There is no use in trying to sugarcoat the season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger suffered in Saturday's victory over Arkansas.
Not only did it prematurely end Mettenberger's career with the Tigers, but it also puts him behind the 8-ball with just five months to go before the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be potentially loaded with intriguing quarterback prospects.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Mettenberger certainly boasts the physical skills to continue his career in the NFL but the injury, as well as his upcoming surgery and rehabilitation, will play a significant role in determining the gunslinger's final draft status.
Before the injury, Mettenberger ranked as a potential first round pick, and was second behind only Fresno State's Derek Carr among NFLDraftScout.com's senior quarterback prospects. However, news of the ACL injury pushed Mettenberger down to No. 52 overall among potentially eligible players, and fifth among quarterbacks.
The strong-armed Mettenberger made significant strides this season under LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who brought a pro-style attack to the Tigers. Demonstrating greater decision-making in his second season as LSU's starter, Mettenberger passed for 3,082 yards and an impressive 22-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Scouts love Mettenberger's arm strength, size and the steady improvements he has made while facing SEC competition. They are also high on Mettenberger's willingness to make the difficult throws into coverage, demonstrating the confidence in his own ability to make clutch throws in critical situations.
Physically-speaking, Mettenberger has earned comparisons to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco. Unfortunately, while his size and arm talent warrant these comparisons, the LSU standout is also a relatively immobile - even before his serious knee injury.
Mettenberger has enough quality tape that scouts won't necessarily need to see him compete at the Scouting Combine in February or during a pro day workout leading up to May's draft to give him a high grade. NFL teams will want to see evidence that he's recovering well from surgery, however.
The concern will be whether Mettenberger will be able to participate in rookie minicamps and training camp before next season. If unable to do so, the team that drafts him may be forced to give Mettenberger a "redshirt" rookie season in the NFL, as he'll have little time to develop the on-field rapport with his new teammates critical to taking over as a club's starting quarterback.
As such, while scouts see Mettenberger as a potential first round talent, clubs may be unwilling to pull the trigger on him until the second or even third round.
"We are very disappointed for Zach," coach Les Miles said in a statement. "He's been a tremendous leader for our team and he's as competitive a guy as I have ever been around. He's had a great impact on our program.
"I know Zach will work extremely hard to rehabilitate his knee and I don't anticipate this injury having any impact on what should be a great future in the NFL."
Mettenberger's final draft grade will be impacted by several things, including his ability to prove he is on schedule in his rehabilitation and whether teams believe he'll be able to play in 2014. Perhaps most important, however, are the pending decisions from Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and UCLA's Brett Hundley. If one or both of the redshirt sophomores follow in the footsteps of Oregon's Marcus Mariota and return to school for at least one more season, it will significantly help Mettenberger.
NFLDraftScout.com current has four quarterbacks rated ahead of Mettenberger: Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater, the No. 1 overall prospect expected to forgo his final year of eligibility, Fresno State senior Derek Carr (No. 10 overall), Manziel (12th) and Hundley (41st). Also nipping at Mettenberger's heels are a pair of polarizing seniors in Clemson's Tajh Boyd (68th) and Alabama's A.J. McCarron (74th).
Four other seniors, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo (90th), Georgia's Aaron Murray (111th), Miami's Stephen Morris (134th) and San Jose State's David Fales (157th) figure into the mid-round mix and can potentially surpass Mettenberger on the boards of several teams with strong performances in pre-draft all-star games and workouts.
Rob Rang (@robrang) is a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange published in partnership with CBSSports.com.