Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback
Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Rumblings from Nashville via The Tennessean's David Climer say that the Titans brass think second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a "poor team's Tom Brady," and he will be the starting quarterback in 2015. This comes just weeks before a draft where the Titans hold the No. 2 pick and should get Tampa Bay's leftover choice of Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. The consensus is that either one is a respectable solution to a position that has long been a problem for arguably the NFL's blandest franchise.

Since the team moved to Tennessee in 1997, no Titans quarterback has thrown for 3,600 yards or 25 touchdowns in a season. (Even Steve McNair never did.) The Titans haven't even been led in passing by the same quarterback in consecutive seasons since Vince Young in 2006-07. With Jake Locker retiring after a disappointing four-year career, either Ken Whisenhunt and the Titans are blowing some draft smoke, or they really like what they have in Mettenberger.

However, outside of being pocket passers and sixth-round picks, the similarities between Mettenberger and Brady are limited. The only area in which Mettenberger excelled was that he averaged a very high passing yards per attempt (YPA), which has long been a good indicator of steady quarterback play with high correlation to winning and individual success. Mettenberger's 7.89 YPA is the ninth-highest season by a true rookie quarterback (no prior pro experience) in NFL history. He is one of only 15 rookies to average at least 7.5 YPA (minimum 150 attempts). The "LgYPA" in the following table is the league's average YPA for that particular season. While 2014 had the league's highest YPA (7.21) since 1965, Mettenberger was still impressively above average in a key stat.

Highest Passing Yards per Attempt, True Rookie (Minimum 150 Attempts)
Rk Quarterback Year Team GP GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD INT PR YPA LgYPA
1 Greg Cook 1969 CIN 11 11 106 197 53.8% 1854 15 11 88.3 9.41 6.96
2 Bob Waterfield 1945 RAM 10 4 89 171 52.0% 1609 14 17 72.4 9.41 6.82
3 Ben Roethlisberger 2004 PIT 14 13 196 295 66.4% 2621 17 11 98.1 8.88 7.05
4 Robert Griffin 2012 WAS 15 15 258 393 65.6% 3200 20 5 102.4 8.14 7.08
5 Babe Parilli 1952 GB 12 4 77 177 43.5% 1416 13 17 56.6 8.00 6.66
6 Russell Wilson 2012 SEA 16 16 252 393 64.1% 3118 26 10 100.0 7.93 7.08
7 Matt Ryan 2008 ATL 16 16 265 434 61.1% 3440 16 11 87.7 7.93 6.94
8 Clyde LeForce 1947 DET 9 2 94 175 53.7% 1384 13 20 65.0 7.91 7.25
9 Zach Mettenberger 2014 TEN 7 6 107 179 59.8% 1412 8 7 83.4 7.89 7.21
10 Cam Newton 2011 CAR 16 16 310 517 60.0% 4051 21 17 84.5 7.84 7.20
11 Dennis Shaw 1970 BUF 14 12 178 321 55.5% 2507 10 20 65.3 7.81 6.73
12 Rodney Peete 1989 DET 8 8 103 195 52.8% 1479 5 9 67.0 7.58 7.15
13 Mickey Slaughter 1963 DEN 13 7 112 223 50.2% 1689 12 15 65.4 7.57 7.09
14 Johnny Unitas 1956 CLT 12 7 110 198 55.6% 1498 9 10 74.0 7.57 7.08
15 Bob Celeri 1951 NYY 11 8 102 238 42.9% 1797 12 15 59.8 7.55 6.82

Clearly this does not always lead to a long, successful career like those Johnny Unitas and Ben Roethlisberger (another Whisenhunt quarterback) went on to enjoy. Injuries (Greg Cook and Robert Griffin) can derail things. Some of these players, like Clyde LeForce and Mickey Slaughter, only played a few years. The fact remains, though, that bad quarterbacks rarely do well in this statistic. Joey Harrington and Blaine Gabbert never hit 6.5 YPA in any season in their career, let alone maintain the mark Mettenberger had last season.

Even in the preseason, Mettenberger averaged 9.69 YPA on 68 passes, though we have learned not to trust those August results. Fellow AFC South rookie Blake Bortles averaged 10.20 YPA in the preseason, but ranked next to last in the real games at 6.12 YPA. Then again, Mettenberger is known for having a big arm and ranked third in the NCAA in 2013 with 10.41 YPA. Maybe he is efficient at gaining yards for his offense.

There lies the rub. Outside of the YPA average, advanced stats paint a very inefficient picture for Mettenberger's rookie season. Among 44 quarterbacks with at least 100 plays, Mettenberger ranked 40th in DVOA (-28.7%) and 41st in ESPN's QBR (30.1). That's very unusual for someone with such a high YPA.

Since 2006, 92 quarterbacks have averaged at least 7.5 YPA on at least 150 passes. Mettenberger's 2014 season ranks 90th in passing DVOA and 91st in QBR among those seasons. This table looks at the ten lowest seasons in DVOA among these 92 seasons.

Lowest Passing DVOA for Season with 7.5+ YPA, 2006-2014 (Min. 150 Passes)
Rk Quarterback Team Year QBR Rk YPA TD INT PR Sack% DYAR DVOA
83 Cam Newton CAR 2011 56.2 81 7.84 21 17 84.5 6.3% 407 0.8%
84 Sage Rosenfels HOU 2008 59.8 73 8.22 6 10 79.5 4.9% 131 -0.7%
85 Mark Sanchez PHI 2014 58.2 79 7.83 14 11 88.4 6.9% 210 -1.4%
86 Kurt Warner ARI 2006 43.4 87 8.20 6 5 89.3 7.7% 76 -4.5%
87 Brian Hoyer CLE 2014 43.1 88 7.59 12 13 76.5 5.2% 166 -5.3%
88 Jay Cutler CHI 2010 44.7 86 7.58 23 16 86.3 10.7% 80 -8.5%
89 Kevin Kolb ARI 2011 33.9 89 7.73 9 8 81.1 10.6% -131 -18.4%
90 Zach Mettenberger TEN 2014 30.1 91 7.89 8 7 83.4 9.1% -211 -28.7%
91 Robert Griffin WAS 2014 30.8 90 7.92 4 6 86.9 13.4% -374 -34.2%
92 J.T. O'Sullivan SF 2008 22.3 92 7.63 8 11 73.6 12.7% -509 -43.4%

The only season Mettenberger beats out in both stats is the time J.T. O'Sullivan walked the streets of San Francisco with Mike Martz's minimal protection in 2008. He was a sixth-round pick too. Let's review some specific areas in Mettenberger's performance that negate his strong YPA last season.

