Whether the Rams sign Shaun Hill or another veteran to back up Sam Bradford next season, it shouldn’t preclude them from drafting a signal-caller in the middle rounds.
Below are three quarterbacks who intrigue me in this year’s upcoming draft. Because we’re discussing mid-round options and not top-five prospects, I’ve broken down why I’m intrigued, as well as why I would be concerned.
(Side note: I am intrigued by Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, but you won’t find him on this list because he’s projected to go in the second round. Given the Rams’ needs and their unwavering support of Bradford, I assume they won’t look at a QB until at least the third, which is why you won’t find a breakdown of Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr or even A.J. McCarron. I certainly have opinions on all of these prospects, but those thoughts can wait.)
1. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Projected Round: 3rd or 4th
Why I like him for the Rams: At 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, Mettenberger has prototypical size and a rocket for an arm. Cam Cameron was also his offensive coordinator at LSU, so he learned some of the nuances of the pro game from a man who has NFL head-coaching and coordinator experience. But what I like most about Mettenberger is the fact that he can fit passes into tight windows, can drive the ball outside the numbers, and he can throw up the hashes. He doesn’t hesitate to test opponents vertically because of his arm strength, and he does a nice job of working through his progressions. Finally, he’s aggressive to all parts of the field, and his ball placement is as good as any signal-caller in this year’s draft.
Reasons for the Rams to pass: He tore his ACL as a senior and didn’t have surgery until January. With Bradford coming off an ACL injury himself, it would be concerning that two of the team’s three QBs would be rehabbing from major knee surgery. But the bigger long-term problem is that he played with two cinder blocks for feet. Quarterbacks need to have at least some pocket mobility to survive in the NFL, and the guy couldn’t move even before the ACL tear. Mettenberger’s arm is a major plus, but he can’t continue to be a sitting duck.
The Bottom Line: Mettenberger is my favorite mid-round quarterback in this year’s draft. Is he flawed? Of course, but so is every prospect. The key with a young signal-caller is whether or not he can make every throw, read defenses and throw the ball vertically. Mettenberger can do all three, and while the ACL injury and footwork is a concern, remember that we’re talking about a developmental quarterback. He has NFL-caliber tools, and since he tore his ACL, he should fall into the third round. In that scenario, he would represent value considering he may have gone early in the second had he not been injured.
2. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
Projected Round: 6th or 7th
Why I like him for the Rams: Just like Mettenberger, Savage has prototypical height at 6-5. He also has a great arm, capable of making all of the throws at the next level, and took snaps from under center at PITT, which is important because NFL teams don’t have to guess whether or not he can play in a pro-style system. Unlike Mettenberger, Savage has good mobility for his size, does a nice job of buying himself more time and is adept at handling pressure because he played behind a brutal offensive line. He also displays good accuracy in the short-to-intermediate game and throws well between the hashes.
Reasons for the Rams to pass: One of the reasons why I really like Mettenberger is that he does a nice job seeing the entire field and will consistently throw vertically. These are aspects of Savage’s game that haven’t developed as he bounced around from Rutgers, to Arizona, and then finally to PITT. He’ll look to check down as opposed to taking shots vertically, and that’s partly because he doesn’t always see the entire field. He needs to be more accurate in his deep attempts, but he also needs to take shots when opportunities are presented. For a quarterback with such a strong arm, there are times when he won’t unleash a pass of more than 10 yards. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that he throw into coverage just to take a shot deep. But there were plenty of times where he’d look to dump the ball off instead of testing one-on-one coverage. And if you’re going to win in the NFL, specifically in the playoffs, then you better be able to beat teams deep.
The Bottom Line: I read a report last week that indicated that Savage could go as early as the second round. Given how raw he is (his footwork can get sloppy at times, which is another drawback that I didn’t touch above), I think the second round is too early for him. That said, if he slips into the fourth or later, then this is a perfect developmental player for the Rams to groom for a couple of years. He has the size, arm strength and experience to develop down the road, and holding a clipboard for a few seasons could do wonders for Savage. The bottom line is that there’s plenty to work with here.
3. David Fales, San Jose State
Projected Round: 5th
Why I like him for the Rams: Fales has a good arm, drives the ball over the middle and outside the hashes, and gets passes out quickly. He also throws a nice deep pass, has good accuracy and throws a great ball up the hashes. The best part is, unlike Mettenberger or Savage, it’s unlikely that Fales will be taken before the fifth round. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have upside; he just isn’t as attractive as some of the other signal-callers in this year’s class. Simply put, the Rams can address bigger needs and still get a quarterback with upside later in the draft.
Reasons for the Rams to pass: At 6-2 and 212 pounds, he has decent size but not ideal height. He’ll also lock onto one receiver at times and doesn’t always work through his progressions. My biggest concern about him, which is the same concern that I have for Carr and late-round project Brett Smith (Wyoming), is that he’s a system quarterback. He thrived on getting the ball from shotgun, getting it out of his hand quickly and to receivers in the short-to-intermediate range. He wasn’t asked to do as much at the line of scrimmage like someone like Bridgewater. Much like Blaine Gabbert when he came out, footwork could be an issue for Fales, too, at least in this first couple of years.
The Bottom Line: Fales could be a nice fallback option because he has NFL tools and he wouldn’t come off the board until the fifth round, which will keep his expectations low. He also has some upside and would benefit from having to hold a clipboard for a few years until he got acclimated to the pro game. He would be more of a project than Mettenberger or Savage, but there’s less risk in Fales, too, if only because you can grab him in the later rounds.