NFL Draft 2011: Ryan Mallett Is Still the Best QB in the Draft

Darin PikeContributor IApril 20, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Ryan Mallett Is Still the Best QB in the Draft

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    Mallett's performance in the Sugar Bowl was much better than the stats reflect.
    Mallett's performance in the Sugar Bowl was much better than the stats reflect.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Much attention has been paid to how far Jake Locker's stock may have dropped this draft and the financial implications of him going back for his senior year.  But there is another player pegged as a top-15 draft choice last year who opted for one more year in college.  

    Perhaps the issues that are plaguing Ryan Mallett today would have come to the surface under the scrutiny of the combine and associated team interviews last season. Then again, perhaps the focus on the intricacies of Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen in 2010 would have allowed Mallett to stay above the fray.

    Regardless of where Mallett would have gone last year, analysts have his value all over the draft board in 2011.  For a team drafting late in the first round or possibly early in the second, Mallett could be the steal of the draft, as he has the talent to be the best QB in the class.

Addendum: Response to "Ryan Mallett out All Night out in Charlotte" Rumor

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    This section added on April 21, 2011

    While posting this article, there was other news happening.  However, the comments that have come up about Mallett's alleged late-night escapades when visiting the Carolina Panthers have little to do with news and everything to do with people looking for a story...even if one doesn't exist.

    I've been asked if this story changes my mind on Mallett, and about reports that Mallett may not get drafted until round three now.

    The earlier parts of this article, and my feelings on Mallett, remain unchanged.  There are several issues with what has been spread around like gossip.

    Brad Biggs of the National Football Post wrote a piece titled Source: Mallett Skips out on Meeting with Panthers. Quarterback hit the town late the night before.

    There are two primary issues with the title alone, and those errors permeate the article as a whole.  

    Source:
    Who is this source?  The article itself uses "sources," so is it more than one person?

    If the source(s) needs to remain anonymous, why?  Is someone trying to hide something, or do they feel the need to hide from media scrutiny?  These details would normally accompany an actual news article, but are glaringly lacking here.

    It is hard to fathom that only one person saw Mallett out on the town.  So where are the 20 or 30 or 50 other people that were at the bar/club/watering hole where Mallett was alleged to have been living it up?  Where is the cell phone pictures or video with time stamps on it?  With modern technology, it is hard to believe something of note happened and someone doesn't have a picture of it.

    I find it difficult to buy into the unnamed, and potentially lone, source...but evidently it was enough for Biggs.

    Mallett Skips out on Meeting with Panthers:
    This implies that Mallett didn't show up.  In fact, Biggs' article says "There is a tremendous amount of misinformation spread in the weeks leading up to the draft, but there is no mistaking that Mallett called the Panthers and told them he was ill after a late night in Charlotte."

    Seems ironic that a statement deriding misinformation is, in fact, spreading more of it.  

    According to the Panthers and multiple other "sources," he didn't "call."  Carolina released the following statement to Pro Football Talk on the issue:

    “Ryan Mallett came for a visit to Charlotte two weeks ago. He had dinner with our coaches the evening he arrived and came down from his hotel room for a scheduled breakfast meeting the following morning upon which time he informed a staff member that he had been sick all night with nausea. We told Ryan that if he was ill to remain in his room as long as the nausea existed. We took him to the airport later that afternoon for his scheduled flight.”

    Some would argue there ins't a significant difference between someone showing up and being turned away vs. calling in sick.  I would agree...in some cases.

    However, in this instance there is a major difference.  Reporting as scheduled shows responsibility, and would make it more difficult to mask any lingering signs of poor judgment from the prior night.  There is a stigma assigned to skipping the meeting with a phone call, that is largely eliminated by sharing what actually happened.

    Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on comments made by agent J.R. Carroll.  He states that Mallett met with Rob Chudzinski, Panthers offensive coordinator, as scheduled the next morning.  However, Mallett missed the rest of that day’s planned meetings because he was genuinely sick.  He also denied that Mallett  was "hung over or bleary-eyed from a long night out."

    “I’m pretty sure Ryan was really, really sick,” Carroll said. “He told me he was sick the night before. And I know Ryan wasn’t out late (that) night. I know that for sure. He’s not an idiot.”

    The full release from Mallett's agents can be found at the bottom of this slide.

    Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on comments made by agent J.R. Carroll.  He states that Mallett met with Rob Chudzinski, Panthers offensive coordinator, as scheduled the next morning.  However, Mallett missed the rest of that day’s planned meetings because he was genuinely sick.  He also denied that Mallett  was "hung over or bleary-eyed from a long night out."

    “I’m pretty sure Ryan was really, really sick,” Carroll said. “He told me he was sick the night before. And I know Ryan wasn’t out late (that) night. I know that for sure. He’s not an idiot.”

    Late Night in Charlotte:
    What consists of a late night?  The story doesn't state early morning, but it does say "Mallett was seen out on the town late following the dinner."

    This implies he was out at an unreasonable hours.  Perhaps Biggs chose his words carefully.  10:30 can be considered late at night, and walking back to the hotel after dinner could be construed as "out on the town."  

    While making the statement factually correct, the insinuation is much different.  

    I doubt the average reader would equate being at a dinner meeting with team coaches and another player and "a late night in Charlotte" as synonymous.  Rather, it appears we have yet another example of manipulating facts to sensationalize a story.

    I'm not going to pretend Mallett has always been a model citizen.  He has had issues in his past, which makes this story so attractive.  People are looking for clues to see if his troubles are behind him, or if they'll haunt him at the next level.

    Breaking a story that could link past problems to today could have a great reward for a writer.  In this case, there is pride at stake.

    According to the website he writes for, Biggs graduated from the University of Missouri with a B.A. in political science.  Could this create a small conflict of interest?

    A certain Missouri QB, Blaine Gabbert, has seen his stock begin to fall in recent weeks.  I've written several articles on him not being worth an upper first round pick.  

    Who is one player that can hurt Gabbert's draft status?  Yes, Ryan Mallett.  Being linked with the Panthers, there is a chance they could select him first overall instead of Gabbert.  

    One's alma mater gains credibility with a high draft pick.  While it is a bit of a stretch to say Biggs intentionally attempted to sabotage Mallett to help elevate a QB from his school, the tie does call objectivity into question.

    I've often wondered if the little voices in the back of my mind count as sources.  Perhaps for some people that is enough.

     

    The release from Mallett's agents, Carroll and David Dunn, stated:

    “There is absolutely no truth to the unfounded and irresponsible report that Ryan skipped his visit with the Carolina Panthers on April 9 because he was too sick after a late night out on the town the previous night.  Rather, Ryan had dinner with club officials from the Panthers on the evening of April 8 and then returned to his hotel that evening along with Julio Jones.  Ryan and Julio were together the entire time that evening until Ryan and Julio turned in for the night around 10:00 — 10:30 pm.

    “Upon returning to his hotel room, Ryan became ill and was up most of the night and into the morning with flu-like symptoms.  Keep in mind that this was Ryan’s fourth team visit in the previous week and that Ryan had crisscrossed the country with stops in Cincinnati, Fayetteville, Seattle, Fayetteville again and Minneapolis before Charlotte.  Nevertheless, Ryan met with Panthers representatives on the morning of April 9 as scheduled and informed the club at that time that he was extremely sick.  Carolina officials decided to send Ryan back to his hotel room for some medicine and additional rest in hopes that they could meet with Ryan later that morning.  Ryan did as instructed and contacted Panther officials later that morning to resume his meetings with club officials.  However, given that Ryan was still sick, Carolina officials decided to cancel the remainder of Ryan’s visit with the team.”

Mallett by the Numbers: Was He the Best College QB?

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    When looking at on-field performance for the collegiate passers entering the 2011 NFL Draft, it isn’t hard to project that Ryan Mallett would be the best professional quarterback in the class.  He spent two seasons running Bobby Petrino’s offense, which should have him well prepared to transition to the NFL.

    Mallett was in the top 10 in QB rating (163.7), yards (3,869), yards per attempt (9.4) and TDs (32).  He complete 64.7 percent of his passes and he has superior arm strength.  Out of the gate, NFL DCs will have to respect his throwing ability, keeping their defensive backs off the line to avoid getting beat by his deep ball.

    More important than just the numbers is that he achieved them in an offense that correlates to the professional game.  He wasn’t running a spread offense, like Blaine Gabbert, that is tailor-made to inflate QB stats.  Still, his numbers put Gabbert’s to shame, with double the TDs and almost 50 percent more yards per attempt.

