A certain level of risk exists in buying into rumors this time of year, but there's enough smoke around LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the Minnesota Vikings to be intrigued by the possibility of a real fire come May.
According to Ben Goessling of ESPN, Mettenberger will be meeting with the Vikings after his official pro day Wednesday. The quarterback-needy Vikings are said to be "interested" and could forgo the top four at the position in the first round to grab a more developmental player, such as Mettenberger, in the second.
Goessling's report syncs with what Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider discovered last week.
According to Pauline, the Vikings are "heavily leaning" toward picking Mettenberger in the second round and shoring up the defense with a player such as Khalil Mack (if he's still available) with the No. 8 overall pick in the first round. He later wrote that several sources had confirmed his initial findings, labeling Mettenberger a "perfect fit" for Norv Turner's new offense in Minnesota.
The Vikings would be taking a calculated risk in passing on a top quarterback—such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel—if one fell to the eighth pick. And it'd be another gamble altogether to bank on Mettenberger being available when the Vikings pick again at No. 40 overall.
Such wagers make it hard to believe the Vikings would be showing their full allotment of cards this early, with a month still to go before the actual draft. Minnesota could be playing the information game against other teams in the market for a quarterback.
But might it also be possible that Mettenberger, a strong-armed pocket quarterback, simply fits the bill for what Turner and the Vikings desire? And that the smoke trail we see now will eventually lead us to the moment Minnesota uses one of its first two picks on Mettenberger in May?
The puzzle pieces seem to fit together.
In a Turner offense that remains built on a volume running game and a vertical passing game, Mettenberger could eventually thrive. He has ideal size at 6'5" and 224 pounds, which fuels his confidence for standing tall in the pocket and driving the football down the field. And his arm talent is arguably the best in the class.
Watch him here against TCU:
Mettenberger scans down the field after a play-action fake, hoping to hit something deep behind the TCU coverage. But with the deep throw covered and the rush closing in, Mettenberger resets his feet and delivers a strike from the opposite hash marks to the near sidelines. His frozen rope finds the receiver, who is running a 15-yard out pattern. It beats both the cornerback and the hard-charging safety for what goes into the books as an easy pitch-and-catch.
But there's nothing elementary about hitting a deep out to the far sidelines against that coverage and late pressure. Not many in the college game can pull it off. It was an NFL throw from an NFL-ready arm, and Mettenberger has consistently shown an ability to spin the football to the boundary and down the seam.
Yet playing in a Turner offense is more than just velocity to all levels. To be an effective deep-ball thrower, a quarterback must be able to show touch and accuracy down the field.
Mettenberger offered an example of such a throw against Alabama last season:
Again, this looks rather easy at first glance. But there's a lot to like about this entire sequence.
The first positive is Mettenberger's willingness to hang tough against pressure. While no quarterback likes pressure of any kind, most will tell you that interior pressure is the most disruptive. (Against outside pressure, a quarterback can step up into the pocket. Not against the interior kind.) On this play, Mettenberger stands tall and delivers against pressure coming right into his lap.
Second, he clearly deciphered the coverage given to him. Either he recognized the defense in the pre-snap portion, or he manipulated the safety with his eyes. Regardless, the Alabama safety crashed up to cover the short route, leaving a streaking receiver open down the field for Mettenberger to find. And he did so in terrific fashion, arching the football and dropping it right into the breadbasket for an easy catch against a trailing defender.
Also helping Mettenberger's draft portfolio is his experience in an NFL offense (He worked under former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron his final year at LSU.) and his willingness to attempt and connect on high-difficulty throws, such as the back-shoulder.
|Breaking Down LSU QB Zach Mettenberger|
|+NFL-ready arm||-Limited mobility|
|+Experience in pro-style offense||-Holds the football too long|
|+Ideal size||-Coming off major injury*|
|+Production from the pocket||-Past character issues|
|+Started 25 games in the SEC||-Fluctuating accuracy|
|+Improved during final year at LSU|
|*Tore left ACL in December|
There's a lot to like in the former LSU quarterback.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski rates Mettenberger as his No. 2 quarterback in the class, calling him the "wild card" of the bunch and comparing him to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Greg Cosell of NFL Films believes Mettenberger is the best pocket passer of the bunch.
"He's the best prototypical pocket passer," Cosell said on the Fantasy Guru podcast. "He's essentially a big, strong-armed, intermediate and vertical pocket passer. He's got the natural toughness to look down the gun barrel. The willingness to turn it loose. That's what this kid is."
While he's clearly talented, Mettenberger has his flaws.
Despite great size, he offers very little in terms of mobility. He'll stand tall in the pocket, but escaping to the outside or running for first downs are not among his strengths. He finished 2013 with exactly one rush over five yards.
He also seems to trust his size too much, at times holding the football for too long and taking unnecessary sacks as pressure eventually gets home. His internal clock might need some readjusting in the NFL.
His accuracy numbers from college are very good, with a completion percentage of 64.9 and only four games under 60.0 percent last season. But then there are throws like this one against Florida, which might make you wonder how consistent his accuracy will be at the next level:
Quarterbacks have to hit that throw—especially on third down—in the NFL. The miss cost LSU a chance to score.
And there are also off-the-field concerns, including two charges of sexual battery stemming from an incident at a Florida bar in 2009. He was eventually kicked off the Georgia football team for that night's transgressions. Any NFL team thinking about taking Mettenberger will want a full evaluation of whether he's going to be a problem in the character department.
A more immediate concern will be the rehabilitation of his knee, which required surgery to fix his ACL after last season. Like all teams looking at Mettenberger, the Vikings will want to get a clear picture of where the knee is now and where it will be down the road.
However, landing in Minnesota would give his knee ample time to heal.
The Vikings re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel to a two-year deal in March, giving them a capable option to bridge any gap between the two players. While Mettenberger fine-tunes his game under Turner and allows his knee to return to 100 percent, the Vikings can feel confident playing the veteran Cassel.
By 2015, Mettenberger could be ready—in technique, understanding of the Turner offense and health—to take over as the Vikings' new starting quarterback.
Scheme should never define or restrict talent in the NFL, but Turner's appointment as the Vikings' offensive coordinator likely provides a working description for the next quarterback Minnesota drafts. Several quarterbacks fit the profile, including Blake Bortles and Derek Carr.
But if the Vikings truly want to use their first-round pick on defense—considering this team finished dead last in points allowed last season and hired Mike Zimmer at head coach, the idea makes sense—Mettenberger might be the best fit among the second-tier players likely to be available at No. 40.
There's building smoke around the possibility, which can be a bad thing this time of year. But there's also real substance and sense about it too.
By this time next month, we'll know if Mettenberger and the Vikings are a match made of smoke or fire.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.