Zach Mettenberger is confident that he will beat out Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota should either of them get drafted by the Titans. Let’s call a spade a spade, though. If the Titans select a quarterback with the 2nd overall pick, they are doing so because they do not believe in Mettenberger as the quarterback of the future. No matter what is said publicly, he will likely not get a fair shot at winning the starting job. But should the Titans even draft a quarterback in the first place? Or should they stick with Mettenberger?
As we wrote this fall, Zach Mettenberger impressed us when he did get the opportunity to play during his rookie season. He has all of the physical tools to play the position successfully at the NFL level. He’s got a strong arm and he’s accurate. As you can see on the play below, he also anticipates well. Here, he knew he had little time to get rid of the ball with a free rusher coming at him. He felt comfortable throwing this ball early when he saw the linebacker, who was defending tight end Delanie Walker in the middle of the field, turn his back. To the better quarterbacks in the league, when a defender turns his back, this means his receiver is open.
Mettenberger exhibited his anticipation and coverage-recognition skills on this play, and the result was a 68-yard gain.
Another aspect of Mettenberger’s game that stands out is his willingness and ability to hang in the pocket until the last possible moment. He’s a statue in the pocket, almost oblivious to pass-rush pressure around him. This is an attribute only the best quarterbacks in the league have.
By the same token, Mettenberger gets in trouble when he hangs in the pocket for too long. This is a good problem to have, though. You’d rather have a quarterback who isn’t afraid to face pressure than a quarterback who flees the pocket at the first flash of an opposing jersey color. With the former, you can teach a quarterback to get the ball out of his hands a little quicker. You can’t teach a quarterback to be tougher and hang in the pocket longer.
Mettenberger has gunslinger tendencies. He wants to push the ball downfield. He needs to get better at managing situations, though. You can’t take a sack on first down waiting for a receiver to get open on a deep route when there’s a check-down right in front of you for an easy 5 yards. This is something we saw Mettenberger do multiple times in his rookie season. As a quarterback, you need to manage the game and keep your offense on schedule. This is a problem that is absolutely fixable, however. It comes with getting more playing experience. And this is the exciting thing about Mettenberger. He has all of the tools. He isn’t a limited player. All he needs is the chance to develop. More talent around him wouldn’t hurt either.
With all of that being said, if there is an Andrew Luck type of prospect in this year’s draft and the Titans have the chance to draft him, then they should absolutely pull the trigger. The question is whether or not Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are can’t-miss prospects.
Both Winston and Mariota have lots of questions surrounding them. Winston’s abilities seem to translate to the NFL game better than Mariota’s. All indications are that he is a tremendously smart football player who has a great understanding of defenses. He’s a confident person and player, and that’s exactly what you want in your quarterback. The off-the-field issues have to be a concern though.
The questions around Mariota are whether or not his skills translate to the NFL level. He’s been in a very quarterback-friendly offense throughout his college career. It’s a system that creates lots of wide-open receivers but doesn’t include many NFL reads. So will he be able to succeed from the pocket and make NFL-type throws consistently at the next level? Or does he need to be drafted onto a team that has a similar offense to the one he ran at Oregon (like Chip Kelly’s in Philadelphia) in order to be successful?
For various reasons, Mariota and Winston are not can’t-miss prospects. The Titans already have a young quarterback with lots of potential. They also have a ton of holes to fill on their roster. They need to add more physical and aggressive players on both sides of the ball. They need a dynamic edge rusher and more help on the offensive line, among many other areas. That 2nd overall pick might be better utilized by adding one of those pieces, or by trading down for more picks so they can build up a team around the quarterback position.