NFL Draft 2011: Does Ryan Mallett Fit in a Seattle Seahawks Uniform?

Charlie TodaroAnalyst IIIApril 15, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Does Ryan Mallett Fit in a Seattle Seahawks Uniform?

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    A quarterback prospect unlike any other in the 2011 draft.
    A quarterback prospect unlike any other in the 2011 draft.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett visited with Carroll, Schneider and the Seahawks at Virginia Mason Athletic Center earlier this week, further fueling the speculation the organization is targeting him in the 2011 NFL draft.

    There is varying debate about whether Mallett is fit for the Seahawks, among other questions about the 6’7” quarterback with a cannon for an arm; should he go in the first round, given his character issues? More specifically for Seattle, does he fit into new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s passing system, and does he have the mobility to complement the running game? Is he the quarterback to take at No. 25 or No. 57, if Seattle takes a quarterback early?

    Let’s take a closer look at the possibility of Ryan Mallett becoming a Seahawk.

A Rough Beginning, but a Second Chance Leads to Success

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    Mallett had a very successful high school career, being named the 2006 Texas High School Gatorade Player of the Year before being highly recruited as one of 2007’s top quarterback prospects. Mallett was an experienced varsity starter with the arm, confidence and ability to flourish.

    He enrolled at the University of Michigan early, foregoing the spring of his senior year to get acquainted with college life.  He played sparingly in injury relief as a freshman, showing his potential but completing only 43 percent of his passes.

    When Lloyd Carr was fired in favor of Rich Rodruiguez after the 2007 season, Mallett rubbed some people the wrong way by leaving abruptly, knowing he wouldn’t fit in Rodriguez’s spread system.

    He enrolled at Arkansas and sat out the 2008 season for transfer purposes; leading to an unfortunate incident in March of 2009, an arrest for public intoxication—an incident that is a main player in the immaturity, bad character rap Mallett faces—that Mallett is confident changed him for the better; taught him great football players are in a “fishbowl,” the words of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, and great football players can’t make those mistakes.

    ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill provides a great piece about that time in Mallett's life, and going forward.  Bobby Petrino both re-enforced the message—great players aren’t supposed to do stupid things—and helped Mallett mature through the process.

    Mallett’s redshirt sophomore season was a success—3627 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions; a completion percentage just under 56 percent, four games completing better than 76 percent and six games under 54 percent. A major plus was only one game with multiple interceptions. However, Mallet was inconsistent. The deep throw was always a threat but sometimes nothing else.

    Going into 2010, Coach Petrino found issue in Mallett’s short-to-intermediate passing game, emphasizing the importance of that phase in the game, especially with the physical run offense that complements Arkansas’ passing offense. He also took issue to Mallett’s poise, the quarterback’s outspoken and emotional nature sometimes getting in the way on the field. Most importantly, Mallett learned "a lot of games are won before the season begins." 

    The offseason work put in by the coaching staff paid off. Mallett had 3,869 passing yards, and his completion percentage rose to just less than 65 percent in 2010—in only eight more attempts than 2009. However, his interceptions rose to 12, but still only two multi-interception games, en route to a 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl berth.

    Unfortunately, two of those losses were the result of Mallett's second-half “meltdowns,” the games that are shaping the negatives about Mallett’s mental toughness. Mallett will still be 22 years of age on draft day. His potential, given the room for maturity, is impressive.

    Into the draft process, he continued to face questions about his play on and demeanor off the field.

Mallett's Skill Set

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    A prototypical NFL passer.
    A prototypical NFL passer.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    When looking through the football lens, Ryan Mallett is one of the most complete quarterback prospects in the 2011 Draft.

    Likely the strongest arm of any 2011 prospect, Mallett has developed a reputation as a vertical, pure pocket passer. With adequate protection, Mallett can distribute the ball to anywhere on the field—especially with the vision provided by his 6’7” frame.

    His height is noticeable in the red zone, Arkansas often putting him in play action, rolling out of the pocket, the vision and arm strength combining to help make some very impressive throws—A Mike Williams ball feeding machine?

    However, his 6’7” frame presents problems with his stride length and mobility, both inside and outside the pocket; Mallett believes he has good pocket presence and has a sound ability to slide away from pressure, as explained to ESPN's Jon Gruden (click on his name for the "Gruden QB Camp" video with Mallett).

