How can Graham Mertz take the next step in 2024?

Senior quarterback Graham Mertz is coming off a career year in his first season at Florida, tossing for career highs in yards (2,910) and touchdowns (20) while throwing a career low three interceptions. The former Wisconsin QB also held career highs in yards per completion (8.1), QB rating (157.8), and completion percentage (72.9%) in 2023.

Mertz is entering his 6th and final collegiate season, which historically speaking is extremely valuable for quarterbacks. The next step is pretty simple; Mertz has to push the ball down the field more often. Whether you fault Billy Napier’s scheme, the receivers, or Mertz’ lack of aggressiveness, the message is the same. Mertz has to take risks in 2024.

“We are trying to get Graham to be more aggressive without being careless,” Billy Napier told the media during spring camp. “I think the narrative on him coming in, obviously everybody talked about the interceptions at Wisconsin and all that. He proved that he could play clean ball last year and then I think now it’s about trying to improve the calculated risk, let’s try to be aggressive and manage the game and eliminate careless play, but let’s try to go create more explosives and distribute the ball, be the point guard and push the ball down the court.”

Mertz completed 16 of 39 (41.0%) passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield, recording five touchdowns and zero interceptions on deep balls. While Florida would like Mertz to complete those at a higher percentage, he still outperformed Carson Beck, Devin Leary, Payton Thorne, Will Rodgers, Joe Milton, and was neck-and-neck with several other SEC quarterbacks regarding completion percentage on 20+ air yard passes. The narrative that Mertz is uncapable of throwing the deep ball is false, as he was nowhere near the bottom of the conference in that category. Mertz simply didn’t take nearly enough attempts.

Out of 14 SEC quarterbacks, Mertz ranked 11th in 20+ yard attempts with 39. The only three quarterbacks that trailed him were AJ Swann, Max Johnson, and Will Rodgers, all of which threw 110+ fewer passes than Mertz in 2023.

Mertz has been open and honest with his weaknesses in the past, claiming he tends to hold on to the ball too long, which resulted in a high number of sacks (31) in 2023.

“There was one play where I held onto it way too long, just it was one play I’d love to have back because I had a throw, and it’s a big one. You convert that, then we have another shot to score points,” Mertz said during the season.

Mertz could also benefit from an improved offensive line. When pressured, Mertz was sacked 23.3% of the time. Mertz performed well under pressure when he got rid of the ball, completing 61.9% of his 84 passes for 767 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. His under-pressure offensive grade of 78.9 was actually better than his grade with a clean pocket (70.3) and when not blitzed (64.5), according to Pro Football Focus.

The best offenses in college football are explosive. Out of the top ten teams in total offense in 2023, nine of them ranked inside the top 10 in total plays of 20 yards or more. The same is true for 30+ yards. Six of those teams ranked inside the top 10 in plays of 40 yards or more.

Florida did not fare well with explosive plays in 2023, ranking 56th in 20+ yards plays, 90th in 30+ yard plays, and 104th in 40+ yard plays.

Graham Mertz and Billy Napier need to vertically push the ball down the field more often, and they plan to do so in 2024.









Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.