BATON ROUGE, La. – It sounds like a novel idea in today’s NFL. But if a team is actually willing to draft a quarterback and give him a full year to develop before thrusting him into the starting lineup, then LSU’s Zach Mettenberger might just be their guy.
Six months, at least.
Mettenberger certainly wouldn’t agree with this idea. He’s so adamant to prove that he’ll be NFL-ready as a rookie that he went out and performed a grueling and impressive pro day workout Wednesday just 13 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Mettenberger insisted he’ll be 100 percent by next month’s rookie minicamps and ready to compete for a job by training camp.
Maybe he’s right. It’s hard to doubt him after the grit he showed on Wednesday, throwing roughly 125 passes in a fast-paced workout that many NFL talent evaluators said would have been impressive even without the injury.
But even if Mettenberger and his supporters – including LSU offensive coordinator and longtime former NFL coach Cam Cameron – are being overly optimistic, then Mettenberger could still be worth a second- or third-round pick for a team that believes he has the potential to be a starter in 2015 and beyond.
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski certainly feels that way. He tabbed the strong-armed, 6-foot-5, 224-pounder as the second-best QB prospect in this year’s entire class, behind only Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Jaworski is one of many who has compared Mettenberger to the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco – including Cameron, who has coached both of them.
“I think his skill set translates extremely well to that league,” Cameron said. “Some guys want ‘em taller or [some want] more athletic. But the bottom line is a guy’s gotta be tough, football-smart, distribute the ball to everyone on the team under pressure, in tight windows. Zach can do that.
“You can win a world championship with Zach Mettenberger. That I know. And that becomes the final evaluation. You don’t draft a guy unless you think this guy can ultimately lead our organization to the Super Bowl. Not just win games. And he is on par with guys that I’ve known since his age that have won Super Bowls.”
LSU coach Les Miles echoed that confidence, describing Mettenberger as “a guy that can really play in a very high level in the NFL.”
Still, there are some question marks about Mettenberger that have nothing to do with his surgically-repaired left knee.
He only had one great year in a turbulent college career, which required a lot of maturing both on and off the field.
Mettenberger started out at Georgia, but was dismissed from the team after an arrest for two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery. After a year in junior college, he transferred to LSU. But he didn’t really shine as a backup his sophomore year or as a starter his junior year. He was sometimes criticized as too laid back, as both a leader and a decision-maker.
Last year, however, Mettenberger showed rapid development in Cameron’s first year on the job. He thrived in a pro-style offense (and throwing to pro-caliber receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry). He threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions before suffering the injury in LSU’s regular-season finale.
“When he showed up here and really did not play a lot, he was kind of in the background. Not necessarily did we feel his presence,” Miles admitted. “When we turned to him and he became that player, he really stepped into a role of leadership.
“Really, we felt like he needed to take on more of a position of team leader than necessarily quarterback. He did that. He’s one of the toughest guys on our team. He continued to improve through his last snaps.”
Cameron hinted at a similar assessment, saying, “We’re all maturing, hey, to some degree. And he’s no different.”
“It’s been refreshing to me coming back to college and watching how much these guys can mature in six months, a year,” Cameron said. “And remember, Zach’s still a young guy. He’s not even two-thirds the way to where he’s gonna be at some point in time. And I think his game translates extremely well to the NFL.”
Cameron said teams have picked his brain, but he said they don’t have too many pressing questions.
“The film speaks for itself,” Cameron said. “The one thing I know about scouts, they’re gonna look at the film first. Theyre gonna look at the game at Georgia or the game at Alabama. The games against quality opponents on the road. Zach obviously played extremely well.
“Some may ask, ‘Is there anything about him we wouldn’t know?’ And I tell them he’s one of the best, if not the best practice players I’ve been around. Just like [Landry and Beckham], because of the standard Les sets here.”
Mettenberger might not be ready to immediately lead his next team into the playoffs as a rookie like fellow big men Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have done in recent years.
But if his growth in 2013 was a true indication of his potential, then he might well develop into one of the better investments in this year’s draft class.