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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Experts' take: Zach Mettenberger

By Ben Goessling

MINNEAPOLIS -- We've moved past the quarterbacks largely thought to be first-round possibilities as we look at options for the Minnesota Vikings; the remainder of our series will focus on quarterbacks that would seem more likely in the second round and beyond. As such, the quarterbacks we'll examine here require a bit more projection.

Still, the quarterback class of 2014 is crowded enough that some of the second- and third-round options could be among the best fits for the Vikings. That includes the quarterback we'll examine here today: LSU's Zach Mettenberger, who has been connected to the Vikings since February in large part because of his college offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's relationship with Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Zach Mettenberger
Zach Mettenberger passed for 3,082 yards and completed 64.9 percent of his passes for LSU last season.
When Turner got his first head coaching job with the Washington Redskins in 1994, he hired Cameron as his quarterbacks coach. Cameron succeeded Turner as the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2002, then left for Miami when Turner became the Chargers' head coach in 2007. The careers of both men have crisscrossed each other, and they've both peddled the Air Coryell offense around the country, which led to Mettenberger effectively running Turner's scheme while he was in college.

There are plenty of questions about the 22-year-old, though, from his health (he tore his ACL last November) to his character (he pleaded guilty to two sexual battery charges in 2010 and produced a diluted urine sample at the NFL scouting combine in February, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter). To make sense of Mettenberger, we've again enlisted the help of our resident experts: ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (who used to be the Philadelphia Eagles' pro personnel director) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (a former college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns):

2013 stats: 64.9 completion percentage, 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-5, 224 pounds, 32 3/8-inch arm length, 9 3/4-inch hand span

Pros: Having essentially played in Turner's offense in college, Mettenberger comes to the NFL with a closer approximation of the Vikings' scheme than any other quarterback in the draft. Williamson said Mettenberger stands out to him as the best fit for the Vikings of any QB in the draft, and thought the quarterbacks could have been a Round 1 pick if not for concerns about his knee. He's got the arm and the size that Turner has typically looked for in quarterbacks, and he's built his résumé running a Turner-style offense against the closest thing you'll find in college football to NFL-caliber competition. "With that line and a good running game," Williamson said. "I think he's just what you want."

Cons: Riddick didn't think Mettenberger's arm was quite on par with Pittsburgh's Tom Savage and Fresno State's Derek Carr, which means the quarterback can get in trouble when he relies too much on his arm and doesn't get his lower body involved in the throw. He'll probably need to learn to drive the ball while under pressure in the NFL, and he'll need to be better at putting touch on the ball. The injury and character concerns with Mettenberger are also a major part of the equation, especially in light of his diluted urine sample and his physical therapist's claim to Pro Football Talk that his ACL rehab called for him drinking so much water. Even if Mettenberger is clean, he'll need time to recover fully from knee surgery. "I've talked with people who would advise both of these guys (Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray, who also is recovering from a torn ACL) to slow down, and not keep pushing the envelope," Riddick said. "It's probably best for teams with those two guys, if you're going to draft them, to understand that it's best for them to sit a year."

Bottom line: Mettenberger represents a risk, but the Vikings spent plenty of time with him before the draft to know what they'd be getting. His familiarity with Turner's system and his arm strength make him a definite possibility for the Vikings, though they likely wouldn't take him until Round 2 at the earliest. Of the prominent quarterbacks in this draft, Mettenberger might have one of the slimmest chances of starting as a rookie, thanks largely to his health concerns, but if the Vikings are true to their word about wanting a rookie quarterback to sit for a year, they wouldn't have a problem anyway. Mettenberger represents a definite option for the Vikings if they're comfortable with his attendant risks.