One of the best quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft may not be drafted anywhere in the first round.
Wednesday morning (just months after major knee surgery), Zach Mettenberger worked out at the Louisiana State pro day. Taking a moment to simply marvel at his training, recovery time and the competitive nature of him even being out there at all, it's a perfect time to wonder if one of the best quarterbacks in the draft might be one outside of that "top tier" of passers that everyone is talking about.
Taking a cue from Johnny Manziel, Mettenberger threw in pads (and a knee brace) during the session and performed admirably, drilling a bunch of long throws effortlessly during both the warm-up session and workout, and showcasing a good rhythm with his receivers even after a long rehab process.
The media often puts more stock into a pro-day routine than they should, but Mettenberger performed about as well as one could expect this soon after his injury. While every ACL injury and recovery is different, the name "Adrian Peterson" is going to be invoked because of Mettenberger's speedy rehab.
Not to gaze too closely at my own navel, but I've been a fan of Mettenberger for a while. More to the point: I've long identified him as someone NFL decision makers could fall in love with. Following the 2012 NFL draft, I wondered if Mettenberger could be a top QB—even potentially leaving early in 2013:
Physically, Mettenberger is a specimen at 6'5" and 225 lbs, with potentially the best arm in the draft class. He is a pure pocket passer in the mold of Matt Ryan or Eli Manning who has a surprisingly quick release and the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes as he's taking a hit.
Now, that was a long time ago, and I was doing a fair amount of projection, but fast-forward to 2014 and the only real question with Mettenberger is an injury he suffered in November. Against Arkansas, Mettenberger was hit on the outside of the leg and sprained both his MCL and his ACL. Worse yet for his draft stock, Mettenberger had to wait for the MCL to heal before surgically repairing the ACL—a scenario Bleacher Report's own Dr. Dave Siebert says is common.
Prior to the pro day, Mettenberger's trainers at LSU said that he was at "97 percent," which is likely a very subjective rating, but an amazing one if true.
With Mettenberger working out at a pro day—overall, a rather meaningless part of the draft process—it means he's likely game-ready today and should be able to close that recovery gap from 97 percent to 100 percent by any team's training camp.
If health is no longer a major concern—at least in terms of the current injury, even if some might have lingering issues with potential reinjury—Mettenberger's slate seems to be clearing of red flags.
A few years ago, I was concerned about a completely different form of red in Mettenberger's ledger. In 2010, the QB was not at LSU, but Georgia as he got into plenty of hot water for having a fake ID, underage drinking and sexual misconduct after grabbing a woman's breast.
Mettenberger pleaded guilty to the misconduct and the alcohol charges were dropped. He paid fines, served probation and did his hours of community service. In terms of his football career, he spent time at a community college in Kansas before heading to LSU.
Since then, however, Mettenberger's nose has been clean. He's been elected captain twice at LSU and heralded as a leader for the Tigers—even to the point of mentoring his successor, while lesser prospects would've had college in the rearview mirror in favor of draft prep.
So, if Mettenberger is healthy, and any character concerns are years in the past, the only thing left to really dissect about the passer is his play on the field.
On the field, Mettenberger is as pro-ready a quarterback as one could find in this draft class. Though I am a fan of prospects like Teddy Bridgewater, Manziel and Blake Bortles, it's a worthwhile discussion to note that Mettenberger has had just as many—if not more—NFL-caliber throws over the past couple of seasons.
His college offensive coordinator, former NFL coach Cam Cameron, may not be as renowned as some for his work as an NFL QB guru, but Mettenberger has clearly benefited from the same voice that helped mold Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco and Trent Green. Before that, during his time at Michigan, Cameron was instrumental in the development of a string of NFL-bound passers—Jim Harbaugh, Todd Collins and Elvis Grbac.
In short, Mettenberger wouldn't exactly be the first success story on Cameron's resume.
The offense, too, is the epitome of pro-style passing and has helped plenty of wide receivers gain recognition—including this year's studs, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both of whom could land in the top 100 picks.
Cameron is an Air Coryell disciple by way of Norv Turner (in turn by way of Ernie Zampese). Though few teams run as pure an Air Coryell offense as coach Don Coryell—Cameron doesn't, either—those principals of vertical passing are in just about every NFL playbook.
True, I've written on how Air Raid principals (like those Manziel, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and others ran in college) have permeated NFL playbooks, and Bridgewater, too, comes from a pro-style offense.
Still, if Bortles or Fresno State's Derek Carr intrigue because they look more like a pro quarterback than Bridgewater, Manziel and others being talked about among top quarterbacks, then Mettenberger, with his big arm, size, frame and pocket presence, should be doubly lauded for looking like a pro quarterback and playing in a pro system.
That's the crux of the matter with Mettenberger, and it's why he must be taken so seriously as an NFL prospect. Though, as mentioned, I'm a fan of the quarterbacks many others are ranking above him, there are large segments of the NFL community that have a paradigm of NFL passers.
Mettenberger fits comfortably in that paradigm, while others are almost forced to prove their worth since they don't. Bridgewater is too slight. Manziel scrambles too much. Bortles throws too many screens. All of those are truisms to a point (albeit, at times, overblown), while Mettenberger doesn't have to deal with any such concerns.
Now healthy, what concerns remain with a big, strong-armed passer with experience in an NFL offense?
The answer is: very few.
None of this is to imply that Mettenberger is the perfect prospect. His delivery is long and slow by NFL standards, and he will need plenty of protection at the next level—protection he didn't always get from the speed of SEC defenses. His decision making, especially under pressure, is average at best. He doesn't elude pressure within or outside the pocket, nor does he make "wow" plays with his arm while under duress.
All of that said, those are coachable traits. His composure is light years ahead of both Carr and Bortles, and his lack of wow plays is mitigated by his ability to move the team down the field. He's not a system QB, nor is he a passer who needs an incredible amount of help around him to succeed.
Mettenberger likely goes in the top of the second round to a team that passed on quarterback help in the first. Growing teams like Jacksonville, Oakland or Cleveland could potentially draft him and give him a "redshirt" year to get back into shape following his injury.
Perhaps not in 2014, but certainly by 2015, Mettenberger has a real chance to make an impact on the NFL.
This isn't "taking a flier" on a strong-armed prospect like the New England Patriots did with Ryan Mallett, nor is Mettenberger that comparable to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, who was finally given a chance when everything else went to pot for the Buccaneers offense.
No, the team that selects Mettenberger will be getting a legitimate heir apparent for the franchise and should feel comfortable that it is getting one of the best quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft class.