Touchdowns and Interceptions

Mettenberger had a subpar ratio of eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. His touchdown percentage (4.47) was average and his interception percentage (3.91) was way too high in a season that had the lowest rate of picks ever (2.52 percent). Mettenberger was intercepted once in all seven of his appearances. We also charted Houston safety Kendrick Lewis with two dropped interceptions on Mettenberger passes. Like many rookies, Mettenberger struggled to read linebackers dropping into coverage and was late on his timing on sideline throws.

You can also pick on half of his eight touchdowns. The first of his career was to a wide-open Delanie Walker out of the flat against Houston. Another was a 3-yard shovel pass against the Ravens. The fluke happened in Philadelphia: Malcolm Jenkins undercut and tipped a pass to Justin Hunter for a 40-yard touchdown.

Mettenberger's longest completion of the season was an 80-yard touchdown to Nate Washington with 32 seconds left in the first half against Pittsburgh. That's only the fifth touchdown of 80-plus yards since 1998 in the final 60 seconds of the second quarter -- a situation known for conservative calls. It's only the second inside of 55 seconds, and it's the only time a team scored on first down. This just does not happen in the NFL (though Brandon Lloyd caught the Rams napping -- also on Monday night last year -- in similar circumstances). How did it happen to Pittsburgh? William Gay bit hard on a double-move and Mettenberger had a ton of room to drop this one in the bucket for the rare score. The second-longest gain on first down in the final minute on 308 pass plays since 1998 was 47 yards by the Bengals in 2003.

This one play is the difference between Mettenberger's YPA sitting at 7.48 instead of 7.89 for the season. Even if you only took away 40 yards for the Philadelphia fluke, the YPA drops down to 7.66. That's the problem with only 179 passes in your sample size. Mettenberger basically had four games where he finished with a solid YPA, and they were all against defenses with suspect secondary play like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston (twice). This alone solves the "YPA great, everything else pretty bad" conundrum that made me start this study, so I did not have much work to do here. However, when you hear the "steal of the draft" talk, and a respected analyst like Greg Cosell says he'd take Mettenberger over Winston, then it's worth looking into more.

The Statue?

It was surprising to see just how often Mettenberger stayed in the pocket. He tore his ACL late in 2013, though I will not speculate if that played a factor in his lack of mobility in 2014. On 198 dropbacks, Mettenberger only scrambled one time (an 8-yard gain on third down against Houston) and he only threw five passes outside the pocket (including two throwaways). That 3.0 percent out-of-pocket rate would be the second-lowest for any quarterback in the 2012-13 seasons (full 2014 rankings to come), standing right between 2013 Tom Brady (2.6 percent) and 2013 Peyton Manning (3.3 percent), though clearly Mettenberger does not have their overall skills in running an offense.

The Titans get virtually no rushing value with Mettenberger, and moving the pocket was not something the offense tried with him. He's a very traditional pocket passer, but he won't break out of sacks like a Cam Newton or Andrew Luck. In fact, our charting shows zero broken tackles from Mettenberger, though I seem to recall him doing it once on a play that was negated by penalty.

This is a quarterback who will rely heavily on his offensive line to keep him upright, because there was very little improvisational skill that an undrafted gem like Tony Romo displayed so quickly in 2006. Mettenberger took some bad sacks, and you can see his high rate (9.1 percent) in that department. He was playing behind an offensive line that lost multiple starters (including multiple left tackles) to injury, so better health there should help him. Then again, sacks were at times a problem in college. In his 2012 season at LSU, Mettenberger lost 25.1 expected points added (EPA) on sacks according to ESPN's data.

For all the talk of Mettenberger's big arm, I was not that impressed with his downfield throws last year. The ball would often hang, allowing the defensive back to make a play or immediately tackle the receiver. The velocity just wasn't great, though again, that first season after an ACL injury can be difficult. He seemed to just loft the ball instead of driving it into his receiver too often.

Perhaps due to the combination of Mettenberger's slow decision making and his battered offensive line, he also struggled with six batted balls at the line of scrimmage. That rate of batted passes (3.35 percent) was second worst in the league last year. Granted, teammate Charlie Whitehurst (3.24 percent) was right ahead of him, though that does not explain Jake Locker ranking fourth in the league (0.68 percent).

While standing tall in the pocket in the face of pressure will help Mettenberger earn lots of the "Warrior EPA" Steve McNair once garnered, that's not valuable when the passes are inaccurate or he's leaving games injured. After finishing the last two seasons with injuries, there have to be concerns that Mettenberger's protection-dependent playing style will limit his durability.

Poor on Money Downs

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We touched on this in our look at 2014's failed completions, but Mettenberger failed to sustain offense. Only 31.3 percent of his passes gained a first down, ranked 34th out of 38 quarterbacks with at least 150 passes. Mettenberger especially failed to deliver on money downs. On 55 third-down plays, he only converted 12 times for a paltry conversion rate of 21.8 percent. That's about half of what you expect from a good quarterback.

