Madison, Wis. – It’s hard to think of a player who joined the Wisconsin football program with higher expectations than quarterback Graham Mertz.
Rated as the highest QB recruit in school history, many viewed Mertz as the messiah, sent to help UW make the leap from consistently good – to great.
As a junior, Mertz was a net negative at QB, throwing for 1,958 yards with 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 121.3 passer rating.
The former four-star recruit displayed poor mechanics, held the ball too long, and often failed to make the right reads. In addition, he only had three games last season where he attempted 25 or more passes in a game – all three resulted in losses.
Coach Chryst didn’t trust Mertz to lead Wisconsin’s passing attack – that much was evident.
I think it’s fair to say the 6-foot-3, 223-pound QB has fallen short of his astronomical expectations to this point, and I’m sure he’d be the first person to tell you that. But don’t write him off just yet; he still has plenty of time to rewrite his narrative at UW.
During the offseason, Mertz took a long look in the mirror and knew he had to be better for himself, his teammates, and the program.
The Kansas native had the gumption (thanks for the vocabulary boost SGT Altschwager) to put in the work to improve his game and take on a more prominent leadership role within the program – and the early returns have been very promising.
The early returns...
Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) celebrates following a touchdown during the third quarter against the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to judge a player’s development after only three games, but this looks like an entirely different Graham Mertz.
During non-conference play, the redshirt junior has completed 71% of his passes for 697 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Not to mention, he also ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency (190.9).
In addition to his efficient play, he’s also passed the ‘eye test,’ helping paint an important picture – that Mertz, who was one of the program’s most significant question marks, has improved, perhaps even drastically.
After re-watching all of Wisconsin’s non-conference games, Mertz appears to be more comfortable in the pocket, working through his progressions and trusting his arm/what he sees on the field.
First-year offensive coordinator Bobby Engram has allowed Mertz to push the ball downfield this season – which has helped open up the entire offense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Mertz has completed 9-of-11 passes (81.8%) that have traveled 20+ yards in the air with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
For comparison, last season, he completed just 11-of-41 attempts 20+ yards downfield (26.8%) with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
His performance against higher-level opponents will ultimately determine Wisconsin’s offensive ceiling, but there have been obvious signs of growth from last season.
Where things go from here:
Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst talks with quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during the third quarter against the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
For Mertz, the arm talent has never been an issue. It’s been the aspects of the game that you CAN teach.
The work he put in during the offseason is evident. His fundamentals look improved, Mertz has been more accurate, and thus far, he has been a better decision-maker.
I still believe Mertz can become a good, perhaps even great quarterback for the Badgers, I honestly do. Most of that belief I’m basing on projection, but when you mix potential and work ethic, you often get a worthwhile product.
I’m not anointing him as the next big thing because doing that off of three games against Illinois State, Washington State, and New Mexico State would be irresponsible.
I am, however, saying that Mertz looks far more confident, in control, and appears to have taken a step forward – even if only incremental.
If you as a fan haven’t felt encouraged by what we’ve seen thus far, you’re not being objective whatsoever. Wisconsin’s QB1 has looked better. Period.
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