By Len Pasquarelli
The Sports Xchange
More than 10 months before the 2013 draft, some analysts, including those from NFLDraftScout.com, have begun prognosticating about the quarterbacks who could be selected in the first round of next year's lottery.
The consensus, albeit perilously early, includes Matt Barkley (Southern Cal, just about everyone's possible overall No. 1 pick), Tyler Bray (Tennessee), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) and Tyler Wilson (Arkansas). Other highly regarded prospects are West Virginia's Geno Smith, Aaron Murray of Georgia and E.J. Manuel of Florida State.
And then there is the passer several NFL college scouts have characterized as "a wild card" for the first round: Zach Mettenberger of LSU.
The redshirt junior, who will be in his second season with coach Les Miles, after originally beginning his college career at Georgia and then spending a season at Butler (Kan.) Community College, is hardly anonymous. He has been pegged by NFLDraftScout analysts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler as the No. 7 prospect at the quarterback spot, and the 49th player overall.
But there is a suspicion among league talent evaluators that Mettenberger, who will be in his first season as a starter in 2012 and has thrown only 11 passes at the major college level, could skyrocket up draft boards if LSU has a standout year under his stewardship, and he makes himself available in the NFL draft.
"I was on the field for the (National Championship) game, and you could just tell even in the warmups that he might be special," one AFC general manager told The Sports Xchange recently. "The ball just jumped off his hand, his arm was so pure and easy, and he certainly has the size. If he has a really big season, people are going to have to take a long, long look at him, even though he hasn't played much."
Another scout characterized Mettenberger as having "an arm as big as anybody's" in the potential 2012 draft pool.
Scouts are precluded by league guidelines from discussing underclass prospects for attribution. Mettenberger, who won't turn 21 until next month, will be eligible for the '13 lottery, though, under the league's "three-year rule," having graduated from Oconee County (Ga.) High School in 2009, after which he enrolled early at Georgia.
Mettenberger's path to Baton Rouge has certainly been a serpentine one. Only two springs ago, after not playing at all in his first season in Athens, he was involved in a pitched battle with Murray for the Bulldogs' staring job. But shortly after the spring game, in which he worked exclusively with the No. 2 offense because of his arrest weeks earlier, coach Mark Richt dismissed him from the squad. Originally charged with underage drinking, Mettenberger pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual battery in the same incident, in which he allegedly grabbed the breasts and buttocks of a female in Remerton, Ga., near Valdosta.
He transferred to Butler for the 2010 season, where in his only year Mettenberger completed 176 of 299 passes for 2,678 yards, with 32 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, and led his team to an 11-1 record and a berth in the JUCO national title game. In '11, he transferred to LSU, where he appeared in five games, and completed eight of his 11 attempts for 92 yards and one touchdown.
In the recent spring game, Mettenberger, who has secured the starting job, threw for 270 yards and two scores.
There is no doubt that, at the big-time level, Mettenberger's resume is thin. But some scouts have pointed out that he will be playing in the college game's best conference in 2012, that the SEC competition will hasten his development, and that the returning LSU surrounding cast is spectacular, with as many as six possible other first-round choices. The windfall includes five standout players on defense but also star offensive tackle Chris Faulk.
Some of their other observations: That Miles, to cater some to Mettenberger's talent, likely will throw the ball more this season. That Mettenberger, at nearly 6-feet-5 and 225 pounds, possesses prototype NFL size. That Mettenberger, who has declined to discuss the 2010 incident, has seemingly matured after the humbling dismissal from the Georgia squad.
And another emphasized, in response to a reminder that Mettenberger will only have one season as a starter among his credentials come 2013 draft time, that 2011 overall top pick Cam Newton started just one year at Auburn. The scout was quick to note that Mettenberger doesn't have Newton's athleticism, and said that he was not comparing the two, only suggesting that the jump to the NFL after a brief stint as a college starter, is not unprecedented.
LSU has not had a quarterback chosen in the draft since Matt Flynn was tabbed by Green Bay in the seventh round in 2008. The school's last first-round quarterback was all-time bust JaMarcus Russell, infamously taken by Oakland with the top slot in the 2007 draft. All three of the school's principle starters the past few seasons -- Ryan Perrilloux, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee -- have gone undrafted.
The intriguing Mettenberger -- whose mettle and determination, LSU coaches say, is arguably even stronger than his arm -- could end the drought. Possibly as early as the 2013 draft.
He is, to be sure, more than just a blip on the NFL's radar screen.
"I kind of call him 'the other guy from Georgia,' you know?" said one scout, referring to Murray's inclusion among the top prospects. "Don't get me wrong, (Murray) is very good. But Mettenberger has a chance to be a lot more than just 'other.' People better not forget about the guy.