2014 NFL Draft: Mettenberger? I Hardly Know Her!

Would you take him if you were Rick Smith? - Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Sorry about that one. Either I have no grasp on the creative process, or it's a surprisingly difficult name to work with.

Did you really waste your time writing a post about Zach Mettenberger?

As a matter of fact I did. I initially set out to do a two-part post focusing primarily on Dee Ford and briefly touching upon a few other 2nd-3rd round options. One of those was Mettenberger, and I started my research by watching a couple of his games. Then I watched a couple more... And a couple more after that. After watching his entire 2013 season, I decided to ditch the Dee Ford portion (for now, at least; he's still going to be awesome, though). Mettenberger is a fascinating prospect who might very well be the best pure passer in this draft class.

And yet over the past few months, draft pundits have elevated players like Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, and even Tom Savage ahead of Mettenberger. Why? For starters, he suffered a torn ACL in December, causing him to miss the Combine and creating some uncertainty as to whether he'll be ready by the time NFL training camps start. He threw at his Pro Day, but he wasn't 100% and it was reportedly a shaky showing. He also pleaded guilty to sexual battery charges back in 2010 and was kicked off the University of Georgia team as a freshman.

But don't you know the Texans would never draft a player with that type of history?

Eh. I don't believe smart managers deal in absolutes. Certainly not as it pertains to a mistake made by an 18 year-old. The Texans met with him at the the Combine and attended LSU's Pro Day. To dismiss him as an option would be irresponsible.

Based on comments I've read over the past few months, I'm pretty sure I'm fighting an uphill battle here. Some won't be able to look past the off-field incident; I understand that. But in my opinion there's not a quarterback in this draft class with fewer questions surrounding their overall skill set. That makes him worthy of consideration.

It starts with the arm for Mettenberger. He has arm strength and accuracy that can only be rivaled by Derek Carr. But while Carr has average height, Mettenberger possesses an ideal frame at 6'5", 225 lbs. While Carr played in a screen-heavy spread offense against one of the easiest defensive schedules in college football, Mettenberger attacked top competition down field in Cam Cameron's pro style offense. And while nearly every quarterback in this draft class displayed bad habits against the pass rush, Mettenberger exhibited an advanced pocket presence and the ability to maintain his timing and mechanics in the face of pressure.

For an additional read, you can check out Dan Kadar's scouting report. But in this post I want to take a look at a few plays that highlight the attributes that make Mettenberger a top quarterback prospect. And pardon the embedded videos (all of which come from; I know they're not great for performance, but my GIF-making ability is nonexistent.

Arm Strength

I think there's a misconception that arm strength is best measured by the ability to beat defenses over the top. I don't find that to be the case; fly routes are largely a matter of timing. The throw that really requires arm strength is the deep out route, where the quarterback has to make a long throw to the sideline underneath the coverage where there's a risk of defensive backs breaking on the ball. We saw Matt Schaub's inability to put enough velocity on this throw last season, and the results were disastrous.

Here's an example:

With his deep reads covered and the defense recovering after the play fake, Mettenberger turns to Landry on the out route and fires a pass from the left hash to the right sideline. The throw comes in on a rope over the safety, underneath the corner, and leads the receiver at perfect height towards the sideline.

This throw will go down as a 16 yard completion. But based on what we know about the dimensions of a college football field (the hash marks are wider than on an NFL field), Mettenberger's depth after the play fake, and the Pythagorean Theorem, we can reason that the throw traveled roughly 38 yards in the air.

Here's another similar throw:

Again from the left hash to the right sideline. This time he fields a low snap. The left end gets a good jump and forces him to step up while his left guard is getting manhandled, creating a very tight pocket. Mettenberger moves ever so slightly to his right to find an open passing lane and fires a bullet to lead a bracketed Landry towards the sideline. Note the angle required on this throw due to the safety's position underneath. To get it out of his reach and avoid overthrowing the receiver, the margin for error on this throw is miniscule.

These are the type of throws that allow you to beat tight coverage. There's one game that I'm reminded of every time I watch Mettenberger play: the Texans' 2011 regular season loss to Baltimore. With a healthy Johnathan Joseph and a much improved Kareem Jackson, we trotted out two corners excellent in man coverage. For most of the game they were draped over Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, taking away everything inside and pinning them along the sidelines. And yet Joe Flacco kept firing back shoulder, toe-tap throws that came in too fast for defenders to break on. He finished 10-11 for 198 yards against our top two corners, and I left that game thinking that they had actually played pretty tight coverage.

Not many NFL quarterbacks can make those throws. The ability to attack the sidelines like that adds a new dimension to an offense.

And of course, I can't get through the arm strength section without including one throw like this:

I present this as a pro and a con. On the one hand, this is a weapon that only a handful of quarterbacks possess. When there are three defenders in the throwing lane who know exactly where you're going with the ball and they still can't lay a finger on it, that's amore. On the other hand, you run the risk of developing "Jeff George Syndrome" where you trust your arm to a fault. Windows are tighter in the NFL, and throwing into coverage over the middle is a recipe for turnovers.


Mettenberger's arm strength is well known, but his accuracy tends to get overlooked. I think there's a misconception that he has shaky ball placement and was routinely bailed out by talented receivers. In my opinion that couldn't be further from the truth.

Here's a throw that I love:

What do you do when your go-to target is facing man coverage from an undersized corner whose elite quickness and technique make him a potential first round pick? You go over the top, of course. Beckham gets away with a push-off here, but Verrett is still right on him. The throw makes that irrelevant, though. Mettenberger utilizes his receiver's positioning and size advantage to pick up seven yards despite tight coverage from one of college football's best.

