After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Notes for Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Notes for San Jose State QB David Fales
LSU’s offense is likely to change in 2013 under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Considering Cameron’s recent NFL resume, I will wait to declare if this is an upgrade. But when looking back to 2012, it can be difficult to determine whether the Tiger’s offense kept things simple for Zach Mettenberger, or if he was content to play within his inexperienced self. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
In terms of formations, LSU asked Mettenberger to play front center and shotgun sets, with two backs, single backs, or empty sets. In a run focused offense, especially inside the red zone, Mettenberger ran some unique plays, including quick tosses followed up by setting a pick block on the back side. Typical route concepts were used, like vertical sideline routes followed by outside comebacks and quick throws on short drops. Nothing stood out as overly complex.
Above all, Mettenberger is a rhythm passer. That might not be an earth shattering evaluation, but it is the truth. Whether taking a three or five step drop, Mettenberger likes to plant off his back foot and rifle a pass to his first read. Many of you will ask, “Isn’t that true with every quarterback?” In some respects, sure, but Mettenberger is a much different player when timing is on point.
The senior quarterback has a cannon for an arm that starts with a release that drops a bit. He can easily sling a pass downfield to lead a vertical route along the sideline. However, this placement is not always on point, either overshooting the intended target or landing the pass in a bucket on the outside shoulder. He is usually reliable on crossing or outside breaking routes, but at times Mettenberger’s passes will land behind his target.
Now, for what takes place if the passer’s first read is covered and/or when the defense gets backfield penetration to cloud the pocket. There are plenty of occasions where Mettenberger sticks to his first read, solely keeping eye contact on that receiver, seemingly waiting (or wishing) for that target to create separation. Even if that does not initially happen, Mettenberger trusts his arm and fits passes into very tight windows, although this might not be a positive trait in the NFL. When he does look to another read, oftentimes Mettenberger’s feet follow. Meaning, instead of sticking to the pocket and moving his shoulders and feet to find a new target, Mettenberger feels like he has to buy himself time in order to have space to make that extra read. Problem is, there are numerous instances where he gets antsy and attempts to leave a fairly clean pocket rather than showing poise and patience. That is not to say he never flashed proper route progression. Mettenberger certainly did, specifically during the last few weeks of the season when Mettenberger showed an evolution in his game, but it was far from consistent.
The biggest issue with Mettenberger’s pocket movement is his lack of quickness. His initial step to evade can be sloth like at times. Therefore, Mettenberger must anticipate pass rushing angles and be one step ahead and/or be willing to repeatedly stand in the face of pressure when unloading passes. Less mobile quarterbacks have had successful careers in the NFL, so this negative is far from a deal breaker, but Mettenberger must show more awareness to compensate for a lack of athleticism. Again, he flashed dipping his shoulder, shuffling forward, and converting a completion, but that needs to happen consistently against edge pressure and on secondary reads.
As previously stated, Mettenberger already showed a progression in his game and that development was obvious during the last few weeks of the 2012 season. His arm strength helped Mettenberger get out of a few jams, displaying the ability to complete passes despite lacking a firm and balanced base. He needs to improve his accuracy when moving to his right, but Mettenberger converted receptions while being tackled low or when falling off his back foot.
Posting single digit interceptions during your first year as a starter is always a good thing, but Mettenberger wasn’t relied on in red zone situations. I hope this changes, as quarterbacks have repeatedly said that is the most difficult area of the field since defenses can shrink their scheme.
Where He Wins
When considering his entire junior season, Mettenberger is a rhythm passer, and a fairly good one. His timing and placement when driving off his back foot can be impressive. The velocity is absolutely there to fit passes into tight coverages and he puts downfield throws on a rope. Mettenberger even flashes touch.
Area Of Improvement
Because of his lack of quick-twitch skills, Mettenberger has to improve his anticipation, whether that results in avoiding oncoming rushers or taking a hit after sticking to the pocket. He will be running a different offense in 2013, so Mettenberger needs to show he can make multiple reads on progressions rather than sticking and wishing to that first target. Downfield placement could improve as well.