“7,000-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That’s how I respond to that.” - Ryan Mallett
He's been compared to Peyton Manning.
He's been compared to Ryan Leaf.
There are draft analysts who expect his name to be called before bedtime on Thursday, April 28th. Others project him as a Saturday morning slider (fourth round).
Some teams have removed him from their draft boards altogether.
If there's one thing we know about Ryan Mallett, it's this: the 6'7", 253-lb. gunslinger from Texarkana is the biggest wild card in the upcoming NFL draft by a country mile.
Mallett followed up what may have been the most impressive quarterback Combine performance of the last decade by walking off the podium during his press conference, refusing to address his rumored drug addiction. Yes, we experienced the entire Manning-to-Leaf spectrum in one Indianapolis afternoon.
The quarterback-deprived Minnesota Vikings hold the 12th pick in the draft, and have been vetting Mallett extensively. After a recent visit, the Arkansas Junior called Minnesota "a place where I could thrive."
As you've secretly scoured online mocks in your cubicles over the last several weeks, you've likely absorbed the notion that Mallett's not worthy of the 12th pick. Let's be clear—with regard to physical ability, Mallett is easily a top-ten talent. In terms of God-given skills, he and Cam Newton are on their own tier in this quarterback class.
As NFL.com's Bucky Brooks raved, "...his natural talent is unrivaled in this year’s draft. As a strong-armed passer, Mallett easily makes all of the requisite throws in the pro game."
Mallett racked up gaudy numbers in Bobby Petrino's pro-style offense the last two seasons—7,493 yards and 62 touchdowns, to be exact. Moreover, he did it in college football's toughest conference, the SEC. His accuracy improved consistently throughout his college career, and his arm strength could bring Uncle Rico to his knees. He's a pure passer, and the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft.
Of course, Mallett has some football flaws. His mobility, footwork, decision-making, and accuracy on the move are all areas of improvement. In short, he'll need a clean pocket.
However, it's the dreaded "character concerns" that have spoiled Mallett's draft stock. So what exactly is a "character concern?" It's such a vague, blanket label.
Miss practice? Character concern.
Blow coke? Character concern.
I'm a 29-year old upstanding citizen with a good heart and a solid head on my shoulders. Do I have "character concerns" because of a couple hazy decisions I made eight years ago at UW-Stout? Of course not. What about you—would you be red-flagged?
To be clear, Mallett was arrested over two years ago for public intoxication. It's hard to sneak through the quad when you're 6'7", but let's be honest, we've all been there.
That's where the proven facts end. Maybe he partied hard, but he's never failed a drug test despite the rumors that he's a coke fiend.
His maturity has been called into question.
He's only 22.
His leadership has been called into question.
He was voted captain by his Arkansas teammates the last two seasons.
We're not talking about a proven thief, liar and cheater. That would be media darling Cam Newton, the clubhouse favorite to go No. 1 overall to Carolina. Ironic, don't you think?
Strip away the unsubstantiated rumors for a moment—are Mallet's on-field blemishes really any more concerning than those of probable No. 1 pick, Cam Newton? No.
From the day Mallett's drafted, he'll have one of the strongest arms in the NFL. He has the potential to be a special player, and the best quarterback in this entire draft.
The Vikings have taken chances on guys like this before.
Randy Moss. Percy Harvin.
Personally, I prefer a quarterback who projects an air of confidence—who thinks he's the best. What's more, it's become apparent that Mallett has that "I can't wait to prove them wrong" chip on his shoulder, similar what Vikings fans witnessed in a certain wide receiver back in 1998.
Mallett will be forced to grow up fast. Clearly, he's not going to walk into a locker room full of veterans like Steve Hutchinson and Antoine Winfield, or into a huddle with superstars like Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, and act like a jackass.
If he's as impressionable as most 22-year olds, new head coach Leslie Frazier is the perfect match. Frazier is a direct disciple of the Tony Dungy character tree.
Where Frazier is a molder of men, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is a molder of quarterbacks.
The obvious reaction is that if Mallett passes the Vikings' off-field inspection, they should trade back and target him late in the first round. In fact, most mock drafts will put him in play at pick 2.11.
You don't gamble with franchise quarterbacks.
Yes, Ryan Mallett is slow as molasses. So are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the guys he's patterned his game after. However, his "character concerns" are smoke and mirrors until proven otherwise. Mallett's golden arm is worth the risk for the Minnesota Vikings at pick No. 12.