Over 47 games and 31 starts for the Texas Longhorns, defensive back PJ Locke III proved that he has the versatility and physicality to play multiple positions in the secondary. As a player who compares himself to former Texas standout Quandre Diggs, Locke earned the right to say that over his four years in Austin.
And, in fact, Locke arguably out-played his ranking out of high school — the one-time Oregon commit was considered a mid-three star prospect from Beaumont Central when he flipped to Texas just before National Signing Day in 2015.
Like Diggs, Locke played a key position in the Texas defense, taking over the nickel back position and starting nine games there, with the biggest highlight coming on a hit against Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson that forced a fumble and knocked him from the game. Locke also recorded his first career interception that day.
When head coach Tom Herman and his staff arrived in Austin, Locke made an immediate impression on them.
“PJ Locke definitely is the first, and only set of parents that I’ve actually called to personally thank them for sending us a marvelous human being,” Herman said in March 2017. “He’s a great leader. I don’t know if the kid can play football or not, but he’s a very vocal leader on the field out there in all of those drills, and then we literally have an academic meeting every single week, once a week, usually on Thursdays, where we go over every single kid in front of the whole staff, and for the last three weeks, I mean, it’s been glowing reviews for him.
“So I picked up the phone and called his mom, called his dad and said, thank you for raising such a good son.”
It was hardly a surprise, then, when Locke was named a team captain prior to his junior season, during which he battled through an injury late to start eight games, including at safety in the Texas Bowl. Locke recorded 39 tackles and a forced fumble that season before emerging as the team’s third-leading tackler as a senior with 77 stops (55 solo). He added 5.5 tackles for loss and an important interception in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, as well as one of the biggest hits of the season against Tulsa.
Capable of playing with enough punch to survive at nickel back in the Big 12, Locke was solid at safety in the Texas Bowl and believes he can play outside at cornerback, too.
“I’m a safety that can cover like a corner and hit like a linebacker,” Locke said at the Texas Pro Day. “Wherever you want to play me, I can play there — I’ve got experience at every position, so I’m not worried. If it’s just about getting my feet wet again and going to play corner, I can play corner. I’ve got the speed, I showcased that today, and I’ve got the agility.”
Locke did test well that day, putting up 22 reps on the bench press and posting an official 36.5-inch vertical after a 39-inch effort was disqualified. He ran well, too, with times ranging from the high 4.3s to the low 4.5s. In fact, of all the Texas players at the Pro Day, he arguably helped himself as much as any not named Andrew Beck.
One of the more remarkable aspects of Locke as a player is that he can control his body weight during game week, fluctuating from 210 pounds last season against a running team like Maryland to 199 pounds against a passing team like Oklahoma.
Despite the versatility that Locke displayed at Texas, however, the biggest question he faces is whether he can actually find a position he can play at a high enough level to make an NFL roster.
What isn’t in doubt is that he’s a strong athlete who possesses all of the necessary intangibles to succeed, so don’t be surprised if he ends up following in the footsteps of a player like Adrian Phillips to carve out an NFL career.