    The only other QB in this draft class who came close to Mallett’s production is Cam Newton.  But Newton only has one year of performance at this level, and there are significant questions on how his style of play will translate to the NFL.

    Teams will need to consider whether they would be better off attempting to work on Mallett's maturity or gambling that Newton will be able to survive a 16-game schedule, plus playoffs potentially and taking the kind of hits that made it difficult for Michael Vick to perform up to standard in the playoffs last season.

Mallett's Numbers Don't Lie, but Did He?

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    Mallett’s combine interview with the media didn’t improve the poor perception many already had of him. After starting the interview relaxed and jovial, he turned aloof and dismissive, calling into question the maturity required of an NFL QB. 

    He dismissed questions about his suspected drug use, stating: “When I saw that stuff I laughed about it.”  He was evasive with further questions, and did not have the maturity one would expect of a potential first-round QB.  While not openly denying taking illegal drugs in college (he never had a positive test at Arkansas), he did act as though the questions had no merit.

    According to profootballweekly.com, an NFL GM stated that Mallett was the first quarterback to ever reveal drug use in private, confidential meetings with the team.  He saw Mallett’s honesty to be a positive, and perhaps it is fair to assume that if Mallett admitted the issue, it is possible to believe him when he states it is in the past.

    So did Mallett lie to reporters?  He certainly wasn’t forthcoming, and his demeanor took a marked change when he was asked about allegations of drug use. 

    “You know, I can’t control that and that’s, you know, that’s why I don’t even want to talk about it because there’s nothing I can control about it.” 

    When the timing of the allegations was brought up, he said: “I mean, obviously somebody did it for a reason, you know, right before the combine, before the draft, but that’s the last I’m going to talk about it.” 

    When pressed again, and given the opportunity to deny the rumors, he was dismissive, stating he is addressing it with the teams, and “everything’s good.” 

    In the same profootballweekly.com story, another GM, whose team is not in need of a QB, reportedly stated: “I would not take him at any point.” 

    I’d still have to imagine that GM would jump on the opportunity to draft Mallett in Round 4; the on-field talent is stellar, and the potential return, even as a backup QB, can’t be ignored.

Fitting into an NFL Huddle: Will His Players Respond?

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    Mallett supporters have commented that his teammates loved to play for him, which is understandable.  In college he is surrounded by other 20-year-olds, and a wild party boy can be seen as the leader of the pack.

    In the Jon Gruden QB Camp, Mallett contended: “I’m a loyal teammate. I’ve always been loyal to my team.”

    I doubt many will question Mallett’s belief that he is a loyal teammate.  By all accounts, he puts his team first and his top priority is to win.  He’ll throw the ball away instead of taking a sack or running out of bounds for a loss.  He’ll drop a shoulder for extra yards when needed when he has to run with the ball.  He put in the time and effort to learn what he needed to know on Saturdays.

    What people will question, and rightfully so, is if Mallett has any understanding of what it means to be a good teammate in the NFL.  Expectations are different, as the livelihood of one’s teammates is reliant on what happens on the field.  As a quarterback, in particular, you need to have the trust and confidence of the unit.  Ben Roethlisberger notwithstanding, an NFL QB should also stay above the fray off the field.

    Mallett also highlighted that part of what made him such a great teammate is that the guys were friends before they were teammates.  While this happens to some extent in the NFL, it is hardly the norm.  In college, a players life revolves around the team and school.  They are immersed with each other in life.

    In the NFL, players are at work doing a job, and then they go home to the pressure and toils of life.  There are family concerns and to-do lists.  The dynamic will be completely different for Mallett, and an on-field transgression won’t be overlooked because of the fun that was had at a party the week prior.

    When he enters the NFL, Mallett will be surrounded by men—professional men who are doing a job.  Most of the men who will need to respond to his leadership have progressed well beyond where Mallett is believed to be at this stage.  This is the biggest barrier to his success in the NFL.

Can Mallett Be the Best QB in the 2011 NFL Draft?

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    Mallett has shown the ability to work a pro-style offense, the strength to hit every corner of the field and the praise of analysts for his mental approach to the game.

    When watching footage of Mallett in college, one thing sticks out.  The highlight reels show him run play action.  They show him in three- and-five step drops and moving around the pocket.  They show Mallett hit a receiver in stride 70 yards away. They show a good release and a QB who can throw with accuracy while moving.