Pocket Presence

Arm strength and accuracy are nice to have, but nothing is more important than handling pressure. There are numerous ways to do that for most quarterbacks in this draft, but Mettenberger's lack of mobility limits his options. He's not going to escape the pocket and extend plays often, so he relies on subtle movements within the pocket and trusts his backfield pass protection.

Here we have immediate interior pressure due to confusion on the right side of the line:

Mettenberger shows complete trust in his running back to cut the free rusher, then slides to his left, steps up, and fires to the back left corner of the end zone. The receiver gets pushed out of bounds before the ball gets there, but the composure he shows despite right guard getting beat off the snap is what you want to see out of a quarterback.

Here we have LSU backed up in their own end zone:

On this play, Mettenberger trusts his running back to successfully cut the left end. Without a second glance at the rusher, he steps up in the pocket and delivers a beautiful pass down the right sideline.

Here's another play from that same series:

This time A&M brings an extra pass rusher. Again, Mettenberger trusts his running back to pick up the blitz and gives his receiver time to complete the route.

Handling the Blitz

Here we see Florida stack the line and bring six:

Mettenberger trusts his fullback to pick up the blitzing safety (even though he has to come across the pocket to do it), calmly steps up in the pocket, and delivers a perfect pass on the short crossing route.

This one is is a personal favorite:

A&M breaks through with a right side A-gap blitz. Once again Mettenberger slides to his left, steps up, and delivers. That subtle move only buys him a second, but watching the second angle on this play you can see just how important that extra time is in regards to the receiver's route. This is something I'll touch on in the next section, but Mettenberger displays an excellent understanding of when and where his receivers are going to be at each moment after the snap.

Here we see him handle another A-gap blitz:

He knows this one is going to hurt, but he doesn't rush the throw or shy away from stepping into it. He fires an accurate pass to Landry as he comes out of his break. I could pull dozens of similar clips where he steps into a throw despite having a free rusher bearing down on him. He's tough as nails.

Here's an overload blitz from Alabama:

Mettenberger is late to move here after fielding a bad snap, so he doesn't quite escape this one and ultimately fires an incompletion into the dirt, but note the process: he slides to his left, dips his right shoulder to shake the pass rusher and protect the ball, and then attempts to step up into an open lane. All the while he keeps his eyes down field.

This is the attribute that separates Pro Day performance from on-field performance. You have to be able to handle pressure without letting it disrupt your timing. Mettenberger has an excellent ability to sense pressure, keep his eyes down field, and move in the pocket to avoid the pass rush.


This is tied into pocket presence, but deals more with his understanding of routes and coverages. Mettenberger doesn't rush his throws; he has an excellent internal clock when it comes to the pass rush and a solid understanding of how coverage will react to his receivers' routes.

An example:

Here we see LSU run a double post from the left side. There's a lone safety split between the two receivers, so Mettenberger knows he'll get single coverage on one of his targets. He uses his eyes to sell the underneath route, waits for the safety to commit, and then takes advantage of a one-on-one match up for a big completion over the top.

Here we have Auburn giving LSU an interesting look:

They show blitz, but drop two back into coverage and rush just three. The center gets manhandled, but Mettenberger knows he has plenty of space to maneuver. He scales the pocket and finds the right receiver. This is another asset that he possesses: when you have time in the pocket (and that's something of a rarity in the NFL), it's not enough to just dump it off for an easy completion. Mettenberger makes the most of these opportunities and typically finds receivers for big plays down field.


I'm not wild about college statistics, but picking out a handful of plays doesn't give us the complete picture, either, and I'd be remiss not to include Greg Peshek's excellent QB metrics data. An aside: if you haven't seen his work before, I'd highly recommend it. He breaks down top prospects at several positions and shows the importance of evaluating how a player accumulated statistics.

In the case of quarterbacks, throwing zone (broken down by distance) is what intrigues me most. Peshek summarizes Mettenberger's profile best with this paragraph:

In the college football world when so many systems rely heavily on screens, Mettenberger and LSU defied convention and threw intermediate and deep routes often. Approximately 50% of Mettenberger’s passes went deeper than 10 yards compared to an average of 35% for the rest of the QBs. As such, only 12% of his total passes came in the form of a screen – 10% less than what we would expect.

In light of that, Mettenberger's 65% completion rate in 2013 is especially impressive. Nobody made more "pro throws" than the LSU signal-caller. In fact, nobody else came particularly close (somewhat surprisingly Connor Shaw came in second, but still fell 10% short of Mettenberger). And in a quarterback class full of spread and screen-heavy offenses, Mettenberger's demonstrated excellence in Cam Cameron's pro style offense should play well with NFL talent evaluators.


I think it's important to note: I didn't include many "easy" throws in this breakdown. I could have shown dozens of clips with beautiful, over-the-shoulder passes, in-stride crossing routes, and perfectly timed bullets on open curl routes. When given a clean pocket and time to throw, he shreds opposing defenses as well as any other quarterback in this class (perhaps better, even). But I wanted to illustrate how he deals with pressure because that's what separates him from most physically talented college quarterbacks

A month ago I was firmly against the idea of a quarterback at 3.1. After watching the majority of Mettenberger's 2013 season, I'm not going to complain if he's the pick at 2.1. I think there's considerable separation between Mettenberger and other "second tier" quarterback prospects. In fact, if the knee isn't an issue, I'd comfortably rank him as the second best quarterback in this draft.

Like most quarterbacks, he needs some help. Having a couple of physical receivers on the outside would be a good start. A solid blindside protector would go a long way, too, as would a three-down running back reliable in pass protection. If only there were a team that had all of that and just needed a QB to bring it all together...

I can't speak to his character, the status of his knee, or how he'd fit in Bill O'Brien's offense, but I think there's a good chance that he'll be successful in the NFL.

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