Mettenberger had five failed completions that gained at least 12 yards on third or fourth down with at least 13 yards needed for a conversion. That helps the YPA more than it does your offense. One thing I noticed was the quick, short passes over the middle that had little hope of converting. That may be Whisenhunt's influence and an attempt to protect the young quarterback, but that's no way to try converting for a first.

I created a third-down stat that looks at the average differential between how far the quarterback threw the ball (air yards) and how many yards he needed for a first down. Name subject to change, I called it Air Minus Need Differential (AMND) and looked at 2011-14. If a quarterback throws a 10-yard pass on third-and-2, then that would be +8 AMND. If he follows it up with a 1-yard pass on third-and-10, then his AMND drops to -0.5 over those two plays.

This stat is really a perfect representation of Rex Grossman's "F*** It, I'm Going Deep!" mentality and Alex Smith's scaredy-cat tactics of throwing short of the sticks with unrivaled frequency.

You can almost think of this as the groundwork for a "QB Aggressiveness Index" if we start breaking things down by distances. We will certainly look deeper into this metric in the coming weeks, but let's focus on the 2014 results.

Out of 40 quarterbacks with at least 40 third-down passes, Mettenberger ranked 39th in AMND at -1.47. So on average, he threw 1.47 yards short of the first-down marker on third down. Only Alex Smith (-2.34) ranked lower, with Aaron Rodgers (+3.96) the league's high man. The average was 1.32. Mettenberger threw short of the marker on 48.9 percent of his third-down throws, which ranked 32nd. The average was 41.1 percent. This obviously excludes sacks, so Mettenberger's conversion rate was 23.1 percent, ranking him dead last with the other 39 quarterbacks all above 31.0 percent.

Again, this could very well be a Whisenhunt thing. In 2012, three of the four quarterbacks with the worst AMND averages -- John Skelton (-1.63), Kevin Kolb (-1.67) and Ryan Lindley (-3.48) -- played for Whisenhunt in Arizona. Kolb (-2.86) was dead last in 2011. Then again, Philip Rivers was +2.38 (ranked third) in 2013 with Whisenhunt in San Diego. Locker was +2.27 last year in this Tennessee offense.

Either way, you have to trust your quarterback to make the big throws. If Mettenberger starts in 2015 and still has a negative AMND, the Titans will likely continue struggling to keep the offense on the field.

Conclusion: You Don't Just Find Starting QBs at the Thrift Store

Can the Titans really sell fans on the idea of bypassing a quarterback and taking defensive tackle Leonard Williams with the No. 2 pick? We saw what it looked like when they touted Jurrell Casey as their best player: they were a long Josh Scobee field goal away from 15 straight losses. How do you expect to outscore Andrew Luck or score points against J.J. Watt in the AFC South? If the Jaguars can move on from their 2011 quarterback mistake and take Bortles last year, then the Titans can go after Locker's replacement. Keep trying until you find the right guy to turn the franchise around.

I will only believe the Titans are going to start Mettenberger in 2015 after the draft is over if they did not take a quarterback with a high pick or trade for Philip Rivers. There is no real investment in Mettenberger, because he only cost a sixth-round pick last year.

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Take a look around the league. Of the 32 teams, 29 have as their main quarterback asset a player drafted in the first three rounds. Two of the teams without one have Tom Brady and Tony Romo. The Titans have Mettenberger and Clipboard Jesus. There is no comparison. From last year's quarterback draft study, sixth-round quarterbacks have been a joke since the Brady miracle of 2000. Undrafted quarterbacks have done very little since the great Romo discovery of 2003. Those finds were a long time ago. Brady and Romo are extreme outliers. They're like hitting a big lottery jackpot. Which part of Mettenberger's game screams future stud? Even through six starts and 200 plays we saw more out of both Romo and Brady than we have with Mettenberger.

In the last three years, Mettenberger's one exceptional season was in 2013 at LSU. He played in an offense with Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. All those players did last year was lead all NFL rookies in rushing and receiving, and Landry finished second to Beckham in receptions. That kind of talent is not there in Tennessee to elevate Mettenberger.

However, the Titans have been building up their offense for a young quarterback with five premium draft picks in recent years: offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, running back Bishop Sankey, right guard Chance Warmack, wide receiver Justin Hunter, and wide receiverKendall Wright. Andy Levitre and Delanie Walker were big free-agent signings in 2013. Whether it's Rivers, Mariota, or Winston, I would let those players grow together with an upgrade at quarterback.

Mettenberger is not a poor man's Tom Brady. He's the cheap option for a poor team trying to strike it rich without a franchise quarterback.


72 comments, Last at 29 Apr 2015, 12:32pm

1 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I think it's foolish to think that Mettenberger and Brady have anything in common besides playing the same position, and I appreciate all of the statistical research and evidence in this article.

I also think that drawing the conclusion that the Titans should take a subpar-for-the-pick QB with the #2 overall pick from the above is dead wrong. Mariota literally does not know how to take a snap from under center and I would bet a considerable sum of money that Jameis Winston will be in prison before he's in the Pro Bowl.

Saying "Mettenberger is not the answer" is not the same thing as "the Titans must draft a QB with the #2 pick this year. Especially when you consider that some team will probably be desperate enough to trade up to #2 to get one of those QBs.

25 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback


I like Mettengerger's upside a lot more than I do Mariota's, and while not pristine, I like his off-field transgressions more than I like Winston's.

I'd be shocked if either Mariota or Winston was better than Metternberger this year. It seems a lot of teams compound their QB issues by moving on from young QBs too early to jump on the next greatest thing.

45 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The whole "doesn't know how to take a snap under center" thing gets so blown out of proportion. Before blowing out his knee RG3 was Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton was arguably the least pro-ready QB talent, Drew Brees never played under center at Purdue, and I'd be surprised if Rothlisberger played much if any under center at Miami(OH).

