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How likely is it that Drew Lock goes pro after 2017?

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And is he ready?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The buzz is getting harder to ignore.

About two and a half years ago, I think a high percentage of Mizzou fans looked at Drew Lock as a potential three-and-out guy. He had a golden arm from day one, and during fall camp of his freshman season, he was unstoppable.

Early in the dire 2015 campaign, he completed 15 of 25 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown in backup duty. It was easy to envision a scenario in which he took the starting job from Maty Mauk, threw for thousands of yards, and entered the NFL after his junior year. And when he did start over a suspended Mauk, he went 21-for-28 against South Carolina in his first game.

To put it lightly, things took a turn from there. Over the final seven games of 2015, his passer rating was 78.0 — as dire as you’ll ever see from a full-time starter — and Mizzou finished 1-6. He completed 44 percent of his passes with a single touchdown pass in that span, and the Tigers averaged eight points per game.

His trajectory undeniably went back up in his sophomore year. Josh Heupel took over the offense, and Lock threw for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns. He did almost all of his damage against lesser defenses — against LSU and Florida, meanwhile, he was just 21-for-55 with three interceptions — but the combination of arm talent and growth at least got him back on the NFL’s radar to some degree. And in February, our David Morrison took a look at what Lock might need to do in 2017 to get back to three-and-out status.

Each draft class in the past 10 had between one and six early entry quarterbacks. Taking passer rating alone from last year, there were 15 sophomores and two redshirt freshmen (all of whom will be draft-eligible in 2018) who had a higher rating than Lock. [...]

Based on recent history, Lock has the pedigree and the bulk numbers to make the jump early. But, if he’s going to position himself to be a first-rounder (and, if you’re not going to, why would you leave early?), he’s going to need better efficiency numbers, better performances against top defenses and a more successful team around him.

  • Better efficiency numbers? Check. His completion rate is up to 59 percent for the season, 69 percent over the last four games. Perhaps more importantly, his passer rating for the season is 169.0, fourth in the country and behind only OU’s Baker Mayfield, OSU’s Mason Rudolph, and UCF’s McKenzie Milton.
  • More successful team? Check! Technically! Mizzou was 4-8 last year and currently stands at 5-5 with very good odds of reaching six or seven wins (or, technically, eight after a bowl bid).
  • Better performances against top defenses? Ehhhhhhhhhh ... he’s had one. He looked good against Georgia, albeit mostly because of a pair of deep balls. Otherwise, the only other good defenses showed up on the schedule in September, and Mizzou stunk in September. (Those two things aren’t entirely unrelated.)

Regardless, Lock has looked so good of late that the NFL is again coming up in conversation a lot more. A mostly pointless draft piece from SI included Lock’s picture and said that, “A 6'4", 225-pounder, the junior has the attention of NFL scouts, and there’s buzz that he could wind up declaring at season’s end.”

Pretty sure the buzz has come completely from draft writers. He certainly hasn’t let on, at least not directly.

“I think it’d be awesome to make it happen this year, keep winning, keep the streak alive,” Lock said last week when asked about his legacy. “But I think I definitely want more out of the year to come.”

So it’s decided? He’s staying for his senior year, even though he might finish the season with with the most touchdown passes in the country?

“It’s not a front runner in my mind right now,” Lock said about the NFL. “I’m focused on these upcoming games. But if the opportunity presents itself, then that’s just a decision that was eventually going to have to be made.”

The more I think about it, the more I think it goes like this: There are three supposedly surefire first-round QB prospects at the moment in USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Plus, Mayfield has been so good for so long that it appears he’s getting serious first-round consideration despite lacking the requisite first-round size.

It’s going to be incredibly difficult for Lock to crack the top four QB prospects, in other words. Granted, Allen has struggled even more than Lock against any defense with a pulse, but scouts appear dead set in their adoration for him all the same.

Darnold’s hinted at potentially returning to USC in 2018, however. Allen doesn’t appear 100 percent certain he’s coming out, though I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that he does. If either or both of them (Rosen, too, for that matter) were to return, that would leave a void I believe Lock could swoop into.

If you’re a projected first-rounder, you leave. Second-rounder, too, probably. I’m not completely sure where Lock will be projected, but he’ll have at least a slight chance of hitting that mark.

Is he ready? I really don’t think so. Granted, I lean much further toward “yes” than I did a month ago, but he really has struggled against good defenses for the most part (and there are none left on the schedule to change that, barring a good bowl opponent), and while he’s rapidly improving in his progressions, he’s still in what most consider a “simple” offense, or at least one that makes mostly easy, quick reads.

Lock is in a position to do two things in 2018: give himself a chance to be the top QB prospect in the 2019 draft and make it more than one good game against a good defense.

In the last two years, he’s faced five teams that ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 30, and he’s completed 48 percent of his passes with a 98.4 rating. In 2018, he could face as many as five or more top-30 defenses, including Alabama’s. He would have a chance to make a massive impression.

With a first-round projection, he should take the money and run. But he stands to gain a lot from returning, and right now I’d say I’m about 60-70 percent sure he will. Ask me again after a couple (or three!) more great games, and my answer may change.