    Mallett improved in 2010, showing better blitz recognition and an ability to check down the second or third option—his understanding of this concept highlighted by his board work with Gruden. But he is still improving, one year not enough to say he has brought his understanding of protections and refined his passing game to an NFL level.

    He’s willing to side step the rush and step up into the pocket to make the throw. But on the move is when Mallett tends to get into trouble.

    His accuracy struggles, as his long stride length often gets in the way of re-setting his feet; his 5.37 second 40-yard dash time lends major questions to his athleticism. An NFL training staff and a couple years of training should improve his first step and 10-yard mobility. However, when his footwork suffers, the arm takes over—and not with consistent results.

    Mallett comes from Bobby Petrino’s high-octane, “power spread” scheme—a traditional I-Form two receiver, two back, one tight end offense that functions as a spread offense, a multi-formation package with three and four receiver sets.

    Not a simple system to say the least, as it shares many principles with a “pro-style” offense. Mallett shared on KJR that one principle of the offense is taking care of the possession, the ball the most important part of the game. Mallett’s high sack numbers are not too much of an issue, with 19 interceptions in two seasons.

    When Gruden asked Mallett how he liked playing in this system, Mallett responded, “I loved it.”

    An offense that looks for balance—balance defined as keeping the defense off-balance in recognizing run or pass; balance in the sense that the offense is multi dimensional, requiring a quarterback with a solid head on his shoulders to run the aerial show and engineer a power running game—sounds like the goal in Seattle.

    Mallett ran the show to the tune of 43 school and stadium records in just two years at Arkansas, an efficient and impressive college career. 

What About Those Pesky Character Issues?

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    It’s no secret the knock on Mallett are questions about his character and leadership abilities.

    When asked in an interview on 950 KJR Seattle on Wednesday why he thinks he’s not rated higher on many pundits’ draft boards, he responded; “I couldn’t tell you. People have their own rankings, and teams have their own rankings. Those people aren’t drafting anyone, so me and my camp, we don’t pay any attention to those guys.” He added, “I love being around teams so I can show them who I am.”

    Well on Thursday, the latest bullet came from the NFL network’s Jamie Dukes: “for a lack of better phrase, he’s kind of the first—and forgive this phrase—kind of the Caucasian street guy. And what I mean by that is he’s got that Eminem, slash, ya know, Vanilla Ice thing that goes on.”

    Unfortunately, Mallett’s small, southern town demeanor can be misunderstood. Growing up as an aspiring great quarterback in Texarkana, Texas, he has a commanding personality. Given his aspirations, I wouldn’t qualify his confidence as a bad quality. Merrill describes his father as outspoken and aspiring, his mother more practical and focused—not a bad combination for creating a quarterback.

    I want to go back to the March, 2009 arrest.  Mallett admits to having an adjustment period of growth when returning to Arkansas, one that he struggled through. Is this the time in his life that is responsible for the rumors of drug use? Maybe, but Mallett was 100 percent clean in his time at Arkansas under coach Petrino.

    Through this time, Petrino was on his side.

    Mallett was given an 11 p.m. curfew and 6 a.m workouts for the rest of the semester by Petrino; Mallett attended public speaking classes and worked with the Arkansas Razorbacks TV announcer to work on his vocals for command at the line of scrimmage.

    Petrino was polishing aspects of his potential star quarterback. The questions about Mallett’s maturity are unfounded according to Mallett’s coaches, nothing but positives coming from those associated with the university and the greater part of the state of Arkansas.   

    Merrill quoted Petrino as saying Mallett did a “great job, he was a guy you love having in your program, not only as a great player but he represented our program great…I wanted the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter with a chance to win, and the great thing is so did he.”

    Players Mallett has admitted to idolizing in multiple interviews include Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers. “I love how they control the line of scrimmage.”

    Peyton has become more personable later in his career, but Brady and Rivers have definitely had their moments of being brash and misunderstood.

    In my opinion, Mallett’s character isn’t necessarily flawed; it’s whether or not a particular individual has an issue with the nature of his personality. I am yet to come across a firsthand interview with Mallett that, in the end, tags him as a bad person. Rather, he is just misunderstood.