The difference is nobody expects Wisenhunt to adjust his offense to the skills of his QB. Which should be a criticism of Wisenhunt and not the QB. They're are only so many Peyton Mannings out there.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

2 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

First the reader is greeted with a quote:

Rumblings from Nashville via The Tennessean's David Climer say that the Titans brass think second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a "poor team's Tom Brady,"

(on a sidenote, please make links open in a new tab, thank you)

Then the article goes on with a stat:
Highest Passing Yards per Attempt, True Rookie (Minimum 150 Attempts)
And looking at the top15 table; this means nothing.
Yet, "hey kids, let's talk about this stat and how Mettenberger sucks and make this stat look bad on him! He threw many interceptions!!"
Yeah, he was a rookie. Did he throw too many interceptions as opposed to other rookies, that would have been a much more interesting stat.

Then we're talking about how his touchdowns were flukes, or 'yeah but the guy was wide open'. As if Laser McAccuracy never throws to open guys...

"Take a look around the league. Of the 32 teams, 29 have as their main quarterback asset a player drafted in the first three rounds. Two of the teams without one have Tom Brady and Tony Romo."

This is part of the run up to your conclusion:
"Mettenberger is not a poor man's Tom Brady. He's the cheap option for a poor team trying to strike it rich without a franchise quarterback."

This was an article that started on a weird quote, down-talked a meaningless stat in a childish way and then went the "flukes rarely happen, so this guy can't be a fluke" kind of reasoning.

I guess it's April.

3 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Other than the fact that, yes, it is April, I don't understand where you're coming from on any of this.

1. What's the problem with using a quote to discuss a current topic of importance heading into the draft? We run full articles on weird quotes, but this was not in that spirit. Taking a news report and analyzing the situation is one of the main purposes of this website.

2. Links are always set to open in a new tab. If that one wasn't, then it's been fixed. Sorry.

3. Since when is YPA meaningless? I don't find interceptions to be more interesting or important or consistent than YPA. As I showed, it's very rare for a rookie QB to have a high YPA, which should be a promising thing. It's even rarer for any QB to have a high YPA but still produce such an overall inefficient season.

4. His TD:INT ratio is a reason why his metrics are poor. All I showed was his ratio should have been even worse. Not like I ignored big drops when they just didn't exist. Sure, Nate Washington dropped a TD against the Eagles, but two plays later Mettenberger threw a TD anyway. Moot drop.

5. Romo and Brady are finds from over a decade ago. If you see their potential in Mettenberger, then so be it. I sure as hell didn't and that's what I wrote about.

4 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I thought it was a fairly ballsy article because it would look bad it Mettenberger turns out to be a good QB, which isn't outside the realm of possibility. That said, the argument was based on what seems like solid statistical analysis and scouting, so I can't argue with the conclusion.

But if someone wants to make the case that Mettenberger will be a good QB I'd hear out the facts as well. But I don't see why you'd attack the article without making any kind of counter argument.

7 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Getting upset when someone points out that Mettenburger is unlikely to be good is like getting upset when someone tells you that you're unlikely to be struck by lighting. Yea, it's happened to others before, so it's theoretically possible, but I wouldn't plan my life around it. Similarly the Titans shouldn't plan future drafts around such an unlikely outcome.

9 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

1; fair enough, I was just saying it's not what the coaches said, just what the writer thinks the coaches said.
2; that's alright, they often don't. Just a heads up.
3; YPA for rookies is almost meaningless. The table is a mixed bag of NFL legends and NFL not-so-greats.
4; you can't take a stat and then say 'but the stat lies for this QB' because every QB has dropped INTs, mixed with dropped TDs. Some are not his fault, some are. If you're going to adjust for Mettenberger, then adjust for everyone.
5; I'm not saying Mettenberger has potential like Brady or Romo, but I'm also not saying he doesn't have it, because he's a six-round pick. I can't go along with the 'it's rare, therefore it doesn't happen' reasoning.

23 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Theo, I never intended to imply Mettenberger is the only QB with dropped INTs and wide-open/fluke TDs. I'm just telling you that his bad ratio (8:7) should be even worse based on what I saw from his 179 passes. When the topic's about how he played, then I don't see the point in making a similar adjustment/case for other QBs' ratios. They're not the focus. We know 8:7 doesn't cut it anymore.

36 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

It'd be fair to adjust for other QBs too is because stats are good or bad in comparison with what you're expecting.
8:7 would be alright if the whole league threw 8:17 on average. Savvy? So pulling out the full stats would reveal he'd be at and adj INT% of 5%, which is yes, high in comparison with everyone else, even compared with other rookies.

5 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The primary reason for this article is the opportunity to give a shout-out to Clyde LeForce who, it should be noted, also played DB and returned kicks and punts. The guy was never off the field. They don't make them like that any more.

May LeForce be with you!

8 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

An interesting cautionary tale for Tennessee is Dennis Shaw, another name on that list. Buffalo was enamored enough of the kid that they decided the best way to use OJ Simpson was to have him catch passes from Shaw out of the backfield. This didn't help Shaw's accuracy much and angered Simpson (insert obligatory joke here).

Bishop Sankey is no Simpson, so unless the ghost of Lou Saban suddenly shows up, you have to think Tennessee is engaged in some desultory blowing of smoke. This can't be taken seriously.

11 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

This almost has to be smoke blowing. But I also think that the article may be reading more into the quotes than what's actually there. I see no quotes that say the Titans like Mettenberger more than Mariota. In all likelihood, that's the choice the Titans will be faced with at pick #2. Winston is probably a red herring.

At most, the comparison of Winston to Mettenberger could mean that IF Tampa Bay passes on Winston, the Titans might pass on him too. That's not so far fetched, because for that to happen, it'll mean that Winston's draft stock has dropped for some reason.

