Luke Falk has piqued the interest of NFL talent evaluators, but would he be better off returning for his senior year? We examine the pros and cons of both scenarios

Share story

The Apple Cup has not been kind to Luke Falk.

The last time the Washington State quarterback played in an Apple Cup, he was a redshirt freshman making his third career start in frigid conditions. He threw for 355 yards with two scores and two interceptions and the Husky defense sacked him four times in UW’s 31-13 win.

Then, Falk missed last year’s Apple Cup after he suffered a concussion a week before the big game and he ended up watching from the sideline in WSU’s 45-10 defeat.

Perhaps his fortunes will improve this week, in what might be Falk’s final Apple Cup appearance.

Photos  |   Box  |   Highlights

Falk leads his 23rd-ranked Cougars into Friday’s Apple Cup against the No. 6 Huskies, and the stakes have never been higher. The winner will secure the Pac-12 North Division title, and stay alive for a possible Rose Bowl berth.

Now a seasoned junior with 26 starts and a slew of school records to his name, Falk will face the Huskies as an experienced, healthy quarterback at his peak.

Falk has been magnificent this season, leading the Cougars to an 8-3 record that included a seven-game conference win streak. He’s the NCAA active career leader in passing yardage per game (357.2), he leads the country with a lofty 71.4 completion percentage, and he’s four touchdowns away from breaking Connor Halliday’s school record for career touchdown passes (90).

But those accolades and numbers are also why there’s a chance that this Apple Cup could be Falk’s last.

 

Even though Falk has rebutted one media report claiming that he’d decided to forgo his senior season to enter the 2017 NFL draft (Falk said, on Oct. 31, that “if I had to make a decision right now, I’d say I’m definitely staying”) there’s no guarantee that the Cougars junior quarterback will return.

His stance from the beginning has been that he wants to get through the season focused on his team, and then talk to his family and evaluate his options.

Based on the direction his draft stock is trending, it’s possible that postseason evaluation could result in Falk choosing to leave early. NFL talent evaluators say Falk has all the tools to make it at the next level.

“I think Luke Falk will be an outstanding NFL quarterback,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora, former head coach of the Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons. “I think he’s smart, he’s unflappable, he’s well-coached and he’s got the ability to make almost every throw, if not every throw. I think he’s gonna be one heck of a good quarterback.”

Stanford’s David Shaw, a former NFL quarterbacks coach, concurs.

“What I appreciate about him is that he’s a quick decision maker, he’s got a quick release, he’s more athletic than you’d think working in the pocket, and he’s extremely accurate,” Shaw said. “On the move, with guys in his face, he can make all those throws. There will be an adjustment period, but he has got the stature and the skill-set to be successful at the next level.”

So what factors will Falk likely weigh in his decision-making process after the season? We lay out both sides of the argument here.

Why Falk should go

The case supporting Falk leaving early hinges largely on two factors: 1. NFL economics, and 2. Falk’s ceiling at his current level.

The 2017 draft class is projected to be thin in quarterback talent.

“It’s a down year at the position,” CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang said in an interview with 950 KJR earlier this month. “You’re hoping to see some of the young quarterbacks come out early.”

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Clemson’s DeShaun Watson are all quarterback prospects whom scouts think might do well if they declare early for the 2017 draft. If Falk opts to forgo his final season of eligibility, he could also be a highly sought after commodity.

“His film is really good,” said Pac-12 Network analyst and former USC quarterbacks coach Yogi Roth. “I think he’s probably a second-to-fourth round draft pick right now. If he comes out (early) he’ll have a chance to be one of the first few guys taken.”

The two biggest knocks against Falk are that he plays in the Air Raid – which, the prevailing argument goes, lends itself to inflated statistics, and does not require the quarterback to line up under center – and that he’s thin for his frame (he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds).

Some analysts like Rang also question his arm strength, though Roth and former Seahawk Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst and Elite 11 quarterback coach, both disagree.

“He’s very gifted as a passer,” Dilfer said. “There are very few guys these days who can pass like him. He has quick eyes, moves around the pocket well and can throw early. All the little nuances of passing jump out, and he can do it better than anybody else.”

Roth also believes that in Falk’s second year as the Cougars’ starting quarterback, he has demonstrated his mastery of Mike Leach’s offense.

“That’s where Luke has jumped the most,” said Roth, who has watched all of Falk’s games. “Early last year, he was trying too many things at the line of scrimmage. Today, he has mastery on the line of scrimmage. When you study him, he’s an anticipatory passer with extremely great ability to layer the football.

The question then is this: What more does Falk have left to prove in the Air Raid?

Why Falk should stay

Even though the 2018 draft is expected to be loaded with quarterback talent, Dilfer believes Falk should stay in school. The positives of coming back outweigh the potential financial benefits, he said..

“What’s the goal? To be drafted high, or to have a great career?” Dilfer said.

Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens, says he counsels every college quarterback to play out his eligibility because “I believe there’s such value in playing a lot of football in college and having a lot of starts, having a lot of adversity and a lot of experience with (different) situations,” he said.

Dilfer thinks Falk could also benefit from one more offseason in the weight room.

“The concern I’ve heard is ‘he’s not physical enough.’ That’s the knock on him,” Dilfer said. “It helps to have thickness and bulk on you. There’s very few skinny guys who make it (at quarterback) who are durable. Most guys who play at a high level are thick-jointed guys.”

Though Falk is listed at 216 pounds, he loses some of that weight during the season. His natural build is that of a basketball player: tall, lanky and athletic.

Dilfer says Falk’s frame reminds him of former Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who went No. 1 overall to the 49ers in the 2005 draft.

“Alex Smith was way too skinny and was told he was too skinny and just worked his butt off in the weight room and became as strong as he possibly could for a skinny guy. That’s what I would have Luke do,” Dilfer said. “If you want to improve your draft stock, as soon as the season is over, you have a year to build that frame.

“He just needs to become more powerful. Bigger, faster, stronger.

“That, and the system he plays in, are the two things people will criticize the most.”

Regardless of when Falk enters the NFL draft, Mora and Shaw have this piece of advice for him: Ignore the noise.

“There are things that are not his fault that he’s going to get blamed for,” Shaw said. “For all the spread quarterbacks and all the different quarterbacks that haven’t made the transition. He can’t worry about that stuff. All he can do is what he does.”