Luke Falk played through a broken wrist in 2017 and worked this spring with the QB coaches who've trained Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Now, he's ready for the NFL draft

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He doesn’t have Sam Darnold’s gunslinger moxie or Josh Rosen’s natural gifts.

He lacks Josh Allen’s rocket arm, and doesn’t come with the Heisman credentials and athleticism that have boosted Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson up draft boards.

Because of all those qualities he’s allegedly missing, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is regarded by most analysts as a mid-to-late round prospect in this week’s NFL draft. CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang sees Falk as a third- or fourth-round pick, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Falk going to the Arizona Cardinals in the third round in a recent mock draft.

Yet, all that means is Falk will likely enter the NFL in the manner that suits him best: as the perennial underdog who will  again have to fight to earn his spot on the team.

A former walk-on at WSU, Falk will never be the guy with the flashiest combine numbers, but his supporters argue that he possesses an equally long list of strengths that will be an asset to many NFL teams.

“In my opinion, he’s a top-10 first rounder,” said Jason Loscalzo, WSU’s former strength coach who is now the Chicago Bears’ head of strength and conditioning. “But I think Luke is gonna be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Which is good for him, it’s how he operates. He’s the walk-on. The guy with the chip on the shoulder.”

NFL draft analysts generally agree that Falk’s biggest assets are his accuracy, maturity and football intelligence. But what’s not as frequently noted is his drive to continually better himself and his determination to lead his team at all costs.

Case in point: Since his redshirt freshman year, Falk has spent multiple weekends, chunks of his summers and all his spring breaks in Southern California relentlessly honing his mechanics under the tutelage of renowned quarterback coaches Tom House and Adam DeDeaux.

House, a biomechanics expert and former MLB pitching coach, founded 3DQB, the quarterback biomechanics training program Falk has followed. House is now semi-retired and has ceded daily operations to DeDeaux, but he’s highly respected in football circles for his work with many top NFL quarterbacks, including Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and he’s bullish on Falk’s NFL prospects.

“He’s a sleeper. He might surprise some people,” House said. “He’s like a penny, he keeps showing up. …You have your sentimental favorites you root for, and I don’t mind saying Luke is one of the guys I root for even though he doesn’t know it.”

It’s hard not to root for the guy who, upon discovering early last season that he’d broken his left (non-throwing) wrist, insisted that WSU’s medical staff find a way for him to play through the injury.

“He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Loscalzo says, citing Falk’s 40 games as WSU’s starting quarterback as evidence of his perseverance. “I think that fan base would appreciate him even more than they do if they saw the things that guy endured and fought through.”

Injury subterfuge

Falk broke his wrist on the third offensive play of WSU’s Sept. 9 game against Boise State, when he scrambled head-first for an 8-yard gain on third down, and was tackled hard on the end of the run.

“I knew I’d done something pretty bad to it,” Falk said in an interview with The Seattle Times earlier this month. “I got off the field and I couldn’t even move it.”

Luke Falk accepted the “Admiral’s Trophy” for selfless contributions to the team from Holiday Bowl officials on the USS Essex in San Diego while awkwardly concealing his left hand in his sweatshirt pocket. At that point, he’d just had surgery on his broken left wrist, and knew he wouldn’t be able to play in the bowl game. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Luke Falk accepted the “Admiral’s Trophy” for selfless contributions to the team from Holiday Bowl officials on the USS Essex in San Diego while awkwardly concealing his left hand in his sweatshirt pocket. At that point, he’d just had surgery on his broken left wrist, and knew he wouldn’t be able to play in the bowl game. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Doctors recommended surgery after an initial evaluation, but conceded that if Falk’s wrist was protected by a hard cast, he could probably play through the injury.

Falk was determined to keep the injury a secret for fear that opponents would target his weakness. So WSU’s medical staff devised a special hard cast for his wrist that was molded and cut down to fit under a black glove. Falk wore the cast in every game, but cut it off before his postgame news conferences. Between games, he wore a splint and tried to minimize movement.

Of course that did nothing for the pain, and the nature of Falk’s injury meant doctors could not numb his wrist with painkillers before games.

“So I had to just pop a few Advil,” said Falk, who admits that he also played through broken ribs his junior year, and a broken finger in his sophomore season.

