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Starting Zach Mettenberger Means Jake Locker Is Another First-Round Bust

With rookie Zach Mettenberger getting the start this week, Jake Locker joins a draft class of QB busts that includes Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.

Jake Locker

The Tennessee Titans will start their third quarterback this Sunday when the Houston Texans roll into town.

The team will trot out sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger in place of an oft-injured Jake Locker and largely ineffective Charlie Whitehurst, according to the Nashville Tennessean, and the move likely spells the end of Locker’s career in Tennessee.

Locker, a former first-round pick of the Titans, has had his professional career hampered by injuries over the past three years. Since winning the starting job from incumbent Matt Hasselbeck in 2012, Locker has missed 17 games due to injury out of a possible 39 starts, including three this season. Not surprisingly, the Titans have registered a 15-24 mark over that span.

In no way is this turn of events being taken as a shock, though. Before the 2014 season even got underway, we knew Locker would be one of the select quarterbacks on the hot seat. Though he’s been productive when he is the lineup, it’s impossible to count on Locker to be there week to week. Already at 2-5 this year, the Titans’ postseason chances are all but gone, and Locker is partially to blame for that.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt gave Locker a shot to prove himself in 2014, but again injuries came into play. Now it’ll be on Mettenberger, the former LSU standout, to seize the opportunity at hand and prove to the coaching staff he has enough of what it takes to be this franchise’s signal-caller before the front office begins to plot for the next chapter in the offseason.

Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Tigers last season before suffering a torn ACL late. Still, draft analysts liked Mettenberger to be as high as a second-round pick because of his exceptional arm strength. The Titans then grabbed Mettenberger in the sixth round.

Playing in garbage time earlier this time in a loss to the Colts, Mettenberger completed 2-of-5 passes for 17 yards with an interception. That was spot duty; now he’s preparing for his first NFL start, and Whisenhunt is putting his full confidence in the rookie, the fourth to start a game in 2014.

“From my little time around Zach, I don’t think there is much you can do to mess with his confidence,” Whisenhunt told the Tennessean. “As far as putting him out there too early, or not putting him out there too early, there’s all kinds of different schools of thought on that. I think he has to work hard and prepare the best he can because at some point he’ll get his chance.”

While the Titans try to find out whether they have a future with Mettenberger, some attention has to be on Locker, whose time in Tennessee is all but over.

The former first-round pick was a part of the 2011 draft class that also included busts in Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 overall) and Christian Ponder (No. 12 overall). The Titans chose Locker ahead of the likes of Tyron Smith, who has emerged as one of the league’s top left tackles; J.J. Watt, who is making a case to be the first defensive player to win MVP since the ’80s when Lawrence Taylor defied the odds; and Robert Quinn, a perennial All-Pro pass-rusher.

Will another team take a stab at adding Locker to their mix? You’d have to think so.

Gabbert caught on with the 49ers as Colin Kaepernick‘s backup despite a horrific stint with the Jaguars. Ponder has been equally as ineffective as Gabbert, and remains on the roster in Minnesota. And more than either one of those first-round picks in his draft class, Locker has at least offered some flashes of hope when he has been healthy.

The Jets could be a landing spot. They don’t need to swing and miss on anymore quarterbacks, but he could be a valuable young backup to Geno Smith or a stop-gap if the team drafts another young quarterback in the spring. What about division rival Buffalo? Kyle Orton is a temporary solution. If the plan is to revert back to EJ Manuel, then the Bills definitely need a solid Plan B.

The Buccaneers could be in the market for a quarterback this offseason, should the team realize its mistake in signing Josh McCown and is ready to move on from Mike Glennon. Locker could a cheap option to gamble on. If RGIII never returns to form, then Washington will be on the prowl. We know Colt McCoy isn’t a legitimate answer at quarterback, and the wildly inconsistent Kirk Cousins‘ future might not in the nation’s capital. And if Austin Davis can’t secure the starting job for 2015, the Rams also need to start pondering their options. Sam Bradford‘s tenure in St. Louis is likely over, but do they want another injury prone former first-round pick to be his replacement?

There’s the quarterback guru out in the desert. The Cardinals were mentioned as a team in need of a young quarterback this spring. Then they drafted Logan Thomas, whose future under center remains very much in question. The team is trying to lock up Carson Palmer for a few more years, but the backup situation and the future at the position needs to be addressed.

What about teams that eventually need to plan for the future — the Steelers, Chargers, Broncos, Giants, Cowboys? One team with a stable situation could take a chance on Locker as he tries to defy his injury history and revive his career. No one is doubting his skill-set, only his ability to show it off.

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