10 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

But the Patriots did in fact find a starting quarterback at the thrift store. They didn't know what they had or they would not have risked waiting until the 6th round to get him.

The thing I wonder at though is if Bledsoe had never been hurt... would they have realized it?

Could it be that there were other qbs who had comparable potential who simply never got a chance to play in a meaningful game?

I'm a Vikings fan and I know they've let some QBs at the end of their depth chart slip away who went on to be serviceable starters elsewhere (Thigpen, Bono, etc).

12 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

"Could it be that there were other qbs who had comparable potential who simply never got a chance to play in a meaningful game?"

Obviously yes. Brady, Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner, and Warren Moon are all obvious cases of how easy it is for a good QB to nearly slip through the cracks. It only stands to reason that there's a few of these guys out there who just slipped through the cracks entirely. We just don't know their names.

There are probably also a whole lot of could-have-been HOF QBs who were miscast and ruined by their coaches. Moon and Gannon are also examples of that -- their coaches tried to convert them to other positions.

21 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I think it's a certainty that there are HoF QBs out there selling insurance because they never found a coach who could figure out how to use them. Steve Young, Doug Williams, Vinnie Testaverde, and Jim Plunkett were all outright busts until they found coaches/teams who could understood how to use them.

14 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I seem to recall Brady outplayed Bledsoe in the pre-season of 2001 so I think it likely that the Patiots knew they had 'something' although they certainly weren't sure of what. I think the question would be was there a way they could have switched to Brady without tearing the locker room apart if Bledsoe hadn't been injured. Belichick went through that in Cleveland with Kosar and the results weren't good

22 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Geno Smith +2.28 (one of the highest QBs)
EJ Manuel +1.38 (average)
Mike Glennon -0.57 (one of the lowest)

No stat is perfect and they're not designed to tell you who is the better player, but early returns are showing me that most of the best QBs are high in AMND and many of the worst are at the bottom.

16 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

You lost me when you started deducting positive plays from his statistics. That's the ultimate mark of somebody who isn't approaching things objectively.

"That's the problem with only 179 passes in your sample size."

And yet you wrote an entire article based on it and you're clinging to a DVOA figure based on that same sample size as if it's somehow meaningful. You'll probably be right. Not because any of this matters, but because the success rate for any quarterback is incredibly low.

17 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The "fluke" play in the GIF was a darn good play by the QB. Yes, the guy was wide open, but the QB was under pressure and delivered a strike. That's a TD even if the WR only had half a step on the defender. No doubt the odds on Mettenberger being a HOFer (or even a top line starter) are small. But you still have a count all the plays. Even if there were a reason for disregarding some plays, there's no reason to disregard THAT one.

19 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I find the conclusion of Mettenberger is bad so the Titans have to draft a QB this year to be incorrect.

One of the QBs available would have to a big enough upgrade over him to be worth the opportunity cost of taking one. Even more, the opportunity cost of then having a highly drafted QB.

If they're not convinced either QB is going to be better than average, doesn't that mean they're better served sticking with a bad QB, and getting another shot the next year with potentially a QB they are convinced is good?

If they draft a QB high this year, not only are they investing significant resources in him, but they are also locking themselves out of future highly drafted prospects for 2-3 years.

29 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

You have to remember that human beings whose jobs are on the line make these decisions. If the Titans stick with Mettenberger and risk another 2-4 win season (remember he didn't win a single one of his starts), then bully for Titans for having a top pick in 2016, but no way the current coaching staff/front office survives to make decisions in the 2016 draft.

24 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I've posed this question to people in the past: What kind of rookie season would a lower round rookie need to have in order for you to pass on a qb high in the draft?

Its a legitimately difficult question to answer. We like to think Carr had a great season for a rookie given he was on the Raiders, but ask yourselves, would the raiders be considered similarly foolish for passing on Mariotta/Winston if they happened to have the first overall pick? What about Rg3?

I honestly think most rookie qbs play about as well as Mike Glennon and that still isn't enough. I think the larger point is - its simply too much to ask to have a coach stake his faith in a lower round qb for multiple years. Its just much easier to sell to the fanbase and ownership on a first round pedigreed qb instead, even if the play looks the same.

26 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I think Matt McGloin (2013 Raiders) and Austin Davis (2014 Rams) played better than 2014 Mettenberger. Not by a huge margin, but better. Raiders still drafted Carr and St. Louis didn't blink to trade for Nick Foles.

Mike Glennon definitely impressed me more than Mettenberger, yet Tampa Bay thought McCown was its answer last year and probably will replace him with a rookie in the draft this year.

If you're one of these late-round/UD guys, you have to take your opportunity to start and run with it. That's what Kurt Warner (1999), Tom Brady (2001) and Tony Romo (2006) did. Compare their first six starts to someone like Mettenberger and there's no contest.

Jeff Garcia's first start was very good in 1999, but he probably only saved himself a job in 2000 by that strong five-game finish. He was fortunate to keep getting opportunities thanks to the season-ending Steve Young injury.

Jake Delhomme (2003) led a big comeback off the bench for Carolina and that magical season materialized from there. Even if the QB's not playing great, I'm sure winning will help a team keep a guy out there longer. Remember the Titans were 0-6 with Mettenberger. I didn't even mention the several games where he didn't make any big throws until they were down 17-27 points.

Derek Anderson (2007) replaced Charlie Frye in Week 1 in a surprising move, but it was an even bigger surprise when he threw 5 TD passes in a 51-45 win over the Bengals in Week 2. That kind of performance will buy you some time. Anderson was really good for half the season before things fell apart.

Tyler Thigpen (2008) did some nice things for a bad Chiefs team, which still traded for Matt Cassel in the offseason. Of course Cassel finished strong in replacing Brady for the best-coached team in the league.

