LSU star Zach Mettenberger is one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in the 2014 NFL draft. He was maligned as a junior in 2012 after throwing just 12 touchdowns in 13 games, but he found a new level under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron before tearing the ACL in his right knee against Arkansas.
Even though injuries are never ideal for a draft prospect, Mettenberger's happened at a time that didn't alter his NFL prospects. He was able to show vast improvement in the pocket, going from a 58.8 completion percentage as a junior to 64.9 last year and a 22-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The knee injury was also put on the backburner when Mettenberger dazzled at his pro day in April. He told Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune that his performance wasn't a surprise considering how he felt going in.
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.
That was just over three months after Mettenberger had the surgery to repair his knee. He will have had nine months to recover by the time the regular season kicks off, so it's not out of the question that a team could start him on opening day.
Kleinpeter's report also mentioned that Sean Payton, Chip Kelly and Rex Ryan were in attendance. The Saints and Eagles aren't looking for a starting quarterback, but the Jets aren't set at the position long term with Michael Vick and Geno Smith in place.
Here's a look at Mettenberger's scouting report, listed as pros and cons, as well as a look at what his future in the NFL may be after he's drafted.
Unlike a lot of senior quarterbacks who enter the NFL draft, Mettenberger doesn't have a lot of experience playing the position in college. He was a two-year starter at LSU, following in the footsteps of Jordan Jefferson.
Sometimes that would work against a prospect, but it actually serves to make Mettenberger's performance look even better. He was an untested player as a junior in 2012, which is why the low completion percentage and touchdown ratio wasn't what anyone expected.
Then, with a season to work under a former NFL coach in Cameron, Mettenberger took off with a 3,000-yard performance and 22-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio playing in America's best football conference.
Mettenberger's pro day was also an eye-opener for scouts and analysts who had previously dismissed the quarterback as another Cameron creation. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network went all-in on the LSU signal-caller, via Kipp Adams of 247Sports.com.
This is the guy that can change the draft, Zach Mettenberger. He has the big, strong arm, the prototypical NFL quarterback, at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, coached by Cam Cameron down there at LSU, pro-style offense.
He also showed the kind of mental toughness and fortitude necessary to play quarterback at any level. It takes a certain mindset to tune out all the negative things that get said and written about you on a weekly basis, which Mettenberger did masterfully with the Tigers.
Basically, even though there's not a lot of mystery to Mettenberger's style, he has the arm strength, accuracy and mentality to be an NFL quarterback.
Mettenberger has dealt with some controversy in the days leading up to the draft. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported the quarterback had a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, which is treated as a positive test.
In the same report, Mettenberger's physical therapist Jason Eliowitz provided a reason for the diluted sample that may or may not stick with the NFL.
Eliowitz explains in the letter to Dr. Lawrence Brown that Mettenberger “was experiencing frequent muscle cramping during the day as well as at night while trying to sleep.” Thus, Mettenberger was advised to drink “as much as 1 to 1.5 gallons of of water per day, to increase his consumption of foods high in potassium, and to increase his sodium intake.”
The good news, according to ESPN.com draft analyst Mel Kiper in an appearance on First Take, is the situation isn't likely to hurt Mettenberger's draft stock.
Obviously he's not a first-round pick, in my opinion. He's probably going to be a second- or third-round pick. I actually grade him out as more of a fourth- or fifth-round pick, so I'm not as high on Zach Mettenberger as some are, but the speculation exists that maybe second round when you talk to some teams…so I don't think it'll have a dramatic impact at all where he goes.
He was also flagged recently for a back issue that doesn't need surgery, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Mettenberger's knee injury also compounds a problem that scouts have seen for a long time. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote a scouting report of the LSU quarterback last September, noting how limited his mobility was:
Although Mettenberger flashes the short-area quickness to slide, reset and deliver accurate throws, the fact that he is unable to escape heavy pressure by relying on his legs could make him a bit of a liability at the next level. Of course, Mettenberger can overcome his deficiencies by winning the pre-snap phase at the line of scrimmage, but he must be superb in that area to be effective as a pro.
You're not going to get faster or more elusive after tearing your ACL, so Mettenberger has to go to a situation with a great offensive line that can give him a lot of time to read defenses and make throws to take advantage of his arm strength.
In today's NFL, where teams load up on pass-rushers off the edge and faster defensive tackles who can break through the line, a quarterback who struggles to move in and around the pocket doesn't have a lot of value.
There's a limited upside to Mettenberger because of his knee injury and the back problem that's starting to get attention. He's not going to change the fortunes of a team like Jacksonville or Oakland, where offensive line is a problem.
But if you are looking for a valuable quarterback who you don't have to spend an early pick on, Mettenberger isn't a bad selection. He's got the arm to make all the throws in the NFL, which is something a team like Arizona could look to get in the second round.
That might be too high for a player with the limitations Mettenberger has, both physically and in his track record of performance, but because this is such a volatile quarterback draft, someone is going to pop him early when the other guys start flying off the board.
The Cardinals would be a perfect situation for Mettenberger. They don't have to start him right away, as Carson Palmer, another quarterback with limited mobility who tore his ACL, can hold down the fort in 2014.
At 34, Palmer isn't going to last much longer. Mettenberger would also have the luxury of throwing the ball up to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Regardless of where Mettenberger goes, it would be a huge surprise if he made it deep into the third round, with a mid-to-late second-round pick being a strong possibility.
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