In an era where the quarterback position seems to be evolving toward more athletic, mobile players, former LSU signal-caller Zach Mettenberger is a prototypical pocket passer.
With elite arm talent and experience in a pro-style offense in Baton Rouge, Mettenberger had the chance at Wednesday's pro day to show that he's recovering well from a torn ACL and further boost his 2014 NFL draft stock.
The major knee injury happened just this past November during the regular-season finale of Mettenberger's senior year, but he has evidently rallied in a big way. NFL Network's Albert Breer reported Wednesday the incredible progress Mettenberger has made in his rehabilitation:
LSU trainer Jack Marucci told me they tested QB Zach Mettenberger's surgically reconstructed knee on Friday -- It's now at 97% strength. ...— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 9, 2014
... Mettenberger is 3 months out from surgery, so obviously that's pretty good. Marucci said if there was a game this week, Mett could play.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 9, 2014
Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune provides a statement from Mettenberger discussing his performance:
"It was fun," Mettenberger told reporters afterward. "I've been saying for a couple of weeks now that I'm healthy, and good enough to go, and I don't think all of y'all believed me. I think the biggest thing I wanted to do was show I could take an explosive drop and throw the ball downfield like everyone knows I can. I was great to be out there and compete and throw the ball around with my guys I went through three years with for one final time.
"People think it's pretty remarkable after 13 weeks I'm where I'm at. I did a lot of good things today. But sometimes I hold myself to almost an unrealistic standard. I wasn't too pleased with myself on some throws today. All things considered I thought it was OK, but still a lot of room for improvement."
Kleinpeter continued with a statement from Mettenberger further discussing his health and future:
"I'm three months out of surgery and not in playing shape," he said. "My legs are kind of tired so that's something to expect. I'm doing everything I can to work through that and be ready for rookie camp.
"I'm not going to start the season on the PUP list. I think I showed I'm healthy enough to go through practice and compete for a job. By the time the season rolls around in September I'll be fully healed."
Ex-New York Giants quarterback and current Mettenberger mentor Scott Brunner felt that his pupil would surprise with both his progress in recovery from his injury and in the throws he'd make at the pro day, per USA Today's Jim Corbett:
I'm really looking forward to seeing how he performs...He's much farther along in the rehab process than people might suspect. He'll make every throw you need to make on an NFL field and he'll make it look pretty easy. There are going to be a lot of jaws that drop with what he puts up there on the field.
Mettenberger indeed showed off his sensational arm strength as he ran exclusively through throwing drills conducted by his Tigers offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron.
The performance was a bit uneven, as might be expected from a player who should still be struggling with footwork. Accuracy was a clear issue for Mettenberger, but Cameron wasn't holding back much in conducting the throwing drills.
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com alluded to how Mettenberger was on the move and showed good mobility to NFL talent evaluators:
More interesting than his completion %, which is high, Mettenberger is doing play action, rolling out. Showing off the fixed knee for scouts— David Helman (@HelmanDC) April 9, 2014
LSU football's Twitter feed provides Sean Payton's thoughts on Mettenberger's performance:
"I think he was outstanding. When you factor in the injury...I said to Mickey Loomis, 'That turnaround is impressive'" - Peyton on @mettshow— LSU Football (@LSUfball) April 9, 2014
Ross Dellenger of The Advocate caught video of a strike Mettenberger threw on a deep dig route, one of the several balls that hit the ground, and a 55-yard bomb to James Wright down the right sideline:
Overall, it appeared Mettenberger wasn't all too pleased despite some shining moments:
Mettenberger clearly down in the dumps. Head down, while chatting with Cameron. #LSU— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) April 9, 2014
Whether or not that was due to his health situation limiting his physical capabilities or the general disappointment he felt with his performance is difficult to discern. Whatever the case may be, it's obvious Mettenberger feels he can improve.
Visible in the video footage is one of the big storylines from this pro day, which developed when Mettenberger put on shoulder pads and his helmet—shades of what Johnny Manziel did at his pro day—per Breer:
Yes, Johnny started a trend pic.twitter.com/Ynh1JOCgE5— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 9, 2014
Speaking of Manziel, the Minnesota Vikings reportedly have no interest in the former Heisman Trophy winner, while they may be very interested in Mettenberger—perhaps enough to trade up for him in the draft.
