Tennessee Titans: Will Marcus Mariota Start Week 1?


The Tennessee Titans selected Oregon’s star signal caller Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. When quarterbacks are taken this high in the draft, it is usually a fait accompli that the starting job will be theirs by opening day. However, second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger may have something to say about this before all is said and done.

Last year’s sixth-round pick is coming off a solid rookie season that produced an 83.4 quarterback rating through six starts. While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, the soon-to-be 24 year old showed some promise despite Tennessee’s struggles as a team.

I went back and reviewed the coaches film of Mettenberger’s rookie season to look for some clues about his abilities moving forward.

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At six-foot-five inches and 244 pounds, Mettenberger is a big and tough pocket passer with a good arm. The first thing that I noticed about Mettenberger’s style of play is that he can make quick decisions with the football. Mettenberger is at his best in the short and intermediate passing game and can deliver the ball on target.

Despite having the 22nd ranked passing offense in the NFL, there were times when the Titans’ offensive tempo looked surprisingly crisp with Mettenberger under center. Mettenberger appears to have command of the offense and has good pocket awareness. Also, I think Mettenberger has the poise to read through his progressions when things break down. While he is not the most agile quarterback, Mettenberger has nifty mobility in the pocket and can reset his feet to throw if on-coming rushers knock him off course.

Nov 23, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger (7) warms up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

At some points during his rookie season, I thought Mettenberger looked like a five year veteran. With Mettenberger showing these flashes, it led some within the Tennessee Titans’ organization to believe that they stumbled upon the steal of the 2014 draft. According to this NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus, the label of a poor man’s Tom Brady has been tossed around. While this comparison may be unrealistic, Brady accumulated an 86.5 passer rating in 14 starts during his first year as New England’s full time starter.

As is the case with most first-year players, I did notice some inconsistencies in Mettenberger’s overall game. As evident by his 59.8% completion percentage, there were some bouts of inaccuracy that plagued Mettenberger in his brief sample size. While some missed throws were clearly Mettenberger’s fault, I thought the Titans’ receiving core collectively had a difficult time consistently getting open.

With seven interceptions and four fumbles, ball security issues also reared its ugly head with regards to Mettenberger. In addition, of the 18 sacks against Mettenberger, I thought some of them could have been avoided had he simply located his check down receiver or thrown the ball away. Injury issues are also a concern with Mettenberger as a shoulder injury ended his season last year and an ACL injury ended his collegiate career at LSU.

Between Mariota and Mettenberger, I think Mettenberger is the more polished pocket passer at this point. However, Mariota’s exceptional mobility outside the pocket can really open up the playbook and may help to free up a mediocre receiving core. Also, the presence of a Mariota may have a positive impact on last year’s 26th ranked rushing offense in the NFL. When it comes to getting the most out of Tennessee’s available talent, I think Mariota’s upside will give him the advantage over Mettenberger.

In regards to choosing a starter, Mariota naturally has the advantage from a political standpoint. However, Titans’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt is never one to follow the political format when it comes to picking a starting quarterback. While head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Whisenhunt benched former Top 10 pick Matt Leinart in favor of veteran passer Kurt Warner.

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After the draft, Mettenberger has said the right things as he wants a chance to compete for the starting job. Given coach Whisenhunt’s track record, I do think he will give Mettenberger as fair a shot as possible under these circumstances. However, with the solid body of work that Mettenberger put together last year, I don’t think the Titans would have selected Mariota if they had invested a higher pick in Mettenberger.

Next: Dorial Green-Beckham an option for Tennessee Titans?

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