Browns Potential Draft Target: Zach Mettenberger

Kevin C. Cox

DBN's Mike Krupka takes an in-depth look at LSU's big armed QB, Zach Mettenberger. Zach's technique and production came along quite a bit between his Junior and Senior campaign, but how will he fair in the NFL and should the Cleveland Browns even consider him with one of their draft picks in May?

Body / Vitals

Zach Mettenberger possess the prototypical build for an NFL QB. Standing at 6'5", 224 pounds. His frame is bulky enough that he can absorb a hit and he's tall enough to where he will easily be able to see over the trenches. The other prototypical part of Mettenberger's game, at least as far as a traditional QB goes, is that he plays almost solely from the pocket. He is a true timing and rhythm QB who prefers to operate in a clean pocket vs. being on the move.

One concern for Mettenberger is his knee injury that ended his season early this year. Mettenberger underwent surgery and has been making an "Adrian Peterson" type recovery. This is good news for Mettenberger, because the ability for a QB to participate in off season drills, develop timing with WR, learn the playbook not just mentally but also physically, is very important. It's also important that he is able to throw before the draft so scouts and coaches know what they can expect in their potential draft pick.

Below are some tweets and links to updates about his surgery and recovery. They are listed in order from "most recent to least recent" -

It also should be noted that Zach was dismissed from Georgia's football program after his Freshman season because he violated team rules. Later in March of 2010, he pled guilty to two cases of sexual battery after an incident at a bar. While this is certainly something that Zach will want to put behind him, NFL teams will be looking into this and depending on the circumstances it could be something that impacts his draft stock.

Something else NFL teams will be looking at from this QB class, and certainly from Mettenberger, is his ability to read the defense both pre and post snap, and go through his progressions. I thought he did a good job identifying the coverage and matchup that he liked during most his games this season. I can't be sure if this helped him read defenses, but his confidence was certainly built up by Coach Cameron in an interesting fashion:

The two changes that led to LSU's passing success were 1) Streamlined Routes and 2) Simplified progression system for Zach.

As for the first change, new wide Receivers coach Adam Henry, who had spent the last five years on the Oakland Raiders coaching staff, has helped implement the streamlined, vertical routes. Cameron explicitly stated that he operates from within the Don Coryell passing tree, with "No shake and bake, just straight vertical lines. This [passing tree] helps to improve the timing of the quarterback and allows him to know where his man is going to be at all times."

The second change that has left a profound impact on Mettenberger's play has been a simplified approach. "I've taught Zach to throw the ball like he would in his backyard." Cameron said. "The ‘A' throws are great but it's not realistic that every pass is going to be an ‘A' grade." Cameron's simple but effective strategy basically says, "Just throw to your guy and away from their guy." In essence, Cameron allows his quarterbacks to play instinctively as they used to in backyard football. This is an approach that another one of Cameron's pupils, Scott Loeffler at Michigan instilled in New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady.

I must admit that I liked Mettenberger going into the film study as a traditional pocket QB prospect. And as I mentioned before, he fits that role both physically and athletically. It's very clear that he is not a mobile QB who is going to buy you extra time or extend plays with consistency. I did however, find it interesting when charting his passes that the accuracy "problems" I felt were there on occasion didn't necessarily impact his completion percentage. Some of this can be explained because his receivers needed to make difficult catches at times in key situations. Let's be fair, Mettenberger did enjoy the luxury of basically having 2 NFL receivers to throw to all year in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. But at the same time, I feel some of this can also be explained because his throws were placed in spots or windows where only the receiver could make the play-- and they did, or nobody did.

Production

2013

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2012

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Summary

Zach is a senior who I feel has progressed more than any other QB between his junior and senior campaigns. His technique and mechanics have been polished by Cam Cameron and he effectively operated a pro-style offense taking nearly half of his snaps from under center, the other portion from shotgun, and using play action often to set up passes to all levels. Zach has a great arm, with plenty of zip and velocity to deliver the ball to all the areas on the field, especially vertically. Mettenberger prefers to operate from the pocket where he can thrive on rhythm and timing routes but also showed the ability to be rolled out.

