I could go into what constitutes value, but in the end, it's simplest just to look at them as low-risk, high-reward options.
Mallett was considered a potential first-round pick by many analysts, but was consistently docked value points for some character concerns. Rumors spread like wildfire of wide-spread drug abuse throughout Mallett's career, and scouts had their questions.
As a third-round pick, though, the investment in him wasn't too high. Likewise, the potential return on that investment could be great, depending on how the chips fall.
The way I see it, there are three ways this could potentially work out.
He could be the second coming of Kevin O'Connell, a quarterback drafted by the very same head coach to the very same team in the very same round just three years ago. O'Connell was released after just one season with the team.
Let's just get that one out of the way; I don't see this happening. The league is simply too hungry for quarterback talent, specifically guys with his skill set (tall, strong arm...) for absolutely no one to be willing to take a chance on the guy.
Belichick could also be looking for a return on investment with Mallett, in much the same way he was able to accomplish with Matt Cassel, whom he drafted in the seventh round and eventually traded as part of a package for a second-round pick.
If Belichick trades Mallett for a second-round pick in a few years, he will consider the process a success.
In order for Mallett to gain any value, though, he has to play. How that will come about has yet to be determined, but one could make a case for giving him the ball in preseason games and late in blowouts to showcase his talents, all while raving about his progress and maturity in the media.
On the flipside, Mallet could be the next franchise quarterback. It's a bit early to crown the heir to Tom Brady just yet, especially since Brady is only 34 and has at least a few years of good football left in him.
In that regard, he serves as an insurance policy for Brady, be it an injury, a rapid decline or an earlier-than-expected retirement for the two-time NFL MVP. Some Patriots fans would call for my head if they knew I was speaking such blasphemy, but even the most rabid fan must admit that at 34 years old, Brady's desire to play 10 more years may be his heart writing a check that his body can't cash.
Of course, there's all the armchair analysts saying that Mallett could be the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Although all that thinking is a bit premature and simple-minded, the two are in similar scenarios: A low-pressure situation, with an opportunity to sit and learn the game behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
More in favor of Ryan Mallett, he would probably need time to learn New England's complex system anyway. At least this way, he gets to learn from one of the best, and someone who is not only familiar with the system, but can execute it to perfection. Brady's insights on the tiniest nuances of the offense will be invaluable.
With all this in mind, it's easy to see how Ryan Mallett could end up being one of Belichick's wisest investments.
Of course, many fans will remain skeptical that the Patriots passed on an elite pass rusher, and that's understandable. The Patriots failed to address their biggest need. If those pass rushing specialists pan out better than Mallett, people might look back on this decision and question Belichick's logic.
Don't forget, though, the track record for those pass rush guys is a bit shaky. For every guy like Clay Matthews that the Patriots missed out on, there are five cautionary tales like Aaron Maybin of a guy with a ton of talent that just never panned out.
Some might argue, if you're going to take a risk, why not do it at your position of biggest need? That's a logical argument to make, but Belichick's counter argument might be, why take a risk at all?
The best part is, if it pans out, he will have hoodwinked everyone once again.