Zach Mettenberger is one of the quarterback prospects getting the least amount of attention from everyone not named Jaws, and that’s understandable given that he tore his ACL late in the season. All indications are that he’ll be ready for his pro day on April 19th. If this is true, I’m expecting a lot of buzz will follow. Let’s take a look at what he can do as a player.
One of his better games is the 2013 season opener against TCU. All of the traits I am looking for in a quarterback are on display here: the ability to work the deep middle (50-60+ yards), mobility in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield on a pass rush, and arm strength. Obviously, this isn’t everything a QB needs, but to keep things simple, we’ll stick to these as major important qualities.
I’ve selected “good” plays where he demonstrates these qualities I’m looking for; feel free to watch the rest of the game on your own. Here’s the deep middle I am talking about in the 60-yard range. He’s got that zip and velocity on shorter passes you want to see. He can throw deep with accuracy, even throwing off his back foot under pressure. I see that he has some escapability that makes me unconcerned about his mobility. There’s a low snap in the two-minute drill; he doesn’t get flustered, but keeps his eyes downfield to complete a 22-yard deep out in a very small window. Keep watching from there. The very next play after that is a deep pass that could put the team inside the 10; he’s “off target” an inch or two too far, but too far is better than too short, which leads to interceptions and can indicate insufficient arm strength. Later, you can see more mobility from him, and when the play breaks down, he’s able to extend it. All of this happens in the first half.
Now let’s move to a game where he struggles. Against Ole Miss, Zach Mettenberger throws three interceptions. I’ll be cherry-picking “bad” plays here. Again, it isn’t all bad; feel free to watch the entire game. But in this game his decision-making process shows repeated flaws. In this play, the safety is reading Mettenberger all the way and he doesn’t recognize this before making the throw. He throws it right to the safety, who breaks on the pass to get in front of Odell Beckham in the end zone and make the interception. On his second interception, “What is he thinking?” comes to mind. Jarvis Landry is breaking open across the middle, but Mettenberger decides to throw it to Beckham, who is completely bracketed by two defenders in the end zone, with predictable results. The third interception isn’t as bad as the first two, in terms of Mettenberger’s decision-making – Beckham can certainly make this play if Mettenberger places the ball well – but his form allows the throw to sail on him, giving the defender enough time to catch up underneath it and make the play. Later on, he underthrows a ball to Landry which would usually be an easy touchdown for him. Another ball just dies on him. On consecutive plays he (1) misses an easy completion with an underthrow, and (2) throws into traffic again with bad ball placement.
What I’m not seeing in these negative plays is poor decision making related to pressure. Why is that important? Because quarterbacks who fold to pressure can’t survive in the NFL. From all the tape I’ve seen on Zach Mettenberger (much more than these two games), he responds well to a pass rush and always challenges the entire field. These poor decisions we watched are not the result of panic in the pocket. I believe these flaws can be worked on with repetition. It’s important to note, in that regard, that Mettenberger dramatically improved his mechanics from 2012 to 2013. He has shown the ability to learn and adapt. There’s no reason he shouldn’t continue to do so into the pros; he’s not shown any signs of leveling off (if anything, his 2013 was a significant leap forward that indicates a continued upward trajectory).
If you tell me the ACL injury will have no effect on his career going forward, Mettenberger is my 3rd-favorite quarterback in this entire class. Check out the rest of his games at Draft Breakdown and I believe you’ll see what I see. He has many more positive than negative attributes, and his upside as a player is a franchise quarterback. He’s a first round talent if he gets a clean bill of health.