Mettenberger sometimes has trouble sensing pressure in the pocket, and his feet aren't quick enough to allow him to adjust, slide and escape. He often doesn't sense the pressure until it's too late and this leads to sacks and fumbles. I also noted that there were a few botched exchanges while playing under center and from shotgun that led to fumbles. When using play action, he can be rolled out but he likes to set his feet, hitch, and then throw instead of actually throwing on the run. Because of this, it's easier to re-set when rolling to the right vs. the left, which happens to be his main preference. His lack of mobility, slow reaction time and slow feet in the pocket will make it hard for him to excel at the next level when under pressure. However, if given a pocket, he could excel with his arm talent and the right situation. I imagine defenses will force him to throw the ball and beat the coverage by putting him under pressure and doing whatever they can to disrupt his pocket and his timing. If he's drafted by a team with a good OL and good running attack, and if he can learn to shift around the pocket and develop better mobility, I think he can potentially develop into a good option for a vertical passing team.

Zach showed the ability to throw multiple routes with various difficulties, and had strong completion percentages in most of the areas on the field. He was asked to make NFL level throws and often in down-and-distance situations that required long throws on clutch situations. This reflects to his leadership qualities.

His production by itself is impressive, but what I found during my film study - and I eluded to it earlier - was that this part of his production could very well be the most debated. When watching specifically for ball placement ( in stride; ahead; behind; high; low ) you can see that Mettenberger's accuracy was inconsistent at times. His WR needed to make what I consider NFL level catches on many of his throws. I believe this can be seen two ways - either it's seen as a great throw because only the WR can make the play, or it can seen as a bad throw because the WR needed to make a great catch and the ball wasn't in a better, more easily caught spot. It's hard to define and assign statistics that actually matter to this because it's subjective, however, I noted that Mettenberger tended to be high or behind more than any other type. Still, his low interception to TD ratio suggests that the throws and his decisions were in fact good, and that he placed the ball in windows where only his WR could catch it. The most impressive thing to consider is how he stood in the pocket and took a beating from opposing pass rushers but still delivered the ball time and time again.

Mettenberger's best fit will be with a team that will give him time to develop and isn't expecting great things out of him immediately. I feel that he has the ability to come in and play spurts if needed and probably produce decent numbers during that time. It's hard to project if he can be a special starting NFL QB unless he can enhance his footwork and awareness while keeping his eyes up field in the pocket. This is not an easy task for even the best QB's as they begin their NFL career, so I see this as a big question mark for him. Based on talent alone, Mettenberger could present a tremendous value and upside for a team should they draft him in the 2nd or 3rd round, however given his medical and character concerns, I could see his name finally being called in the 4th or 5th round.

Draft Grade

I rank my QB's on 18 different skills, and then assign weights to each skill based on how important I feel the skill is to the success of a QB. I then take the grade I have given for each skill, multiple it by the weighted percent, to give me the score for each skill. I then add up the weighted scores and divide by 9 ( the scale I use for grading ). That final score should give you're the draft grade that you place on a player and what type of expectations you have for them as a player.

In evaluating Zach Mettenberger, you'll see my below category and overall grades. I view Zach as a 2nd or 3rd round pick with the potential for him to start in his second year. That grade is based purely on film and doesn't incorporate medical concerns or potential character concerns.

As I've stated before, I feel Zach's slow footwork, average (at best) ability to avoid the rush and accuracy questions are going to be his biggest hurdles at the next level. What I saw on tape was a QB with an excellent arm, who stands tall in the pocket, can read the game well, typically makes good decisions and isn't phased by the pass rush or taking a hit. I think this last part can be seen as a good and a bad thing because he has the poise to stand in the pocket, deliver the ball and take a hit but also is putting his body at risk by not avoiding the contact.

