The best feeling in dynasty football (besides winning it all) is having an investment pay off. If you drafted Alshon Jeffery or Julius Thomas as a rookie, you were rewarded handsomely last season. This year there is a whole new crop of rookies, some with a clear path to playing time, but most will play very little, if any, during their rookie years. These are the long term investments we stash on our roster with the hopes of them being the next Jeffery or Thomas.
One of the players I’m trying to get my hands on is Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The 6’5” rookie out of LSU was selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft with the 178th pick. A favorite of film guru Ron Jaworski, Mettenberger has a cannon arm to make every throw and ran Cam Cameron’s pro style offense his final year at LSU. In just a little over ten games he threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in a very tough SEC. He did have a handful of fellow NFL draft prospects at his disposal in Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue but was the driving force on this offense all the way up to his torn ACL versus Arkansas.
Not everything is positive regarding Mettenberger, though. He was a four-star recruit of Georgia but got kicked off the team after being convicted of sexual battery. He then spent a year at Butler Community College, a JUCO School, before transferring to the bayou. Even before his ACL injury he was very statue-like in the pocket and lacks mobility. Leading up to the draft he was compared most to the Ravens’ Joe Flacco.
Landing in Tennessee was solid for Mettenberger. The team hired a new head coach this off-season in Ken Whisenhunt and incumbent Jake Locker is an unproven, injury prone quarterback, entering the final year of his rookie deal. As is with most head coaches, they often look to bring in “their guys” to build the team the way they want and unproven holdovers are forced to step up quickly or move on.
[inlinead]?Locker had a lot of promise coming out of Washington. If he would have declared for the draft after his junior year he may have been the first overall selection of the 2010 draft instead of Sam Bradford. Instead, he returned for his senior year and was the second quarterback chosen, seven picks after Cam Newton was selected first overall. He has had tough time as a pro battling injuries and struggling with his accuracy while playing in more than eight games just once. He has a career 22:15 touchdown to interception ratio and an unimpressive 7.33 yards per attempt average. He is a threat on the ground, averaging 24.3 yards per game over the last two years. Unfortunately, every time he tucks the ball to run you have to hold your breath he’ll get up.
Coach Whisenhunt has historically preferred a pocket passer to a scrambler so Locker appears to be a square peg in a round hole. That’s not to say Locker can’t become more of a pocket passer, but his fantasy appeal has hinged on his dual threat ability. Can he increase his accuracy enough to see a significant jump in passing yards and touchdowns to offset the loss of his rushing stats? Maybe. It’s hard to predict but I can guarantee you won’t see many designed runs for Locker in this offense.
So far, Locker has been off to a fair start this preseason. Through two games he’s completed 9-of-12 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown on limited playing time. Mettenberger played behind both Locker and Charlie Whitehurst in both preseason games but got an extended audition in the team’s second contest when Whitehurst went down with a hand injury. He responded by completing 20-of-25 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns versus the New Orleans Saints. Even though this was against the second and third string defenses, it was great to see Mettenberger show no ill-effects of the knee injury which happened nine short months ago. His touchdown pass to second year breakout out candidate Justin Hunter was exactly what you want to see out of your quarterback. He faced pressure, stepped up into the pocket and delivered a laser to a cutting Hunter who plucked the ball out of the air and took it to the house. Check out the video below starting at the :25 second mark.
This performance in no way will push Locker for the starting gig this year, but it should put plenty of heat on the very pedestrian Whitehurst. Mettenberger’s clearest path to playing time still requires an injury to Locker. The Titans currently play in a division highlighted by the Indianapolis Colts and a trio of re-building franchises, but this team has plenty of offensive talent. In addition to Justin Hunter, they also have an up-and-coming possession receiver who might have had the quietest 94 reception season in recent memory. They also have a solid group of tight ends led by Delanie Walker and a young committee of running backs including veteran Shonn Greene, rookie Bishop Sankey and passing down specialist Dexter McCluster.
With Whisenhunt’s track record of producing fantasy friendly pocket passers like Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers, I am very interested to see what he can do with a young quarterback with the skill set of Mettenberger. Locker compares much closer to a Kevin Kolb-type of passer in Whisenhunt’s past and that did not turn out very well. They both share a checkered injury history and the ability to produce in sporadic bursts.
Whoever is under center will be expected to produce and this coaching staff has no allegiance to Locker. If the team looks like they’re going to miss the playoffs this year, as expected, look for them to make the switch to Mettenberger at some point to get him experience at this level. Of course this could all happen a lot sooner if Locker can’t stay healthy. According to August’s ADP data collected by Ryan McDowell, Jake Locker has an ADP of 230.83 as the QB29 and Mettenberger comes in just two spots behind him at QB31 with an ADP of 238.5. He’s the fifth rookie signal caller being selected, behind Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr.
In the final round of your draft you should be looking for upside and you’ll be hard pressed to find more upside than Mettenberger, even if you might have to wait a year to see it pay dividends. If you draft Locker, I would strongly recommend backing him up with the rookie.
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