Draft Debate: Zach Mettenberger

March 15th, 2014

Anyone who has seen our quarterback big board knows that Darren Page and I have vastly different opinions of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Darren has “Mett” as his fourth-rated QB, while I rank him 17th and well below fellow SEC slingers A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray.

Anytime there is such a divergence, an explanation is necessary. So Darren and I will each state our case for why we feel the way we do.

Because I’m the negative voice here, I’ll lead off and let Darren refute or counter with his positives.

Jeff’s take

There are three main issues I have with Mettenberger: accuracy, durability, and ability to read a defense.

The accuracy is a huge issue for me. It’s the number one trait I demand from a quarterback, the ability to consistently place the ball where and when it needs to be. And Mett consistently failed miserably in this integral facet of playing quarterback.

His completion percentage is a pretty strong 64.9% in 2013, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Mett was continually bailed out by oft-spectacular catches from future NFL wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

A main staple of the LSU offense was the vaunted “back shoulder” throw. Except that Mettenberger wound up throwing balls to the back shoulder even if that wasn’t where the throw was supposed to be. Check out his handiwork here, a play where he had a perfectly clean pocket:
What I saw in watching several games was a reactive thrower. Mett either doesn’t properly anticipate his receivers’ next move, or else he just really has bad aim. Reactionary throwers tend to struggle with ball placement but also touch, and that shows with Mett as well. Here’s an errant throw which epitomizes what a reactionary thrower looks like:

He sees two receivers and tries to throw the ball to both of them. As the old Native American proverb goes, “Man who chase two rabbits catches none.”

That is not something that can be fixed at the next level. Need an example? Mark Sanchez comes to mind. So do Sam Bradford, Rex Grossman and Vince Young.

Health and durability are another issue. Mettenberger is coming off a knee injury that ended his senior season early. I was listening to the game (thanks Sirius!) at the time and the LSU announcers made it sound as if Mett had just stepped on a land mine and his leg was severed at the knee.

While indications are he will be ready to go before training camp, knee surgery in November is a dicey proposition for playing in July and August. Factor in that he’s not a good athlete and has struggled to protect himself in college behind a pretty strong offensive line, and it’s hard to see Mett being durable at the next level. He just doesn’t have the agility to avoid trouble and appears to lack the sense to properly protect himself.

Then there is the field vision. I’ll admit to probably being too harsh on Mett here, as he was dealing with a new offensive scheme in his final season. Some of this goes in hand with his general lack of anticipation too.

Here’s an example of Mett completing a pass, but he never sees the proper target:

I saw several examples of this in games against Texas A&M and Auburn as well. He completed the ball, but it came at the expense of seeing a better target or picking up on a blown coverage that should have been exploited.

I guess I’m just not sold that one solid year at LSU with receivers that were vastly superior to the men covering them is going to translate to the NFL. His accuracy is just so inadequate; it makes me long to see Jake Locker. And that’s the best I believe Mett can ever be, an unathletic Jake Locker from 2012. To me, that’s a marginal NFL backup.

Darren’s Take:

First I will say that I’m not just going to throw numbers at the wall because I shouldn’t have to. My metrics are only a small part of the equation and if they’re all I have, then I have little backing my opinion.

Zach Mettenberger meets a big chunk of my criteria for what makes a quarterback prospect successful. I’ll go through the aspects of his game that I think make him a starting quarterback in the NFL.

The first is that I know what he does well and know that there’s an offense that can be schemed to maximize what he does. It sounds trivial, but there are actually QB prospects who don’t do any one thing at a starting QB level but do a lot of things just well enough and they get overdrafted.

Obviously with Mett, it’s 3 and 5 step drops with the ball coming out on time if at all possible. You can utilize his pure arm strength and velocity to make downfield throws with tremendous efficiency.

Quarterbacks who fit this mold must see the whole field, diagnose coverages, and throw with anticipation. For me, Mett does this well enough and his development from 2012 to 2013 tells me it’s only going to improve. He’s only gotten two years of live game experience to build on this, whereas most other QB prospects have gotten three or four and don’t do it as well as he does.

Another thing Mett does well is knowing where to go with the football. He will give his first read ample time to get open but if it doesn’t he works to a second option in a timely fashion and delivers without hesitation. I can think of no better example than this:

I won’t argue against ball placement issues, especially on back shoulder type throws. What I will say is that a lot of college quarterbacks are not even attempting these throws and aren’t willing to throw to covered receivers. I like that Mett is fully willing and I think placement on these throws develops over time and with repetition.

Going back to pre-snap reads, I see a quarterback who quickly identifies his mismatches and doesn’t hesitate to make those throws. This is from his junior season:

Much is made over Mett’s lack of mobility. I’m not here to tell you he’s the second coming of Cam Newton. I would argue that his willingness to hang in under pressure and deliver the ball at the last second make up for it, at least to some degree. He also can make high velocity throws from a disrupted platform, making impressively accurate throws in the process mind you. This play shows some of what I’m describing:

Now that I’ve touched on some of the qualitative aspects of Mett, it’s time to bring out the numbers. I’d like to dispel the myth that spectacular catches paint him in the type of light that he doesn’t deserve.

How many receptions can you identify that Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry bailed out Mettenberger and did all of the work on their own? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I’ll estimate six. Even that estimate is somewhat high in my opinion. Let’s assume 3 of them were at 20+ yards downfield and three of them were between 10 and 20.

If I go into my passing charts and take make those six completions into incompletions, here’s the effect. His adjusted completion percentage at 20+ drops from 56% to 52%, which is still in the top half of the 18 quarterbacks I charted.

His adjusted completion percentage between 10 and 20 drops from 72% to 68%, still good enough for fourth best in this class. Neither completion percentages were largely affected because those throws are only a small fraction of the downfield throws Mett made. He did have the highest percentage of throws at 10+ after all with 52% of total throws. The next highest was Johnny Manziel at 42%.

Now consider, out of those 18 quarterbacks, how many of their completions should be removed because their receivers did more of the work? Maybe less than Mett, but there are certainly some for every single prospect.

At the end of the day, Mettenberger is a quarterback who I know can win from the pocket. His drastic improvement from 2012 to 2013 tells me a lot about how he takes to coaching and where he is at on the development spectrum.

I have no rebuttal for concerns of the knee. That’s something team doctors will have to okay as far as future durability. All I know is that Mettenberger wasn’t going to start day one for me anyways, so he has time to get healthy. When he does, I’d be ready to throw him into the fire.

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2 Responses to “Draft Debate: Zach Mettenberger”

  1. The Strategy Expert says:

    Are you guys evaluating him in general as a prospect, or with consideration into how he might fit into the Lions’ draft plans? For me he has some similar red flags as Stafford so I would have him much lower on the Lions’ draft board compared to other teams’ boards. And I agree that it looked to me like he did get quite a few yards from some quality YAC. I think his lack of mobility will eventually lead to him getting killed in that pocket too. He has some skills but he also looks like a QB that is one dimensional and easy to game plan against and defeat, that is if he can even stay healthy after he gets pounded.

    So I’m going to have to pick the Risdon evaluation as the winner, sorry Darren. It could help sway me a little if you could find stats that show he didn’t receive a favorable benefit from YAC or those spectacular catches. I just don’t see enough upside in him and I don’t like QBs that remind me of Stafford in any way, such as having no touch and concerning accuracy, those are big deals to me including footwork and mobility and reading defenses.

    • adminLions says:

      As a general rule we are evaluating players for overall, not just how they fit the Lions. There are some prospects (Mike Evans & CJ Fiedorowicz are examples) who would score lower if just evaluating for the Lions.

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