What the state of Washington lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality when it comes to the 2011 NFL Draft. Three players that spent their college days in the state — Jake Locker, Mason Foster and Taiwan Jones — are all projected to be taken in the first half of the draft, with Locker likely landing in the first half of the first round. Each of these athletes has had an outstanding career at their respective universities, and should reap the benefits at the next level when the time comes.
Here’s a look at the three players whose names you’ll hear in April.
Jake Locker: While he may not have done himself any favors returning for his senior season at Washington, Locker got exactly what he wanted. Not only did he accomplish the goal he’d set out for — making a bowl game — Locker did one better and left on a high-note, winning the Holiday Bowl. With Stanford’s Andrew Luck choosing to return to school for another year, Locker’s stock continues to rise, with some mock drafts project he’ll be off the board in the top-10.
SB Nation’s Mocking the Draft currently lists Locker at the 47th best prospect in the draft, but with the emphasis on quarterbacks always present in the first round, that ranking means little right now. Of the top-15 teams, plenty are in need of a quarterback and it’s hard to see Locker falling out of the first round. With athleticism that’s off the charts, he’s an intriguing prospect, though hard to nail down because of questions about his ability to make all the reads and throws necessary at the next level.
Mason Foster: The quiet assassin for the Huskies, Foster has put together a superb career at Washington. In 2010, he finished with an eye-popping 162 tackles, 14 of which resulted in a loss, and 6.5 sacks. He didn’t just lead the Pac-10 in tackles last season, he lapped the field, pushing his lead to 51 tackles. It’s easy to see why his draft stock continues to rise.
Mocking the Draft has Foster just behind Locker in the prospect rankings at No. 58. He could find himself landing anywhere from the second to third round in April, and shouldn’t slide any farther than that. Whoever picks him is getting a solid play-maker with a nose for the football.
Taiwan Jones: A bit of a surprise as an early-entrant, Jones opened some eyes in 2010 after garnering FCS All-American honors at Eastern Washington. Jones rushed for 1,742 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Eagles before breaking his foot in the FCS playoffs and sitting out the final two games of Eastern’s championship season. His athleticism, size and speed are tantalizing, leading many experts to dub him a sleeper in the 2011 draft.
Jones is ranked 165th in the top-200 at Mocking the Draft, but his stock has risen since he declared last week. Draft experts at CBS projected him as a third or fourth rounder in the draft, though he could move even higher if his foot heals, allowing him to impress in the pre-draft workouts. If it doesn’t, scouts can just play this on repeat and marvel at his strength.
It’s been a great year for football in the state of Washington. Between Eastern’s FCS title and Washington’s Holiday Bowl win, teams in the state have given fans something to cheer for the first time in a while. In April, these three could cap an outstanding year of football in New York when they hear their names called at the NFL Draft.
We’ll keep an eye on these three talented NFL Draft prospects leading up to the draft itself on April 28 in New York. Stay tuned to our StoryStream for the latest on 2011 NFL Draft prospects from the state of Washington.