Matt Moore showed some flashes in Carolina, then started for the 2011 Dolphins in another "better than Mettenberger" season. Dolphins still drafted Ryan Tannehill after that and Moore's been the backup ever since.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is really the only recent unheralded guy that got 20+ starts before he sustained something you could call average play (starting in 2010 w/Buffalo).

Maybe we throw in Jon Kitna and Jay Fiedler, and those are really your ~12 notable guys of the 21st century that weren't drafted high. Many came from that 1999-2003 era where the league was scrapping for QBs after the HOFers retired. We could be headed to an era like that again soon, but since 2004 this game is really about high draft picks starting and starting quickly. If you're a low investment and you don't show much promise right away, you're destined for the bench.

60 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Interesting too that Kitna Fiedler Warner and Delhomme of the guys you mention all played in WLAF/NFL Europe. Brad Johnson you might squeeze into that group too. In the article you mentioned JT O'Sullivan less successful as was Jim Miller. But the opportunity to get reps certainly helped.

Marc Bulger is another low round pick who had a decent career in your time span. Trent Green was round 8 in 93 but played into the new millennium...

30 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I think the quality of the draft class should also matter (although it probably doesn't to coaches and GMs who are under pressure to win now or else and will take a gamble on a guy who has a high probability of failing, but could save the coach/GM's job in the unlikely event that he is great).

If I'm picking #1 and a guy like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck is in this year's draft, then I'm drafting him no matter how the low-round rookie did last season. Maybe I can flip him for a higher pick than I used to get him, if anyone is that high on him.

On the other hand, if I had control of a team, I would not use an early 1st round pick on Mariota or Winston, period (just speaking of how I feel they are likely to do in the NFL; personally I wouldn't draft Winston in any round but I recognize that the risk/reward ratio means it would be crazy not to pick him up in a later round if he somehow dropped that far). Too many other strong players available.

38 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The weirdest thing about not just this article, but most of the analyses I've seen of this year's rookie class seem to be in agreement that Bridgewater showed some promise, Carr showed a lot of promise, Mettenberger showed very little promise whatsoever and that the jury was entirely out on Bortles because of how bad the situation is in Jacksonville. That's the general consensus and this article shares the opinion on Mettenberger, at least.

But I have no idea where this consensus is coming from. I thought Carr, Mettenberger and Bortles all looked terrible, maybe not equally terrible, but terrible - and sure enough, they all have terrible DVOA's. Carr's is slightly better than Mettenberger's, which is somewhat better than Bortles. I think most of the analysis of these guys comes down to wishful thinking - I wouldn't bet on ANY of them to be good QB's based on their rookie seasons and my own personal preference for Bridgewater over the field has almost nothing to back it up.

Bridgewater and Carr had DVOA's almost identical to Ryan Lindley, a guy who is generally believed to have almost single-handedly sunk a playoff team. I don't know that any of them showed ANYTHING that objectively could make them a better prospect than the others.

Anyway, I think any team that has a shot at a QB that they believe MIGHT be very good has to take that shot - certainly, if you think Carr might be good, there's just about as much of an argument for that as there is for Mettenberger or Bridgewater being good. There's no argument for Bortles potentially being good apart from draft position and Jacksonville's ineptitude.

47 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Good thoughts. My default setting is what they looked like in college. Mettenberger, to me, looked to have a skill set that best translated to pro success better than anybody in last years draft, or this years...although Winston is up there too. Now, whether he can improve the mental part of the game, who knows?

49 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

See, I don't watch college football, so I have no impression of any of these guys before I start seeing their highlight packages around draft time. Cam Newton and Andrew Luck you could tell even in the preseason were going to be great - I actually got in a big argument here on FO about how Newton's amazing preseason YPA boded well for him and that he just looked like he knew how to play the game. From the beginning, I saw zilch from this year's rookie class to think any of them stand out. Bridgewater didn't seem to make dumb plays and looked comfortable in the pocket, he also didn't generate any spectacular plays.

Carr reminds me of Geno Smith, they have very similar playing styles and a similar mix of highs and lows while Bortles just looked hopeless. I barely saw Mettenberger play, I only saw him in two games one of which was versus the Eagles where I thought he was the best player on the Titans. That could be tempered by the fact that his strength (deep ball) matched up very well with the Eagles defense's biggest weakness (utterly worthless against the deep ball.) It was a game that got out of hand quickly, though, so I'm not sure how much it tells you. Well, Boykin getting a smart pick and Fletcher getting shredded tells you all you need to know about Kelly's CB talent evaluation, but I digress...

50 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I have to disagree with you about Bridgewater, he had a 90 yard pass to win the Jets game. Granted, it was a bubble screen, but he audibled into it, and he pretty much outwitted Rex Ryan most of the game.

The only entire game I saw of Carr's was the first, against the Jets; not really one to judge him by. It seemed like he was stuck in a terrible situation and doing a lot better than could be expected. He also was the only qb to have a decent game against Buffalo the second half of the season, which was a lot better than what Geno did against them.
I do watch a decent amount of college football, especially in the offseason. The only thing Mettenberger's footage told me was that drafting LSU receivers would be a good idea. He's nowhere near the prospect Winston is.

51 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The Bridgewater pass is exactly what I'm talking about: a good, solid play that roughly 100% of QB's in the league could have executed correctly. That he called an audible for it is what I like about him - so I think we're agreeing. Make a simple read, call the right play, throw a simple pass, good job Bridgewater.

As for Carr/Geno, I just see them as both being mobile and liable to run around without being exactly threats on the ground (in contrast to the running threat of a Wilson, Vick, Kaepernick type), both have strong arms and dubious accuracy, both seem to miss a lot of open receivers, don't show a huge capacity for smart decision making and both are bone-headed turnover prone.