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From the article linked above (I highly recommend you read this):

As for discussing the scouting of quarterbacks and projecting them to the NFL level, Cameron said that there is more of an emphasis on answering the quarterback position in the short run, as the new CBA has lowered the financial obligations tied to individual draft picks. He went on to say, "Zach is only about 60% of where he's going to be. His mechanics will continue to get better and better and better." For a frame of reference, he also said Joe Flacco was about 50% of where he was going to be when the Ravens used a first rounder on him and that Philip Rivers was about 80% of where he was going to be when the Chargers acquired him.

In closing, Cameron said "If you like what you see now, you're going to see an even greater window of potential down the line [...] I cannot say enough good things about him. He is special, at least in my book."

Leadership

It's easy to see the fire that Mettenberger plays with and exudes after he scores a TD. He was the team captain as a Junior and a Senior at LSU. He is spirited and animated and often gets his teammates involved with these celebrations. While he didn't lead his team back to victory, he did receive glowing accolades from his coach as well as Optimum Scouting's Alex Brown. I can only grade and judge a player on his film, but there will be leadership questions Mettenberger will need to answer to as he continues to meet with and interview with NFL scouts and teams.

One aspect that really stuck out to me was his toughness. I believe toughness is a leadership quality, especially for a QB. You have to be able to take some hits and keep grinding. Mettenberger was able to do that consistently in my film study. He was able to see the pressure coming right at him, stand tall, and deliver the ball. Sometimes that pressure would knock him down, sometimes he'd get crushed and driven into the ground, and other times the pocket would sort of fall into his lap but the ball would still get away. This is a trait that is important for NFL QB's to possess.

Projected Fit with Browns

To cut to the point, I don't believe Mettenberger would be a good fit in Cleveland given Shanahan influence on the offensive scheme. That being said, I do like Mettenberger in the traditional pocket passer sense and when watching him play, it's easy to walk away and say - "Wow, what an arm!". In fact, I liked his arm quite a bit leading into this film study and I will admit to believing Mettenberger had some of the best ball placement in college football last year. I felt, and still do feel, that he falls into a category of passers who are not nimble or quick footed, but can attack the field vertically with a strong arm and good timing - think Tom Brady (but solely from an athletic build and athletic ability standpoint).

While Zach might have been a good fit with Norv Turner's vertical system, I feel the NFL has evolved into a passing and high pressure league where having a mobile QB certainly helps give you benefits that having a non mobile QB doesn't. When I think of a QB who might fit Shanahan's scheme, I think of a QB who is mobile and athletic. A QB who is able to throw from the pocket in rhythm but also is able to extend plays with his feet both outside the pocket as well as stepping up and sliding in it as well. Think of Phillip Rivers and Robert Griffin III. While one is clearly more athletic than the other, and while their styles are vastly different, they both are mobile and athletic enough to throw on the run, roll out, and scramble when needed, yet both can move in the pocket to avoid the rush as well. I believe Mettenberger's biggest knock outside of his accuracy, is that he isn't mobile or very athletic and doesn't have ideal ability to avoid the rush. I think this limits his upside and fit in a system like we expect to see in Cleveland.

What Mettenberger does have is a big frame and strong arm, both which would fit what could helps an AFC North QB thrive in the windy and often cold conditions. He's accurate on short short throws and quick reads, and has great timing and rapport with his receivers. Given how much he progressed with Cam Cameron while running a NFL system at LSU, I think he could develop into a starter if given a year or two of coaching and development. I think he has the smarts and the arm talent to be a reliable starter in the right system, but I just don't think he fits what the Browns are looking for.

Passing Charts

2013 Total Passing Chart

** All charting is noted from where the catch was made + the result of catch; the chart does not reflect total yardage **

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Overall, Zach Mettenberger completed 67% of his passes in 2013 based on the 10 games I charted and that were available at Draftbreakdown.com. As you can see below, his completion percentages were what I would consider very good at nearly all the levels, the only time dropping below 55% being in the 35 yards or more section of the field.

Of Mettenberger's completed passes 10% were behind the LOS; 18% were between 0 and 7 yards; 20% were between 8 and 15 yards; 12% were between 16 and 23 yards; 4.6% were between 24 and 34 yards; and 1.2% were 35 yards or more.

