There might not be a quarterback and probably few players that have improved themselves as much as Zach Mettenberger did in this past year at LSU. The hiring of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the offense that has been established in addition to his own hard work have yielded huge results and the promise that had been heaped upon him last year has shown this year. Mettenberger has two incredibly talented wide receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. among others that really accentuate his talent. However, Mettenberger and the LSU offense had those players last year with largely mediocre results. Now, they are arguably the most powerful offense in the SEC other than Texas A&M.
Mettenberger is the prototype in terms of his height, size, and arm strength with the ability to make every throw. He has surprisingly good feet and a decent amount of athletic ability, but he does not play like a big quarterback and goes down easily when he is hit. Mettenberger also needs to become more consistent with his footwork, read defenses better, and not panicking when plays break down. He grades out as a top 50 pick and in an ideal world, he would have another year in college to polish his game and really be ready for the NFL. Mettenberger should probably sit a year before taking over as the franchise quarterback, but the NFL rarely allows for quarterbacks to go where they should and Mettenberger will likely go in the first round and could go extremely high in the first round. While he is talented, if he is put in a situation where he has to start as a rookie and has little or no help around him, Mettenberger will likely struggle.
Vitals & Build
Mettenberger is listed at 6’5” 235lbs and he is a little surprising with his athleticism. He is a big, strong looking prospect that fits the mold of the prototypical pocket passer, but he is not a powerful player and actually does not demonstrate much functional strength. On the other hand, he has some quick feet and agility that allow him to slide in the pocket, move around a little bit and escape some pressure. Mettenberger looks NFL ready from a size and strength standpoint, but outside of demonstrating some impressive toughness and not really showing much damage from hits, his strength does not seem to show up in terms of the game on the field. In terms of potential, getting better balance and showing more functional strength on the field might be the best use of his time.
Mettenberger has a cannon and is able to drive the ball down the field. When he has the time to set up, he can throw basically as far as he wants. He also demonstrates a terrific fast ball and is able to fit passes into tight windows. The one question when it comes to his arm strength is how much not being able to step into his throws takes off of his passes both in terms of distance and zip as he does a fantastic job engaging his lower body in his throws. While he is not going to go from an incredibly strong armed quarterback to a weak one, there is some drop off and the question is just how much is lost.
Accuracy & Touch
Mettenberger has shown the ability to be deadly accurate, but he runs into stretches where he has issues. Footwork tends to cause some of his problems when he is not actively working to maintain his mechanics. He will also just miss targets at times with his release point.
When Mettenberger misses, the vast majority of the time, he will miss high. It seems to be around 80-90% of the time that Mettenberger will miss high as opposed to grounding a pass.
The other area that can come and go with Mettenberger is his ball placement. At times, Mettenberger is an artist with the football and he might have half of the top ten throws of this college football season. With his raw strength and zip, the times he is able to put the ball in a perfect spot that put a pass where only his receiver can make a play or that puts the ball in a position where they can catch the ball and run with it, he looks phenomenal.
There are also times when Mettenberger will miss his ball placement and either force his receiver to stop and adjust to the play, which ends up costing them yards after the catch or the receiver is making a play to bail out Mettenberger’s questionable ball placement on a given throw. Mettenberger has been fortunate that he is surrounded by skill players that can pick him up when he is not on target and make him look better than he is. At the same time, there are times when he is on the money and they have let him down with drops.
In addition to tending to throw high when he misses, he will also throw a high number of completable passes that are high. There are times when this can be problematic as he will occasionally lead receivers into situations where they can get drilled by defenders. This tends to work out well when it comes to throwing passes near the sideline and in the end zone as receivers seem to have a great opportunity to go and make plays on the ball. When Mettenberger misses high down the middle of the field, it can result in deflections and misses that can be intercepted.
Mettenberger has shown the ability to throw every throw and make every pass accurately. He is comfortable throwing to the sidelines, underneath routes, quick slants, and attacking deep down the field as well as over the middle of the field. This becomes far more problematic when he has to make those throws on the move and his accuracy drops off, but when he is able to set up and make a throw on time, he can be impressive, throw on time and put it in a great spot.