    But the item that sticks out in highlight reels is what they don't show. They don't show a QB who is running downfield.  It can be tiring watching highlights of a QB, only to see half of the plays are running efforts that won't be available or rewarded in the pro game.  Mallett has done what NFL QBs will be asked to do, and he has done it better than QBs who run a more simple college set.

    Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said: “I believe that Mallett will be an outstanding pro. He has exceptional talents as a passer, and he will enter the league ready to play in a pro system. If he can continue to grow as a leader, he could be the steal of the draft when we look back at it in a few years.”

    There is one key word in Brooks’ analysis, one that has been removed from this article at least a dozen times to stave off sounding redundant.  There is one word that separates Mallett from a top-five draft pick: If.  If Mallet can mature and grow. If Mallett can gain the respect of his teammates. "If” Mallett can stay out of trouble…

    If all of those happen and Mallett plays the game he’s capable of playing, he will be the best QB to come out of this draft class, and it is likely that no fewer than 15 teams will have made a mistake by not drafting him.

Determining the Right Place to Draft Mallett

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    Mallett will likely be drafted in the top 40 selections of the 2011 NFL Draft.  He definitely has first-round talent.

    The likelihood of a team, even with strong QB needs, taking him early in the first round of the NFL Draft are somewhat low for one simple reason.  Teams in the top half of the draft typically have several holes to fill and can't afford to make a mistake.  

    There are several QBs in this draft who are seen as "solid prospects."  Teams picking in the first 12 slots will be hesitant to grab Mallett there, and will likely wait and take the best QB available in the second round.  Good talent, such as Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton, are likely to be waiting for them.  

    Mallett might be there in Round 2 as well, so they may see value in filling other needs in Round 1.

    There are two teams, however, that have strong needs at QB and lesser needs at other positions.  The Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans could be contenders for a solid QB running their teams.  They don’t have a worthy QB on their rosters, and free agency doesn’t offer many options at the position this year.  While it might be a bit of a surprise, Mallett makes sense for both of those teams in Round 1.

    There are four more teams that draft later in the draft that should take Mallett if he’s available.  The Seattle Seahawks are an obvious choice, even if Mallett doesn’t have the mobility one might like to see in a West Coast offense.  Mallett is big enough and strong enough to shed tacklers and extend plays, allowing him to find open receivers.

    Many Seahawks fans will insist he doesn't fit the type of offense they expect offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to run.  But he is proficient with the play-action pass, moves around the pocket well and has a faster release than one would expect for a guy of his size.  For an example, look at the 20-second point of this video.  

    This isn't Dan "The Windmill" McGwire.  Mallett is the kind of talent a team can fit an offense around, and it is likely that Bevell would figure out how to fit a few more deep balls into his scheme for a QB who can hit a receiver 70 yards away.

    Mallett did tell Gruden: “I feel like I’m a drop-back guy and I move in the pocket well.” 

    Pocket presence is more important than scrambling abilities, even in Seattle where the offensive line has struggled in recent years.

    “I’m not the fastest guy in the world. I’m not Mike Vick or anything like that, but I escape pressure well,” Mallett continued. 

    This leads to the next team that should take Mallett if he’s there. The Eagles will have Vick for a few more years, but his style of play makes him an injury risk.  They seem intent on moving Kevin Kolb, so drafting a QB with a high reward potential would be a prudent move.

    The other two teams that should look at Mallett don’t have a current need at QB, but need to start planning for their futures.  Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can't play forever, and they would be two of the better role models in the league for Mallett. 

    The opportunity for Mallett to spend several seasons learning the game and learning how a professional approaches the game would be invaluable.  If he makes the transition, the teams look brilliant. 

    If Mallett struggles, neither squad (particularly the Patriots, which will be challenged to figure out just how to use all of their 2011 draft picks) will have set themselves back too much.  They would also have time to reassess the situation and draft another QB in 2013 or 2014.

    If a fan’s favorite team drafts Mallett on April 28th, it should be seen as a good thing.  It is hard to deny he was the top draft-eligible QB in college over the last two seasons.  Cam Newton gave him a run in the 2010 season, but Mallett has shown his performance can be repeated, and he will likely prove he was worth a first-round draft pick…if he is given the opportunity…