This next statistic really isn't necessary because it's clear from watching his film that Mettenberger is not a scrambling QB. He does not excel in this area nor does he prefer it. In the 10 games I charted, he only scrambled 11 times, 2 of which were designed runs (1 of which went for a first down); he abandoned the pocket only 4 times (meaning less than 3+ seconds or running while no pressure); and he scrambled due to the pocket collapsing only 5 times (one time running for a first down).

While Mettenberger doesn't use the sideline throw (throws between the boundary and the numbers) as often as Manziel, he does throw there with some good efficiency completing 31 of his 51 passes in this area of the field which represents 21% of his total passes charted. In this area of the field he registered 29 clutch throws, 24 for first downs and 5 for TD's with 0 interceptions.

Mettenberger ran his offense from play action 41% of the time from under center. I noted that the snaps between under center and shotgun were nearly 50/50 in games that were close or in games where they were leading, however as you might expect when trailing, LSU featured him in shotgun more often.

The roll out is something that Mettenberger doesn't prefer, but he did show that he could do it and it almost always came via play action. Mettenberger preferred rolling to his right vs. his left where he completed 69% of his passes (11 for 16) for 10 first downs. When rolling to his left, Mettenberger completed 40% of his passes (2 for 5) and 2 first downs.

Zach Mettenberger vs. TCU

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Timing Pass in stride for the first down which allows Beckham to gain YAC and continue to attack the zone.

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45 yard bomb to Beckham. Great accuracy on this pass although it is a little under-thrown which allows DB to catch-up to the play.

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Mettenberger fails to identify blitz from the DB. While the announcer says the RB shouldn't have executed the play fake, Mettenberger should have seen the DB blitzing, but once he did he wasn't quick enough to evade the pressure for a sack.

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This is the peak of Mettenberger's mobility and ability to slide and step up in the pocket. It's all on display here. However you'll notice the high placement on this pass which ultimately is incomplete.

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Mettenberger holds onto the ball for quite a while here, and as he's delivering he see's that the double coverage is up the seam, but his throw to the boundary is short and the trajectory of the throw puts it in jeopardy of being picked at the next level with a rangy safety who doesn't get held when releasing to the sideline.

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Here is an example of what I consider a bail out catch - not so much in that it was placed terribly, but because Mettenberger is bailed out by his WR who makes a fantastic catch (pretty much off his cup) and then runs it in for a TD.

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Last throw of the game here - perfect back shoulder pass to the boundary in a spot where only his WR can make the play. The DB's eyes are on the receiver, but the ball is already on the way. It seems like OBJ is expecting this throw in this location, hence why I wonder if this type of back shoulder play is be design.


Zach Mettenberger vs. Kent State

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Mettenberger delivers this pass in stride and on target for first pass of the game. Recognizes soft spot in the defense due to man coverage and the underneath slant / dig route by Landry which allows Mett to attack the slant route for a first down to Beckham with YAC.

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Here, Mettenberger gets moved off his spot in the pocket, and doesn't quite get his feet set all the way. He throws this ball up in the end zone and Landry goes up and makes a fantastic catch and play on the ball.

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Here on 3rd down, Mettenberger challenges the deep boundary with a 50/50 pass. This ball has some loft under it, and is a slightly under-thrown, but you can see the DB really has no play on it because he's worried about catching up to the WR. The DB defends with good technique trying to get as big and tall as possible, but he runs into Beckham. Ball needed to be thrown deeper, still not a bad 50/50 pass.

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Excellent throw, in stride, with great timing and anticipation. Mettenberger delivers ball perfectly allowing OBJ to catch and turn up field. The play ultimately was called back, but the throw and catch were beautiful.

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OK, so the last play was called back? Let's just throw the exact same route to the exact same receiver with the exact same result on the very next play. In stride out route to Beckham.