Mettenberger is able to throw frozen ropes and does throw fastballs at times, but he has shown and understands when he needs to take a little bit off of the ball and puts a little air under the ball. He does not throw huge, arcing passes and tends to elevate the ball just enough to get over the defender. He misses high, but he throws line drives so when he is right, they get there fast and do not sail in the air.
Mechanics & Footwork
In terms of his throwing motion, Mettenberger goes from in front of his neck to behind his head and through with an overhand delivery. Mettenberger’s throwing motion is perhaps a little slow and defenders can get a read on where he is going with the football. It is not a deal breaker, but it is worth noting and if he can work to shorten it up, he should. He is also able to drop down to an almost side arm delivery that he can use to throw around a defender or get rid of the ball extremely quickly.
The key for Mettenberger comes down to his footwork. In that respect, he is inconsistent and at times, he is remarkable in how well he is able to operate while at others, his feet cause him issues. The times Mettenberger has problems, he gets in his drop back and sets his feet. They do not move. He does not bounce at all and they might as well be in concrete. This is an issue for two reasons. First, his weight seems to be placed all on his back foot and if he does not see pressure coming, he will have a difficult time avoiding it.
The other problem is far a bigger issue. This really shows itself to be a problem when there is an unexpected push up the middle collapsing the pocket. In these situations, when he is primed to throw to his right, he will not reset his feet and make a good throw with his feet going to the target. Instead, he just steps outside to the left and throws to the right. The result is inconsistent accuracy and ball placement.
On the other hand, there are times when Mettenberger is impressive with his feet. He gets into his drop, is light on his feet and moves around as needed to make a good step to his target and throw the ball. Mettenberger also shows the ability to avoid pressure, step up in the pocket and make a great throw. If he can do this consistently, he can be an incredibly dangerous threat from the pocket.
When it comes to throwing on the move, especially when he is flustered, Mettenberger has a little more of a problem with getting his feet set well and his accuracy can really fall off dramatically. This is an area he really needs to continue working on and improving. He is deadly when operating from the pocket and has his footwork going, but is a work in progress when it comes improvising or throwing on the move.
For the most part, Mettenberger does a good job with this, but like with his footowork, it can be inconsistent. So much depends on how much he is concerned with keeping his feet moving.
When he keeps his feet moving, he has shown the ability to navigate around pressure, step up in the pocket, and find great lanes to pass the football. The times he has his feet set and is seemingly unwilling to move them, he is a sitting duck. These are the times when he seems to have no sense of what is going on around him and just goes down when pressure comes.
Mettenberger is not an elite athlete from behind the pocket, but he does have a pretty good sense of where he needs to move in the pocket and making a small move that has a big impact on the pressure. He also can escape a little bit and extend plays on occasion. Mettenberger is not a statue as some may think.
Mettenberger is almost like Peyton Manning in the way he reacts when he is in trouble. The next sack Mettenberger manages to fight through and avoid will be his first. He goes down really easily and like Manning, feels contact or knows a big hit is coming and is looking to protect himself and find the best place to lay on the ground. Even at his size and having about 50lbs on a corner, he goes right down to the ground when he is wrapped up by a defender.
There are some people who will applaud this as it means he is not likely to fight a sack and try to fight a contested throw off or risk a defender knocking the ball out in addition to the fact it makes it easier for him to avoid injury. Manning’s sense in terms of giving up on a play and protect himself is part of why he has been able to stay healthy for such a large portion of his career. Mettenberger is not afraid to step into a throw when pressure is bearing down on him and will make a good throw and take the hit. He has shown some impressive toughness and has taken some big hits, but seems to shake them off without too much trouble.
On the other hand, neither he nor Mettenberger are fighting through a sack and there are times when they could be criticized for quitting too early. The way Mettenberger and Manning operate is more predictable and has less risk involved, but obviously does not have the chance pay off with a big play and reward as quarterbacks like Ben Roethliberger or Andrew Luck.
Decision Making & Anticipation
Mettenberger does a good job of deciding where to go with the football, but there are a few reasons. The offense he plays in and the impressive assortment of talent around him who puts him in good positions to succeed. Those two issues combined allow for Mettenberger to make a huge amount of throws on his first read and there are times when Mettenberger will force a pass into his first option and get away with it between his arm, accuracy and the receivers that are making plays for him.
