The quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft are a unique bunch because there’s a lot of talent among them, but it’s hard to sort it all out. Each of them has skills that translate well to the next level, but they all have flaws and concerns that go with that. Because of this, there’s no clear forecast of where each of them will be taken this May, but one thing is for sure: After scouting LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, the team that drafts him is going to get a bargain on a franchise signal-caller.
Had he not torn his ACL in LSU’s regular season finale, Mettenberger would undoubtedly be higher on the draft boards of many “experts” you see on television. But that torn ACL isn’t going to affect him at all in the NFL because he’s a pocket passer who has never been, and will never be, a threat to run. Tom Brady tore his ACL in 2008 and then came back just the same because it was his left knee, which isn’t the leg off which he drives to throw the ball. The same applies to Mettenberger.
As for his skill set, Mettenberger has the best mechanics and natural stance in the pocket of any quarterback in this year’s draft. At 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, he’s a prototype pocket passer with a cannon attached to the right side of his body. He has the best arm strength of any passer in his class and the velocity on this throws is incredible for a player fresh out of college. The best part is he already knows how to use it.
Mettenberger can make every throw on the field and that applies to the NFL level. His short passes are quick and on target; his medium passes have the right balance of zip and touch to avoid defenders in good position; his deep balls rival any quarterback in the NFL and he can throw the 15-yard out on a frozen rope, which is the unwritten right of passage for successful pro signal-callers.
He’s got solid pocket presence, feels the pressure and gets rid of the ball quickly when protection breaks down. Mettenberger can still improve in this area, which is a good thing considering all of his other assets. He’s patient and allows his receivers to get open, although this sometimes leads to unnecessary sacks when he waits too long. Again, this is an easily-fixed problem with the right coaching.
That patience also reveals another natural skill that can’t be taught: Mettenberger knows how to put the ball where only his receiver can get it, and this seems to be elevated once the receiver breaks off his route during “broken” plays. On the same note, Mettenberger’s patience in the pocket is evident on game film of plays involving combination routes. He knows how to use these routes like any decent quarterback, but he really works to exploit these specific plays and uses them to give his receiver an extra step on a defensive back, even when the defender is in good position. The timing he shows on throws to receivers running combination routes is something he can take and apply to the offense he runs in the NFL and the unique combination routes utilized therein.
Mettenberger goes through his progressions unusually fast and doesn’t need to re-set when he changes targets that aren’t directly in his line of vision, which is something that is very hard to teach, even to NFL quarterbacks. He’s very good at looking off the safety to create space on vertical routes down the seam and uses this same skill set on outside routes to throw off cornerbacks as well.
Although he has a short memory and doesn’t need to be motivated externally, Mettenberger does need to learn to be more vocal so that his command of the huddle is unquestioned. He has all the tools to garner respect from veteran teammates right off the bat, but will have to learn to voice his leadership to succeed in the NFL. He’s projected to go in the third round and could turn around the fortunes of a franchise that passes on an overrated quarterback early and sees the real value in this middle-round gem.