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Here we are later in the game, similar route, but this one is behind his receiver who almost has to sit down to make the catch.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Alabama

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Excellent 40 yard bomb off play action to Landry, over the shoulder placement "in the bucket" and in stride.

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Mett stands tall in the pocket and "stares down the barrel of a gun" and takes a huge hit but drives the ball 12 yards on target, in stride for a first down in the soft spot of the zone.

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Mettenberger delivers again on the out route to Beckham (who absolutely destroy this route and the CB). Off play action, Mett delivers an in stride, on target rope across the field to the boundary for a first down. Timing and placement allow WR to look behind him and turn up the field.

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Mettenberger makes a poor decision here while rolling out to his left. Although there is initial pressure, that DL slips and falls. Mett's eyes are taken off the play up field, and he forces the ball in the middle of the field into coverage where it's nearly INT. This ball needs to be tossed away. This further illustrates his preference to roll right vs left and it also shows how much extra time it can take to set your feet while rolling out vs. throwing on the run.

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Mettenberger stands tall in the pocket again under pressure and delivers a ball on target for the first down to Landry while getting crushed by two Alabama DL. Plenty of toughness on display today vs. the Crimson Tide.

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Mett shows his ability to read the defense in the red zone and put the ball, with great touch, where only his WR can make the catch but a great catch isn't needed.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Georgia

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Mettenberger reads the defense and the blitz, checks the snap at the LOS, allows RB to clarify blocks. The throw itself isn't that difficult considering it's single coverage with no help over the top, but he stands in the pocket, takes a hit that knows is coming off the corner blitz, and delivers a strike in stride for the Touchdown.

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Mettenberger reads the defense in the red zone and delivers a short distance strike in the end zone for the TD.

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Ball is too high for the wide open WR here - misses possible TD and never gives his receiver a chance.

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Good ball placement here to the FB up the sideline. Ultimately the ball is dropped but the placement is in stride. Perhaps you'd like to see the ball more in front of the receiver here, but it was simply a great tackle to knock ball loose. The other thing to note here is that he doesn't finish this throw, he backs off it and throws from his back foot.

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Poor decision once pocket and timing are disrupted. Tries to throw back across the field and is nearly intercepted.

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Mettenberger forces ball here into double coverage to Landry requiring him to make a spectacular leading catch.

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3rd and 23 Mettenberger finds the soft spot in the defense and shoots a rope between the defenders at the first down marker. Great timing route, accuracy, placement and zip shown here.

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Mettenberger lets it fly here, delivering the ball on target to Beckham.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Florida

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Here are two throws from the beginning of the game:

#1 - This is a great back shoulder dart to the sideline. The ball placement is a bit high, allowing his receiver to go up and make the play on the ball. The ball is really driven down the field to the spot.

#2 - Here you can see Mettenberger delivering the ball off play action, he almost jumps along with his progressions here, coming back to the right sideline to find his receiver for a first down with YAC. Ball is on target and in stride. You will also see the hit that he takes at the end. Ouch.

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Here you can see a ball that is high and behind his target. Landry goes up and makes a great adjustment catch behind him for the first down.

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Here you see Mettenberger step up in pocket and away from blitz and he delivers the ball just ahead of his target on a crossing route. The ball hits the WR in the hands, a catch you expect his to make, however you'd also like to see the ball placed closer to his body.

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Mettenberger delivers with pressure off play action on a crossing / timing route with Landry. Ball is on target, in stride for a first down.

Zach Mettenberger vs. UAB

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I'll start with my favorite throw from this game, and maybe his entire season. This is about a 50 yard throw considering where he throws from, where the ball ends up and the fact that it's on an angle. Mettenberger shows it all here, touch, accuracy, placement, and arm strength. This pass is perfectly in stride and "in the bucket" in the very back corner of the end zone. WOW!

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Mettenberger stands in the pocket and delivers a strike.

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Mettenberger drops back off play action and unleashes a 50 yard bomb to Landry which is slightly under-thrown because he releases ball just a split second late. This allows DB to catch back up and requires Landry to make an adjustment while at full speed. Excellent catch.


