Luke Falk ended his career for the Washington State Cougars as the most prolific passer the Pac-12 conference had ever seen. All of the significant passing statistical categories have his name listed on top—completions, attempts, completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns—some by a healthy margin. He even surpassed Jason Gesser as the leader in the unofficial all-time wins by a quarterback category. And yet, questions remain.
Despite leading the Cougars to a 9-3 record, a third consecutive bowl game, and another Apple Cup that was a de facto Pac-12 North Championship game, Falk’s senior season was largely a disappointment. He seemingly regressed from being a surgeon, dissecting Pac-12 defenses at will, to suffering from paralysis by analysis, hesitating and shying away from sticking it into tight windows as he done in previous seasons. Most experts agree that some of the shine has come off Falk, and his draft stock has slipped since the previous off-season. Coming off the 2016 season, there was some chatter about the potential for him to be a first day selection. This year? Day one might be a pipe dream.
Regardless, Falk has the potential to be the highest-drafted Cougar since Deone Bucannon went 27th overall to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2014 draft, and the first quarterback selected from the Palouse since Alex Brink went off the board in the seventh round of 2008.
What We Like
Arm Strength: Luke’s arm isn’t necessarily in the upper echelon when it comes to strength. He’s not Brett Favre, nor is he Aaron Rodgers. His arm isn’t even on the same tier as the top guys in this draft—Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, in particular. But he can make every throw around the field, and has made just about every throw he’ll need to make to be successful in the NFL. We’ve seen plenty of them over the course of the last four years.
Experience: Falk played in or started more than 40 games behind center during his career at Wazzu. Opposing defenses threw just about every look imaginable at the Cougar signal caller in the hopes of slowing down the vaunted Cougar passing attack. Falk still managed to thrive. There aren’t too many situations Falk hasn’t seen in his time as QB1, and through it all he has maintained his calm, cool, collected demeanor as he negotiated the offense through the defenses of the Pac-12. NFL teams like quarterbacks who win football games, and Falk has done plenty of that over the past four years, leaving with twenty-eight wins under his belt, more than any other quarterback in Washington State’s program history.
Toughness: Falk attempted 2,054 passes while wearing the crimson and gray. Looking back, it sure feels like he got hit on every single one of them. Never known for his mobility, Falk gave defending pass rushers a stationary target in the pocket, and they often took advantage. Despite the beatings he took, Falk rarely missed snaps, even going so far as to play the majority of the 2017 season with a broken left (non-throwing) wrist, after injuring it against Boise State on September 9th. You can question a lot of things about Luke Falk and his ability to succeed at the next level. You cannot question his toughness.
What NFL Teams May Not Like
System: Like it or not, anti-Air Raid bias is still a thing in the NFL old guard. Despite the fact that in the modern era of football, Everybody Air Raids™, quarterbacks who thrive in the system in college have the moniker of a “system quarterback” stuck to them like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. A significant part of the problem is that there hasn’t been an Air Raid QB who has gone on to do well in the NFL. With the prevalence of major programs running the Air Raid—or, at least, heavily doused in Air Raid ideology, a la Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma—that may change sooner rather than later. But it hasn’t changed yet. And there is no college coach that is more closely identified with the Air Raid than Mike Leach. Thus, any QB under his tutelage that comes anywhere close to the possibility of being drafted is going to have to deal with the questions that come with being labeled a “system quarterback.”
Injuries: Falk took some shots over the years. Although he only ever missed two starts due to being less than entirely happy and healthy (2015 Apple Cup and 2017 Holiday Bowl) Falk missed a handful of snaps during several games as he was evaluated for various injuries. And of course there was the broken wrist that hampered Falk throughout his senior season. Because of his limited mobility and the volume of dropbacks in the Air Raid, Falk opened himself up to some hits that other quarterbacks in other systems didn’t. As a result, Falk looked like a rag doll on a few occasions. The positive for him going forward is that, as the NFL passing game continues to evolve, quarterbacks are spending less and less time sitting in the pocket with the ball in their hands. So the injury concern should be mitigated somewhat. But as talented and athletic as pass rushers in the NFL are, Falk will have to show his ability to absorb a hit.
Luke Falk says he only got 3.5-4 hours of sleep last night. “Just have to compartmentalize and focus on the moment. Been waiting my whole life for this.” Doesn’t drink coffee - just water #NFLCombine #WSU pic.twitter.com/V9yDhX75xb— Aaron Levine (@AaronQ13Fox) March 2, 2018
Himself: We may not ever see a quarterback who is so deep in his own head in the way that Luke Falk was. Sometimes this was a great benefit for the team. Cool Hand Luke, the Air Raid surgeon, he of the unflappable demeanor, could give master classes on carving up defenses through the air. On the other hand, Cold Feet Luke, the deer in the headlights, he of the hesitating demeanor, was frustratingly reticent to throw the ball anywhere beyond five yards downfield. That might be explained away by the injury to his wrist, but if that is his reaction to an injury, that may be a red flag for an NFL scouting department.
The most glaring example of how Falk can sometimes be his own worst enemy was during the NFL Combine. We’ve all probably been there at one point or another. You’re so amped for whatever is happening the next day that it’s virtually impossible to fall asleep the night before. But the lack of sleep in this case seemed to negatively affect Falk’s Combine performance. He was described by various pundits as “inconsistent” or “spotty”. Not terms you want to hear when you’re throwing against air. Spinning it forward, if Falk is this way on a big day, how will he perform as QB1 on Monday Night Football or, praise be unto the Football Gods, the Super Bowl?
Although disappointment permeated 2017, it was only one piece of Falk’s body of work and, taken as a whole, he has done more than enough to warrant a selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. His measurables, his statistical prowess, and his mental and physical toughness will endear him to at least one NFL team. Luke Falk will hear his name called this weekend, the only question is when and by whom.