    Mallett explained to Gruden, “I’ve always been loyal to my team. We'd always work on our own a lot. So we always had great communication. That's what made us so good, because we were all so close as friends and teammates.”

    And when Mallett was knocked out against Auburn in 2010, backup Tyler Wilson spoke of Mallett, to Merrill, as a big brother in the sense that Mallett supported him through that game but also pushed him to be better each and every day.

    A display of Mallett’s character and leadership that is hard to argue.

Ryan Mallet a Fit for the Seahawks?

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    Controlling that line of scrimmage...
    Controlling that line of scrimmage...Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Among the many reports surfacing this week was that of NFL analyst Michael Lombardi, in which he said he believes Seattle is in no way scared off by Mallett’s character concerns. This is not a surprising piece of information to me, especially given new offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable’s recent personal history and Pete Carroll’s acknowledged willingness to work with Tom and provide him the best environment to succeed as a person off the field.

    An active organization that believes in forward thinking, Carroll notices opportunities to acquire players and coaches that have questions in their background, but are willing to buy into his program; put the team mentality first. Taking a “me first” quarterback doesn’t fit the profile.

    I stumbled upon a May 2010 interview with Mallett and in which the last question was, “what are your individual and team goals this season?” 

    His response? “I don’t worry about individual goals; I only care about the win-loss column. You play to be at the top, and if you don’t play to be at the top, I don’t want you on my team.” Brash, yes, but it’s hard to argue with a guy who just wants to lead his team to the top; we know Carroll’s attitude towards winning, forever.

    The other nugget that Lombardi offered was that Mallett “fits the direction they are going on offense.”

    Complements of ESPN’s Mike Sando, Carroll said at the NFL owners meetings in March, “Cable and Bevell totally believe in the moving of the quarterback as a complement to the running game and play action game.” 

    We, on the outside, aren’t entirely sure which direction the offense is going, or what moving the quarterback really means.

    While Mallett doesn't fit in a mobile quarterback system, he does have sound lateral movement. The Seahawks could focus on moving the pocket around him, as opposed to moving him out of the pocket.

    Mallett was thrown the bait when asked on KJR if he was a deep ball guy, and Mallett threw somewhat of a curveball back. "I like to push it, but you have to have the quick game. It’s just like your running game, five to seven yard handoffs and eventually you bust one.”

    Sounds like a fit for a timing based, short-to-intermediate West Coast system. Oh, and Mallett’s got that big play arm, Pete Carroll never shying away from the need for playmakers, Seattle not sure of having a signal caller for the future. The city of Seattle would certainly welcome a playmaker in the form of a quarterback.

    Of course, there is Charlie Whitehurst currently awaiting competition at the position in 2011.  

    Based on Schneider’s history, Mallett has the first-round juju of the success of Aaron Rodgers—the only quarterback taken in the first round by a Schneider team—on his side.

    Furthermore, a Schneider team’s only second-round quarterback taken was Brian Brohm out of Louisville—also a Bobby Petrino coached team in the middle of the 2000s. Brohm, however, did not have the presence of Mallett.  

    Mallett believes Seattle is a team ready to make some noise in the NFL— “that’s the type of team you want to play for”—and that he can “learn and fit into any system.”

    I believe Mallett can fit in with Seattle if they can find a way to keep him a moving target but mostly moving the pocket around him, setting up play-action in the red zone. His ability to throw both outside the numbers and downfield would open up the middle of the field for Justin Forsett, Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington in the running game.

    However, I think Seattle is better served drafting one of a handful of defensive players, if available, before they consider Mallett, or any quarterback, at No. 25 or in the first round.

    Others may think Mallett doesn’t fit entirely.

    But as Mallett said, it doesn’t matter where he is on everyone else’s draft board; it just matters where he is on most teams' draft boards.

    Seattle may be dropping the hook for a first-round trade, Carroll and Schneider always willing to move around, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mallett ends up higher on Seattle’s draft board than pundits expected.

    Just high enough that if the chips fall in the direction of defensive players being drafted early and often, I’m not counting out the unexpected—seemingly the norm for Carroll and Schneider—Ryan Mallett to Seattle early in the 2011 NFL draft.