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Zach Mettenberger and the Efficient Market Hypothesis

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Draft selection relative to peers doesn't define a prospect's talent.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans have finally ripped off the band aid.  Earlier than most projected, I think most fans felt that Mettenberger was going to play at one point or another this season.  And, rightly so.  Locker has struggled to the point where, even if he started to flash (which seems unlikely in this offense), there are entirely too many question marks to hitch your wagon to him long term.

So, the shift in focus turns to Zach Mettenberger.  With that change, we get the low hanging fruit from those critical of Mettenberger - He's a 6th round pick, and 6th round picks rarely pan out.

My problem isn't really with the idea that Mettenberger won't pan out.  If you're playing odds, that's the right bet to take against a QB, and that applies to QBs selected across all rounds.  The issue I have is this fundamental acceptance that the round in which a prospect is selected is directly correlated with the prospects talents on the field.

This leads us to the Efficient Market Hypothesis.  It's a term most that have taken an entry level finance class are familiar with.  Investopedia does a good job with a basic definition:

An investment theory that states it is impossible to "beat the market" because stock market efficiency causes existing share prices to always incorporate and reflect all relevant information. According to the EMH, stocks always trade at their fair value on stock exchanges, making it impossible for investors to either purchase undervalued stocks or sell stocks for inflated prices.

As such, it should be impossible to outperform the overall market through expert stock selection or market timing, and that the only way an investor can possibly obtain higher returns is by purchasing riskier investments.

I've broken the definition up into two parts.  The former seems to be the one that's widely accepted in these conversations without much consideration given to the latter.  Like all investments, risk must be considered.  Risk influences value.  It always has, and it always will.

In the most basic way to look at it, you isolate Mettenberger the prospect, and Mettenberger the risk.  Grade the prospect, and then discount it based on a subjective risk coefficient.  Consider, though, that if these risks don't materialize, then you've achieved value relative to the market.

What I saw in the games I reviewed of Mettenberger's in college was impressive.  Heading into the draft, I thought he was the 3rd best QB talent.  In many ways, he's the polar opposite of Locker.  Mettenberger thrives in the pocket, navigating and eluding rushers subtly, and somewhat effortlessly.  He's got a willingness to pull the trigger in the gray areas.  He throws with anticipation.  Obviously, there are issues with his game, too, but there's a lot to like about his game, especially compared to his peers.

Weighted against that were a number of red flags.  As a freshman at Georgia, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery for inappropriately grabbing a girl in a bar.  He also tore his ACL and sprained his MCL in his final season at LSU.  Allegedly, as part of his rehab, he was required to drink lots of fluid.  This led to a diluted urine sample at the Combine, which the NFL considers a failed test.  Finally, he has a back condition called spondylolysis, which is a degenerative osteoarthritic condition of the spine.  Pre-draft, some said Mettenberger was red flagged for this issue.

So, it wasn't just one issue.  It was four.  And, all must be included when considering the prospect's risk.  It isn't hard to understand why some teams (us included) had Mettenberger graded so low given all these flags.

Fans need to be mindful that this is a risk adjusted grade, though.  The place Mettenberger was selected in the draft shouldn't define him as a prospect.  Similarly, a conversation comparing Mettenberger to other late round QBs is not productive.  A 6th round selection is reflective of Mettenberger's risk, not his talent.  While those risks remain salient long term, they are separate from the young QB's potential on the football field.  To that point, I think Mettenberger's talent warrants enthusiasm among the fan base.  The issue is certainly more complex than drawing comparisons to previous late round QBs.