The big difference is that Carr is a dump-off king, which is troubling in light of his brother's legendary love of dump-offs, but the Raiders being such a dire situation is a good excuse. Of course, the Jets weren't exactly swimming in offensive talent last year either and Geno did manage almost 1.5 yards more per attempt. Carr even had 5.5 YPA to Bortles 6.1. Not great. Last in the league amongst starters, in fact.

He does seem to be excellent at avoiding sacks and I'm hard pressed to think of a rookie QB who was as good at avoiding sacks as Carr who didn't turn out to be ok.

37 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I put 21 recent QBs into a spreadsheet and did a comparison of rookie years. I only included QBs who had at least 100 attempts. The list: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler (fewest with 137 attempts), Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger finished 10th in comp %, 6th in TD %, 14th in INT %, 5th in yds/att, 6th in AY/A, 8th in the old QB rate, and 7th in ANY/A. I'd have liked to include Rodgers, Koepernick, Brees, Brady, and Romo, but none played much as rookies.

What is troubling is Zach's high sack rate (better than only Roethlisberger and A Smith). Ben has always held the ball too long and Smith was behind an atrocious line. I don't know what Zach's issue is beyond being relatively immobile. A better line and better pocket presence would probably help. Also troubling for those who like QBR, only Cutler and Stafford's QBR was worse. (No QBR pre-2006.) Still the other stats above do show some promise.

If given a couple years to mature on the bench, it wouldn't surprise me to see him become a decent starter. I also agree with those that say it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him flame out like so many others. However, if Tennessee does pull the crazy trade for Rivers with their #2 pick, I could see ZM being groomed as a potential replacement. (I wouldn't be surprised if TN then used a late pick on another drop-back QB like Mannion or Halliday.)

40 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Yeah, not sure if it's still the case, but years ago FO showed that the most mobile QB's like Vick and McNabb take way more sacks than virtually immobile pocket QB's like Manning and Brady. I feel like Romo is the best example of this where his escapability runs him into more sacks than he'd take if he just threw the ball away or took the dump-off at the first sign of pressure...

44 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Worst sack rates, min. 1000 passes, era-adjusted, 1980-2014:

Randall Cunningham, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin, and Michael Vick make the top 10.

Best sack rates:

Dan Marino is first, Peyton Manning is third.

There are exceptions (Doug Flutie's sack rate was excellent), but by and large, running quarterbacks get sacked a lot more than pocket passers.

55 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

How much do y'all think him being a read-option QB is a factor in the slowness of his decisions? He's not only making passing reads, but adding a layer where he's supposed to gauge the value of taking off and running (and also deciding to hand off or not.) It seems like there's more (or different) processing there than simply making a passing read...

64 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

How much is his size? If you look at his passing chart he almost never passes within 5-10 yds the line of scrimmage inside the tackle box. The traditional hot read is throw the ball to the vacated space. I just don't feel that he's physically capable of that when LBs and Safeties are sent in the A & B gaps.

And he doesn't use the Drew Brees solution to being small, just chuck it to where someone is suppose to be and hope they're there.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

65 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

That's interesting about Wilson's size, although taking a dig at Brees (who has been ten or twenty times the QB Wilson has been) seems a little strange. Wilsom should probably learn whatever secrets Brees has to being an undersized QB because thus far he's not within sniffing distance of being as good a QB as Brees at his best.

66 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Depends on how you rate Brees's interceptions. They both have the same deficiency, they're small. Brees deals with it by having a very good concept of where everyone on the field is supposed to be and throwing the ball to spots in timing patterns. When his WRs don't make the spot, or if Brees is forced from push back in his pass protection he gets into a lot of seemingly bad picks.

Russell Wilson deals with being small quite differently. He's very mobile so unless he has a dead on pre-snap read, like in the OT play against GB he doesn't throw the ball. Instead he generally attempts to dodge/sidestep/roll with pressure and trust his receivers to help him out. He accepts more sacks and dead plays than Brees but he has far fewer turnovers. That's why the NFC championship game was so shocking. That is the first time in any game that RW has thrown the ball away like that, but with Brees you expect 2-3 games each year he's going to throw 3-4 picks.

It's not a knock on Brees it just comparing how Brees and RW deal differently with the same physical limitation.

The other thing I think is similar, and related to their size, is they each rely on more deep throws as a percentage of their total throws than the average QB. The deeper the pass, the less they are affected by the immediate size of the O & D lines.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

68 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Drew Brees has a career interception rate of 2.6%, Russell Wilson, though smaller sample size has a 2.1% rate in 3 seasons as a starter, which if he maintains will put him just behind Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the career list. Drew Brees sits with future hall of famers like Joe Montana and Steve Young, also timing passers, but behind Kyle Orton, Ryan Tannahill, and equal with Byron Leftwich and Bernie Kosar.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

69 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

And it's not a knock on Wilson to say that he's not nearly as good or successful a passer as Brees and could stand to learn tons from how Brees deals with being a short QB. Wilson's success as a passer simply can't compare to Brees. Brees is a HOFer and Wilson is a promising young guy who still needs significant development as a passer to be a top QB. Right now, Wilson's DVOA is in line with guys like Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannenhill and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Brees, in a down year that had fans openly wondering if it was time for the Saints to think about moving on, had a DVOA much better than Wilson's. Wilson should be studying tape of Brees every day...

70 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I think Wilson has been better than the San Diego Brees, which lasted from 2001-05. Compare the first three seasons and it's not even close. If Wilson grows as a player and Seattle moves into a more pass-heavy scheme, I see no reason why he can't turn into a great passer. Brees needed Sean Payton's guidance in that New Orleans offense to become the player he's known as today.

71 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

We're not comparing their first three seasons, we're comparing Brees AT HIS BEST (who apparently chucks the ball up blindly under pressure) and Russell Wilson RIGHT NOW. The question isn't "hey, who had more promise after three seasons," it's "could Russell Wilson stand to learn a huge amount from how Brees deals with hot reads." And the answer is plain as day. So... your point is irrelevant to the conversation.

