Will Dooley be able to get him on track?

If this switch to a pro set doesn’t go as well as hoped, Lock’s favorable rating among league scouts could drop.

That said, I must add these conditions: (A) we don’t know for sure if Dooley will go with a strict pro-style approach; it could be a modified version that uses a package of spread formation. And (B) NFL scouts are more obsessed with measurable traits: height, weight, strength, speed, etc. Lock figures to come away with top scores when the NFL evaluators run him through the pre-draft Olympics.

I can’t forget how, when Barry Odom took over as head coach in 2016, he changed a successful defensive scheme — his own! — and inexplicably put in a new scheme that left many returning starters confused and demoralized. The scheme that brought out their best was thrown out, and a scheme that didn’t fit the personnel was installed. Mizzou, which had one of the best defensive units in the nation in 2015, suddenly became one of the worst in ’16. And it made no sense. It’s always tricky to ask so many returning starters to convert to a dramatically different scheme.

3. Mizzou’s offense jacked up the points late in 2017, winning six of the final seven games. At least on paper, the team’s 2018 schedule looms as significantly more menacing for the Tigers. Will this be good, or bad, for Lock? 

PRO: The Tigers’ schedule doesn’t offer much of a cupcake selection, and is skimpy on the whipped cream. Non-conference there are home games with Memphis and Wyoming, and a roadie at Purdue. In SEC play, Mizzou has road games at Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. And home games against Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Lock’s draft status will get a boost if he maintains his poise, navigates his offense through hazardous tests, and exceeds expectations with his performance.

CON: Let’s see … a new offensive scheme, an adjustment for the quarterback and his teammates, a more challenging schedule, rough terrain on the road, and Georgia’s defense coming to Mizzou. What could possibly go wrong?

Keep this in mind:

Last season, in six games vs. FBS teams that had LOSING records, Lock completed 63.2 percent,  averaged 10.7 yards per attempt, threw 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, averaged 329 yards per game, and finished with an efficiency rating of just under 194.

And in his six games against FBS teams with WINNING records, Lock completed 52 percent, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, threw 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, averaged 245 yards per game, and finished with an efficiency rating of just under 195.

Large difference.

We’ll look forward to watching Lock lead the Tigers for a final, farewell season. A season that will be fraught with risk. A season that could result in a big payoff for Lock, or a big downgrade in his draft rating. This much we know right now: Lock isn’t lacking in courage.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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