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Here you see a perfectly placed timing route on an skinny post. Ball is in stride and on target for the TD and YAC.

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This is a simple post route and easy coverage for the QB to read. It's man coverage and there's really no safety over the top on his side. That being said it's a great throw on target in the end zone.

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Mettenberger delivers this ball once again only where the WR can make the catch . . . and what a phenomenal catch it was. The ball is placed in a good spot, but considering that Landry had to sprawl out and make this type of catch I would consider this to be a bail out catch for the TD. Wow!

Zach Mettenberger vs. Mississippi State

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Mett in shotgun here and he delivers a 22 yard dart to the sideline, back-shoulder. Again, some may argue that this is poor placement, I would argue it's not. This is a great throw and catch.

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Interception. One of the few that he threw this season. However, here you can see a poor decision under pressure. He overthrows the screen pass off play action and kinda shot-puts the ball up over the out-stretched defender into the center of the field.

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The first angle appears that the ball is well ahead of his receiver forcing him to dive for the catch. This is perhaps the case, but notice how close the coverage is. On the second angle, from the back side, it appears to actually be a really good throw. Again, it appears to me like it's tossed in location where only the receiver can make the catch, even in tight coverage.

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Here is a great quick read, touch pass into the end zone boundary in a location again, where only his WR can go up and make a play. This is the perfect example of where big, physical receivers in the NFL can utilize their size and athletic ability to win a ball in the air in the red zone.

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Here you see Mettenberger show-casing a roll-out to the left where he actually looks really comfortable and in rhythm. He delivers the ball on target and while on the run to the sideline.

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Here you can see him under pressure from the blitz, and he tries to toss the ball up again and float it over the defender. I think this ball has a good chance of being intercepted at the next level and needs to be either thrown away or thrown on a different platform and trajectory.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Texas A&M

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Mettenberger shows the ability to roll out to the right here and hit his TE in stride on the drag route for the first down. The ball is placed just ahead of the receiver, but in stride allowing for YAC and controlled catch. However, the receiver does have to extend his arms here.

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Another good red zone read and quick, accurate strike by Mettenberger here for the TD over the middle.

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Sideline toss for the first down. Granted this coverage was very soft, you still see the timing and accuracy by Mettenberger here. Great placement right between the numbers.

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Mettenberger delivers a 40 yd dime along the sideline, in stride, allowing his WR to gain the YAC needed for a TD. The coverage was weak, but the throw was still placed perfectly and showed great timing.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Arkansas

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Mettenberger goes through progressions here and delivers ball on target on the in route.


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Here you can see his lack of recognition; slow footwork to evade the blitz; and essentially, although the pressure is right up the middle, he just folds and takes the sack. He doesn't have the mobility to step up in the pocket or quickly slide left or right.


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Another example not too long after the last of Mettenberger's pocket awareness not doing him any favors. Here, although the OL needs to do a better job sealing the block, Zach rolls back into the pressure and the sack.


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Here you see a perfectly clean pocket and you see it from three angles. This is just a bad throw that he leaves up high. It's tipped by his WR and easily intercepted by the safety.

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Here's another great catch but a ball that's placed, while on the run, only where his WR can make the catch for the first down.

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Here again you see Mett rolling right and delivering a ball on the move. This pass is a little low but moves the chains.

Zach Mettenberger vs. Auburn

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What a throw! Again, you may prefer your QB to be able to drop the ball in the bucket at 50+ yards, and that's fine, I would like that too, but this ball needed to be caught and it wasn't. The ball was once again placed where only the WR could make a play on it along the boundary on his back shoulder.

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OK, here's just a flat out disgusting catch. Wow. Still, I can see both arguements in the placement of this ball. What I also saw was the DE pushing his RT back on roller skates as he delivered this ball. On 3rd and 10, it's a35 yard, 50/50 ball along the sideline in a place where only his receiver can make the play.

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Here's a rollout to the left where he makes an good throw on the run, while this pass is clearly in front of his receiver who makes a great diving snag.

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