Can The Florida Gators Revive The Career of Graham Mertz?

There is uncertainty in Gainesville, but nothing that a career revitalization for Graham Mertz can't solve. Can the Florida Gators revitalize Mertz in 2023?

There’s uncertainty in Gainesville entering the 2023 season. Uncertainty around the quarterback position and uncertainty around their future as a program in the new-look SEC next season. However, all uncertainty can be washed away if the Florida Gators can help to revive the career of Graham Mertz.

Graham Mertz and Florida – A Southern Revival?

Going into the 2022 season, the Florida Gators had a very talented quarterback ready to assume the starting duties in Anthony Richardson. What they didn’t expect was for him to become the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

They had hoped to have him in Gainesville for the first two seasons of Billy Napier’s tenure, but he was too dynamic out of the gate not to make the jump to the NFL. Paired with losing Jalen Kitna to major off-field issues, the Gators’ quarterback room was left with former Ohio State Buckeye Jack Miller.

They needed to hit the transfer portal hard.

MORE: Transfer Portal Tracker

After discussions surrounding multiple quarterbacks, including attempting to shoot the moon for Drake Maye and Michael Pratt, they settled on Graham Mertz from Wisconsin.

Mertz was a four-star recruit out of Kansas and was the highest-ranked quarterback recruit to ever commit to Wisconsin. He won the job from Jack Coan going into the COVID-shortened 2020 season and came out of the gates red-hot.

In his first-ever start against Illinois, Mertz completed 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns. He looked like the missing piece that the Badgers have only had at quarterback once since Barry Alvarez took over the program: Russell Wilson.

Unfortunately, things never took off for Mertz. Since that opening game, Mertz has only thrown 33 touchdowns compared to 26 interceptions. Those splits are not great for any quarterback, especially one who had the benefit of relying on heavy play-action.

The biggest question here is simple: can the Gators fix Mertz?

Mertz’s Profile Isn’t Great

Let’s start with the rough areas of his game. One thing that Mertz struggles mightily with is pressure. He does so in many ways, but decision-making is his worst attribute. When the pressure gets in his face, poor decisions come in droves, often leading to turnovers.

This is a screen, which is meant to have pressure come at the quarterback. However, the decision is still poor to throw a normal pass, as it hits the defender in the hands.

There are plenty more examples, and this next one epitomizes where he struggles. Mertz does handle a poor snap here but throws wildly to the outside with multiple players in the vicinity of the football. This either needs to go way out of bounds or just take the sack. Sometimes, a sack is a smarter play when a turnover could easily result.

Pressure is something that crushes him regularly, but there are too many instances of Mertz just missing receivers. He drops back and makes the throw without being impeded by pressure. Yes, he gets hit at the end, but that doesn’t impact the throw, which is five yards off-target.

These are basic NFL throws that Mertz should be hitting regularly, and he isn’t.

His plus-arm talent can also get him into trouble.

Mertz has an NFL-caliber arm and shows it off regularly. The issue here is that he trusts his arm a little bit too much.

The best way to describe it is by explaining Brett Favre. The Hall of Fame quarterback of the Green Bay Packers was well-known for his reckless gunslinger mentality, where he would make throws that made his head coach Mike Holmgren furious, but they would work out.

Mertz has a little bit of that in him, but he doesn’t have the same arm talent. That will get him into trouble long-term.

Paired with his poor decision-making is erratic footwork. Throwing an accurate football is very important, and having proper footwork is key. Too often, Mertz doesn’t give himself a clean and smooth base, which leads to inaccurate placement.

This is something that happens consistently on all levels of the field. The best example is on a fade route in the red zone. He takes his drop, but is too robotic, and his feet get clunky, leading to an overthrow of five yards. This should be a very rhythmic throw, which is something he has shown the capability of doing.

But Mertz’s Profile Has Hope

Mertz was a four-star for a reason. He has the ability to drive the ball down the field and make big-time throws. When he’s provided a clean pocket, Mertz can be deadly.

Getting him in a rhythm passing game is key to bringing the best out of Mertz. This out route is a prime example of that. He hits his drop perfectly and makes a perfect throw for a solid gain.

Clean pockets are how Mertz thrives. Of course, that can be said about any quarterback, but he doesn’t show any aptitude to thrive under any other conditions. This throw is a prime example of that. Mertz hits his dropback and fires in rhythm with great placement to the tight end up the seam.

Mertz has shown flashes of making NFL-caliber throws on a regular basis. This first one is a classic throw: fade to the back pylon. This is from near the opposite hash and over 30 yards out, and Mertz throws a beautiful pass. When you see throws like this, it gives you optimism that you can get the most out of that player.

When projecting to the next level, you want to see quality throws in NFL concepts. This is a classic play-action max protect concept that has a deep crosser come underneath the deep post. Mertz shows the ability to layer it over the shallow defender and hit the receiver in stride.

How does he fit in Florida’s scheme?

The weird thing with Mertz is that he doesn’t fit perfectly into the RPO scheme. In fact, he’s all projection. At Wisconsin, it was a power-rushing attack that utilized a lot of play-action in their limited passing concepts. The hope is that he can take his skills and transition into Napier’s offense.

MORE: Did Florida’s System Waste Anthony Richardson’s Talent?

What Mertz does have going for him is that Napier adjusts really well to his personnel. He uses a lot of pro-style passing concepts run out of spread formations in the shotgun and pistol. The excellent rushing attack with Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne will help the transition right away, but Mertz will have to take a huge step in seeing the field and making better decisions to have any success.

Can he do that? Absolutely. Will he be able to? It’s a massive question mark that doesn’t have an easy answer. The idea of Mertz is good, but he’s far from it right now.