For Seattle fans, hopefully Wilson will keep learning, will keep improving and may someday be a Top 10 passing QB and not hit a Kaepernick/Josh Freeman-esque wall and cease to look even like a plausible starter. But Brees DID make that improvement many, many years ago and now Wilson could stand to learn to figure out how to be more like him. Which, as a passer, he is faintly a shadow of.

72 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Wow. I think you're putting much more into what I said then what I said. I would definitely compare RW to Brees in San Diego and not Brees the future hall of famer in New Orleans. The nature of my comparison is they have to deal with the same physical deficiency, they're both short. And I would never say Brees blindly chucks the ball. He uses anticipation to overcome compromised sight lines. Brees and RW are much more dependent upon throwing lanes than a lot of other QBs. Brees is very good about knowing where his WRs are supposed to be and making a throw in anticipation to beat coverage, I would actually like RW to learn this because when Carroll leaves the next coach is probably going to be a West Coast rhythm throwing guy and that is the skill set necessary for that passing system.

The other side of that coin, as anyone who watched the decline of Matt Hasselbeck's quality but essentially unremarkable career, is that timing and rhythm passing require a lot of faith that the receivers are going to hit their marks. Brees uses timing, rhythm, and anticipation to overcome his physical limitation. RW doesn't have that skill set. RW more reminds me of Rothelisberger.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

41 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Say what you will about Mettenberger, but he is the only guy on the list who played his rookie year less than 9 months after having ACL surgery. Getting injured in the last regular season game didn't really do wonders for his draft stock and he certainly would have gone higher than the 6th round, probably in that magical 3rd round, if he didn't get hurt. Actually, how many rookie QB's have started after having major surgery their final college season?
I think you can probably throw a lot of things about Mettenburger out the window as he's been in about 5 different systems since HS, had major knee surgery before the combine, played in top of the line conference in college and played pretty well, played in a pro style offense in college, has the height and near the weight of what teams are looking for in a QB and seems to have a live arm.
I liked what I saw of Mettenberger in college and saw him a lot. Yeah, he isn't Andrew Luck, but Andrew Luck played in one system in college and didn't have a major injury. Mettenburger shouldn't even have played his rookie year and that's the big difference between him and Brady as Brady was a 1st year player in his 2nd season. Romo didn't play his 1st year, Rivers about the same as Brady,Bees backed up Doug Flutie. And the best example, Aaron Rodgers didn't start until his 4th season!!!

42 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

"he's been in about 5 different systems since HS"

I've heard this, or something like it, said about many QBs. I've never seen one who ended up being really good when given consistency.

If he was great to begin with, most likely his offensive system wouldn't have changed because it's rare for teams to change things that are working.

43 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Alex Smith ended up being ok - it was the defense given him for many years. I'm not sure consistency helped him though so much as good coaching.

I've heard the defense used for guys like Jason Campbell who I really think could've been good, but again I think his career suffered most from organizational chaos - can you imagine playing for the Redskins, the Raiders AND the Browns? If he had gotten some Harbaugh/Reid-level assistance from a coaching staff, I'm fully convinced he'd be at least as well respected as Alex Smith. It's probably not consistency that's the issue but consistently getting saddled with new bad coaches/teams. Titans certainly fit the bill in that regard...

58 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

The Titans are in an seriously no-win situation because :

1) They have Ken Whisenhunt as head coach, and therefore the worst
possible waste of a draft pick is a quarterback.

2) From 1) above, a statistical analysis of Mettenberger is irrelevant,
as being coached by Whiz guarantees failure by itself. And of course
makes the selection of Mettenberger a wasted pick.
Was wr

59 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I guess I'm a little torn on Whisenhunt.

1. All of his successful seasons have come with Ben Roethlisberger (2004-05), Kurt Warner (2007-09) and Philip Rivers (2013) at QB.
2. The last two were already great players before they paired with Whiz, but both had a bounce-back effort under him, so there's hesitation to give him a lot of credit. Roethlisberger was a rookie in 2004, but his overall skillset and improvised playmaking also make us pause on Whiz's impact.
3. When forced to develop another QB, whether a high draft pick (Matt Leinart, Kevin Kolb, Jake Locker) or a scrub (Max Hall, John Skelton), the offensive results have been poor, bottom quarter of the league stuff. Whiz is 20-44 as a head coach since Warner retired.

So while he's been blessed with some HOF QB talent and put it to use, the guys he hasn't succeeded with weren't successful with anyone in the NFL. That makes him just another coach that's only as successful as his quarterback is good. There are plenty of coaches out there like that.

62 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

Good points. I think the things that really cause me to be down on him are:

1. He had had Leinart for whole time he had been in AZ, and it was
only at the end of the preseason after Warner retired that he was
able to figure out that Leinart was not his guy?

2. While Hall, Skelton, etc. were very unlikely to develop, I think Whiz
can be faulted for yo-yoing them instead of just sticking with one,
and seeing what would happen.

3. I don't recall seeing anything that indicated that Whiz attempted to get
the Cardinals to take a QB with a higher round draft pick between Warner's
retirement has his firing.

That said, I think he would have been a good fit in Detroit since
Stafford was an established QB (and I think he was part of Rivers'
resurgence), and of course Megatron.
Was wr

63 Re: Zach Mettenberger: A Poor Team's Quarterback

I'm still surprised Whisenhunt didn't pick Detroit for the QB reasons we just highlighted. Stafford's not great, but he's good enough.

But Leinart is something I have to give Whisenhunt credit on in Arizona. He didn't draft him; Denny Green's regime did. A lot of coaches would be pressured to play the No. 10 pick in the draft in his second year, especially after a rookie season that wasn't that bad. But Whisenhunt was working Warner into the gameplan in a rare two-QB system and eventually just went with the better player.