Certainly, there are times when Mettenberger will look and find other options. He seems to always have a built in option that is going towards the sideline to the direction he is moving (mostly to the right) whether it be a drag route from the wide receiver from the left or LSU will use a lot of fullback routes to the flat. And with the fullbacks LSU has on their roster, that simple dump off option has produced a ton of yards after the catch and some huge plays in big games.
When the play legitimately breaks down, there is a level of panic that sets in for Mettenberger. Whether it is a pressure he did not see coming and has him trying to move backward and make a throw or he has simply not found anyone open, Mettenberger does not seem comfortable at all in these situations. There have been situations where Mettenberger has thrown passes with no receiver near the play that were intercepted by the defense. There are also times when he tries to make a play he should not and his mechanics go awry and he simply throws a terrible pass. From a defensive standpoint, the key to getting Mettenberger to make mistakes is getting him in situations where he is uncomfortable or surprisingly pressured and letting him make the costly mistake. This is another area where Mettenberger needs to improve.
When the play is under control and Mettenberger is able to operate the play as he expects it to happen, he is extremely effective. The times when that does not happen have him running into problems and there will be a concern that the NFL is full of games decided about what players do when things do not according to plan.
Mettenberger needs to improve on his ability to improvise and make things happen and part of that is being able to read defenses effectively and diagnosing what is coming. At this point, that is something he does not appear to have a great deal of skill in and relies heavily on the offensive system to take care of that for him as he will get fooled and throw passes into trouble but his combination of arm talent and his weapons make the play.
Mettenberger is not going to set a record at the combine with his straight line speed, but he is more athletic than some might give him credit. He demonstrates quick feet, surprising agility, and has shown the ability to extend plays, reset his feet and make a good throw.
On the other hand, Mettenberger does have shaky footwork when it comes to throwing the ball on the move and still needs to improve in this area. This does not appear to be due to a lack of athleticism on his part but a lack of fundamental technique that needs to be coached and drilled.
He can get out and pick up a couple yards when nothing is there, but he is not looking to run the football and would rather find room to set up and make a throw. Mettenberger might come up with the occasional first down, but he is not looking to take unnecessary punishment. The one area where Mettenberger has proven to be useful is on short yardage situations as he has the build and the quickness to push the pile for a yard.
Mettenberger is someone that can play in virtually any scheme, but he is definitely best suited to play in a vertical passing system. He is able to stretch the field and force defenders to cover a ton of ground, which helps open up passing lanes and create opportunities for teammates.
Mettenberger is not a finished product yet, but it is unlikely that he will end up in a situation where he is not going to be asked to start immediately. He would probably be better off sitting for a year and really working to hammer out some of the finer points with his throws on the run as well as his footwork and really becoming good at diagnosing what defenses are throwing at him, but if he does need to start, he can make it work. The key is getting him protection and working to get him to get comfortable as much as possible and preparing him for when he needs to make a quick decision and avoid panicked decisions.
Mettenberger’s game is similar to that of Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco is ultimately bigger and is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL considering his size, but in terms of arm talent and what he can do with the football, they are extremely similar. Both are the type of quarterback who appear able to lead a team to the Super Bowl, but need help to do it. Neither one appears to have the ability to carry a team on their back, but can be a tremendous play maker when he is protected and has the necessary talent around them.
From a tools perspective, Zach Mettenberger has it all. He has a spectacular arm, good feet, and the ability to make every throw a team could want from him. Mettenberger is in a great situation at LSU that really allows him to shine and he has taken full advantage. He may have improved as much as any player did from last year, especially from the quarterback position. Mettenberger is not quite a finished product and there are issues to hammer out like consistent footwork, getting better at diagnosing defenses and avoiding panicking when plays break down, but his talent is tantalizing.
There are some issues from Mettenberger’s past that NFL teams will look into during his time at Georgia, but all indications are that Mettenberger has really learned from that situation and really blossomed as a person in his time in Baton Rouge. NFL teams will look to make sure that is the case, but those character questions will likely end up behind him.
Mettenberger would be a terrific quarterback with another year of college, but grades out as a solid second round pick as someone that would be best suited to start out as a backup for a year, but will likely end up going in the first round and it would not be surprising if a team ends up taking him in the top half of the first round. He has the talent to make it work as a rookie, but he needs to be put in a situation with talent around. If a team drafts him into a terrible situation and expects him to carry the offense by himself, they should not be surprised when he struggles.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com