ESPN.com's Ben Goesseling noted the Vikings contingent that attended LSU's pro day:
Both Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman at LSU's pro day today. They'll meet with Zach Mettenberger later. #vikings— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) April 9, 2014
The upbeat 22-year-old was excited to get started before the day commenced:
Good morning. #LSUProDay has arrived. Lets do this!!— Zach Mettenberger (@mettshow) April 9, 2014
Unfortunately, lackluster conditioning seemed to be getting the best of him at the end—again, not exactly Mettenberger's fault. Everything at this showcase could have been viewed as a bonus in light of the severity of his injury situation.
Baton Rouge sports anchor and reporter Matt Boudreaux (NBC 33 and Fox 44) spoke to a scout who expressed some concern about Mettenberger's arm more than his knee:
Mettenberger looks gassed. Started on fire, lost some zip towards the back end. Scout: "it's not his knee I'm worried about, it's his arm."— Matt Boudreaux (@MattBoudreaux) April 9, 2014
Footwork is such a pivotal part of loading up and delivering an accurate ball with velocity. There was no defense to play against, yet Mettenberger still wasn't putting weight on his left leg with a ton of conviction.
Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net provides his take on Mettenberger's day:
Told Zach Mettenberger/QB very average passing workout at pro-day. Lacked polish & accuracy off- understandable as 3+ months off surgery— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) April 9, 2014
Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com reported Mettenberger's measurements on Wednesday, which were 6'4" and 229 pounds—ideal size for an NFL quarterback:
Mettenberger measured 1 inch shorter than at Combine today, and 5 lbs heavier. #ProDay Mett comes in at 6-4, 229.— Deepi Sidhu (@DeepSlant) April 9, 2014
HoustonTexans.com's Drew Dougherty documented Tigers head coach Les Miles' glowing reviews about Mettenberger and how his skills will translate in the NFL:
"He's back. I think he'll throw extremely well today"- @LSUfball HC Les Miles on QB Zach Mettenberger.— Drew Dougherty (@DoughertyDrew) April 9, 2014
"He will play in the NFL a long time."- Miles on Mettenberger.— Drew Dougherty (@DoughertyDrew) April 9, 2014
Breer captured an image of the scene before the workouts got underway, in addition to noting that representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance:
Positively enormous turnout for LSU Pro Day ... Scouts here for Mettenberger, Beckham, Landry, Hill, Ferguson, etc. pic.twitter.com/VupelS6OHy— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 9, 2014
All 32 teams repped at LSU. More GMs I didn't mention: Buffalo's Doug Whaley, Tennessee's Ruston Webster, Houston's Rick Smith.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 9, 2014
So not only were there some QB-needy teams near the top of the draft order soaking in the pro day, but there were also others who could bring in Mettenberger as a developmental player and eventual heir apparent under center.
Of course, there were other NFL prospects on display such as receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, with running back Jeremy Hill also participating. All of them figure to be drafted within the first few rounds in addition to Mettenberger.
LSU Football's Twitter account alluded to what Miles said about Mettenberger's leadership faculties:
There were some strong throws, but an unofficial tally of 15 incompletions, according to The Advocate, is still more than Mettenberger would have liked:
Although he did benefit from having the likes of Beckham and Landry to throw to in college, along with a deep backfield headlined by Hill, there is no doubting Mettenberger's talent. The improvement Mettenberger made between his junior and senior years was huge, as he averaged 10.41 yards per attempt, threw for 3,082 yards and completed 64.9 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in 2013.
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski has Mettenberger as his No. 2 QB in the 2014 draft, per the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account:
Ron Jaworski's top 5 NFL Draft QB prospects: 1 Blake Bortles 2 Zach Mettenberger 3 Teddy Bridgewater 4 Johnny Manziel 5 Derek Carr— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 1, 2014
Where should Zach Mettenberger be drafted?
However, Mettenberger is a legitimate second-round prospect even with the medical red flag, and showed his intangibles, toughness and work ethic by even taking the field on Wednesday, where he rattled off enough impressive throws to make scouts salivate.
If he lands in a situation where he's brought along slowly and has a strong supporting cast by the time he takes the NFL gridiron as a starter, Mettenberger is in line for success.
Tackling complex concepts in Cameron's offense will prepare him well for the professional level, and Mettenberger should be ahead of the curve thanks to facing SEC competition. It also helps that Mettenberger read defenses on a more sophisticated level than many of his peers in college.
The other top QBs—save for Teddy Bridgewater, who struggled at times in his own pro day—operated out of the spread often, looked to the sidelines for play calls and didn't combine pre-snap reads and a true grasp of schematics as often as Mettenberger did.