Playing an entire season with a broken wrist inevitably presented some challenges.

“I couldn’t land on my wrist any more, so I had to land on my shoulder,” Falk said. “You find different ways to do different things.”

Falk also recalls at least two occasions where the injury resulted in a turnover — he dropped a snap against California because he couldn’t get a good grip on the ball with his injured hand, and he fumbled in the Apple Cup for the same reason.

Ultimately, a follow up scan after the Apple Cup showed that the broken bone had shifted. Falk consulted three different doctors, and they all told him the same thing: he needed surgery as soon as possible.

“Any week that I delayed on it, the percentages were crazy of the recovery not being 100 percent,” Falk said. “There was a chance of my bone dying.”

Falk had surgery in early December to fix his wrist, but it killed him to have to watch WSU’s Holiday Bowl game from the sideline.

“For him to not play in that last football game at Washington State, you don’t know how hard that was for that guy,” Loscalzo said. “That’s not who that guy is.”

Becoming an NFL QB

Since the bowl game, Falk has been studiously prepping for the NFL draft.

Even though he was limited by his recovering wrist in the early part of the predraft process, he continued his mechanics sessions with the 3DQB quarterback coaches, and started working with former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley on his footwork and taking snaps from under center.

Lindley has coached all the quarterbacks who’ve signed with Falk’s agency, Rep 1 Sports, over the last three years. That list includes Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Mitchell Trubisky and C.J. Beathard.

Lindley’s experience in helping Goff transition from an Air Raid offense to the pros helped him prepare Falk in similar fashion, and Falk comes across as a mix of Goff and Wentz, Lindley said.

“The system thing with Jared and Luke is similar,” Lindley said. “But so much of the temperament is similar between Carson and Luke. With his maturity and mentality, Luke is the guy that can step in and play right away.

“Jared had more of a live arm with more whip on it, more juice. But accuracy-wise, Luke has the upper-hand there. Luke’s accuracy, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) INMC10 INMC10 (Michael Conroy / The Associated Press)
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) INMC10 INMC10 (Michael Conroy / The Associated Press)

The two main knocks on Falk are that he’s taken too many hits and that he doesn’t have elite arm strength.

The former, Loscalzo says, is largely a product of Falk having played in the Air Raid.

“Our quarterback drops back and throws more balls than anybody in the country, and you’re talking about a quarterback who’s not the most mobile guy in the world,” Loscalzo says. “It’s a product of what he’s asked to do. You go into the system knowing your quarterback is going to get hit and you know your quarterback is going to get bumps and bruises.”

The latter — the grouse about arm strength — is a perception Falk tried to correct at his pro day at Utah State on March 28, when, with the brace finally off his left wrist, he impressed scouts by completing 51 of 55 passes in a scripted workout that included a pair of 65-yard long passes.

“I definitely didn’t have any arm strength questions (from scouts) that day,” quips Falk, who has interviewed with or worked out for 10 NFL teams since.

He credits the 3DQB staff of House, DeDeaux, former BYU quarterback John Beck, and former Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly with helping hone his arm strength.

“We hit those two 65-yard balls at pro day, and before working with those guys, I wouldn’t have been able to say that,” Falk says. “They really helped me a lot. They helped me become more efficient and understand the science behind throwing. I was already a very natural passer, but they helped me get my sequence down.”

Over the years, DeDeaux says he’s been most impressed by Falk’s coachability and work ethic, and he thinks Falk has a bright NFL future.

“We gave him a process, he stuck to it, and now, he absolutely has the physical tools to play the quarterback position in the NFL,” DeDeaux said. “I don’t say this lightly, but we work with some of the best in the country, and I’d put his work ethic and attention to detail up with those elite guys we train.”

“He was just very committed to the process. I can’t say enough about how impressed I am by the work he’s put in.”
The time for work is over. Falk will watch this week’s NFL draft from a golf club in his hometown of Logan, Utah, surrounded by his family and close friends.

The winningest quarterback in WSU history doesn’t care which NFL team he ends up playing for. As was the case in 2013, when the Cougars offered him a preferred walk-on slot, all he wants is a chance. He knows what he can do once he gets it.