BATON ROUGE, La. — Danny Etling already knows what a lot of you think of his chances of making it in the NFL. Fortunately for him, the New England Patriots view things differently from the average fan.
The Patriots selected the LSU quarterback with the first pick of the seventh and final round of the 2018 NFL Draft, perhaps looking down the road with legend Tom Brady turning 41 this August.
Etling has been hearing from fans that he wasn’t good enough since he was at Purdue, where he was seen as the problem because he wasn’t the next Drew Brees or Kyle Orton. He continued to hear it at LSU, where many viewed him as an avatar of the Tigers’ inability to get it right at quarterback. It’s part of the reason he has no social media presence.
But enough people saw something in Etling to invite him to the NFL combine, and now the most well-run organization in football has seen enough to make sure he did not slip to another team as an undrafted free agent.
“A lot of teams are saying, ‘Stick with it, you’re gonna be in a camp,'” Etling told SEC Country as he drove from Baton Rouge back to his hometown of Terre Haute, Ind., last weekend.
Not only will Etling be in a camp, but he’s just the second LSU quarterback to be drafted since Matt Flynn in 2008. Zach Mettenberger was the other in 2014.
Etling’s perseverance was particularly attractive to New England. After starting at Purdue as a freshman, he was benched. Then he transferred to LSU, where he sat out a year before replacing Brandon Harris as the Tigers starter early in 2016.
“They tell me, ‘You seem to keep finding ways to make yourself useful,'” Etling said. “‘You seem to keep winning jobs. That’s something we like.'”
Statistically, Etling was better as a senior than most realize. He threw 2 interceptions against 16 touchdown passes, and one of those picked-off throws was a Hail Mary heave at the end of the game against Troy. He was sixth in the nation with an average of 9 yards per attempt and 13th with a passer rating of 152.98.
However, he pretty much did only as he was asked. Etling didn’t have the zip on his throws that separates star quarterbacks from the rest of the pack. But he said that the pre-draft process showed him that faulty mechanics were to blame.
Etling underwent back surgery last spring to correct a problem that had bothered him throughout the 2016 season. It worked, but he still threw the ball gingerly in an unnecessary attempt to avoid aggravating his back.
“I had kind of developed bad habits from surgery,” Etling said. “I would just get the ball out in a way that doesn’t hurt. It messed with my fundamentals a lot. Now that I’ve had time to relearn and repattern things with my kinetic chain, that will allow me to throw more efficiently.”
After LSU’s season ended, Etling trained in California to try to correct the bad habits that took the zip from his throws. It is little coincidence that he worked out with Brady’s throwing coaches, Tom House and Adam Dedeaux.
“When they did my analysis, they said, ‘You are losing so much power and we have to change that,'” Etling said. “Nothing’s perfect yet. It’s small, incremental changes to make big changes on the field.”
Etling said he wishes he could have made those changes prior to his senior season, but there wasn’t enough time to analyze and adjust. He wasn’t able to start throwing again after the surgery until right before the Tigers broke training camp in August.
Another thing that might have stunted Etling’s short-term growth but could benefit him in the long-term is the chaos that has surrounded the LSU coaching staff. On top of his Purdue experience, he played for three LSU offensive coordinators — Cam Cameron, Steve Ensminger and Matt Canada.
“Playing four different offenses was helpful in the long run,” Etling said. “If a team comes in with West Coast terminology, you can explain it. Or a digit system, you can explain that.”
Though the quarterback position at LSU comes with a certain stigma, Etling said he is grateful for the opportunity it presented him as he attempts to move his career to the next level.
“No regrets,” he said of his LSU career. “It was kind of a dream come true to play at that level of football and have the friends and support that I had.”