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Locker sticks by decision to stay in school ; Senior Bowl QB's draft stock falls after disappointing year

University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker is focused on boosting his draft stock this week at the Senior Bowl and says he has no regrets about staying in college for his senior year.

Locker probably would have been a top-five pick in the draft if he had turned pro after his junior season. Instead, he had a disappointing senior year and he might rank as only the fourth best quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft.

"By going back, I graduated," Locker said after a North team practice. "I got my degree. We won the Holiday Bowl. I finished what I set out to [do] when I committed to the University of Washington. Staying in school was everything expected. I wouldn't change anything about it."

Locker nevertheless could use a good showing in Saturday's all-star game and at the NFL Scouting Combine workouts in February.

Locker was hindered by sore ribs the final seven games of his senior season. He completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 2,265 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Huskies went 7-6. As a junior, Locker completed 58.2 percent for 2,800 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Locker probably would have signed a $50 million contract as a top-five pick. Now he might be taken in the middle of the first round, at best, depending on how he performs the next two months.

"He's a very difficult kid to project as to where he'll go," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "He could go top-10. It wouldn't shock me if somebody wanted to roll the dice. It wouldn't shock me if he went in the second round."

Locker has good size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), outstanding mobility, a strong arm and good character. His accuracy throwing from the pocket is a question. He doesn't stand real tall in the pocket. His college results weren't great, albeit with mediocre talent around him. Locker looked like he was working on tweaking some mechanics this week. He struggled with accuracy Monday, threw well Tuesday and had some overthrows Wednesday.

Underclassmen Cam Newton of Auburn, Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas all have a fair chance to get drafted ahead of Locker.

Here's a rundown of some of the highlights from Senior Bowl practice week, keeping in mind draft-round projections are speculative:

*QB report: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick had a strong week throwing the ball and boosted his draft status. He was pegged as roughly a third- or fourth-round prospect after the college season. Kaepernick, 6-6, 225, has a big arm. He throws a 93-mph fastball in baseball. He will have some adjustments to make, with a bit of a long delivery and coming from Nevada's shotgun offense (aka the Pistol). He rushed for 1,000 yards each of the past two years but will have to curtail his running instincts, given his twig-like frame. All three of the South QBs are from Texas. Florida's Christian Ponder and Alabama's Greg McElroy grew up 10 miles apart in suburban Dallas. TCU's Andy Dalton is from the Houston area. McElroy carries himself like a winner. His modest athleticism will make him a later-round pick.

*Big 'Backers: Linebacker is a position of need for the Bills, and there's some good talent in Mobile. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan had a good week, affirming his first-round status. Ditto for Texas A&M's Von Miller. Either starting middle linebacker could be Bills draft targets. The South's starter, LSU's Kelvin Sheppard, (6-3, 250) plays big in the middle and moves well, too. Bills coach Chan Gailey was impressed by him. The North's starter, Michigan State's Greg Jones, 6-1, 240, is a two-time All-America. Some put him slightly ahead of Sheppard, even though he's smaller. Arizona's Brooks Reed, 6-3, 262, showed impressive quickness around the edge and runs well. He played defensive end in college but might be best as a 3-4 outside guy. He might be a third- or fourth-rounder.

*Defensive linemen: This is another position the Bills could address, both at end and tackle. Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, 6-4, 286, was impressive all week and looks like a first-rounder. Texas' Sam Acho, 6-2, 257, showed good speed off the edge but probably will have to convert to a 3-4 linebacker. The prospective third-rounder has the smarts to do it. He won the Campbell Trophy, "the academic Heisman." Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal, 6-3, 267, a prospective second-rounder, might be able to play 3-4 backer as well. Miami's Allen Bailey, 6-3, 278, has a fantastic physique and had some good moments in practice. But he wasn't consistent on the field during the season. At defensive tackle, Baylor's Phil Taylor (6-4, 337) and Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins (6-4, 315) both showed some mobility to go with their power inside. Both could be as high as the second round.

*Offensive linemen: The North has an impressive group of tackles in Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and Colorado's Nate Solder, both first-rounders. Solder bends his knees well, even though he's 6-9. Middle-rounders who showed some promise for the south included Alabama's James Carpenter and Florida's Marcus Gilbert. The surprise of the week was Baylor tackle Danny Watkins, who shifted to guard and shined in one-on-one drills. He's a 26-year-old Canadian who has played football only four years. He was a fire fighter in British Columbia and enrolled in a California junior college to get a degree to help further fire-fighting career. He joined the football team as a lark and made it to the big-time college level.

*Receivers: The Boise State duo of Titus Young and Austin Pettis and Miami's Leonard Hankerson were among the good-looking receivers. Young is 5-11, 174 and says he has run a 4.35-second 40-yard dash time. He patterns himself after the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. Hankerson is 6-3, 205.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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