One month ago, we passed along a report from NFL Network’s Albert Breer stating that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett’s draft stock would be adversely affected by “off-field issues.”
Though we’ve yet to uncover any damning specifics aside from Mallett’s seemingly harmless 2009 arrest for public intoxication, Breer’s report appears to be backed up by Adam Caplan of FOXSports.com.
Caplan wrote on Twitter Tuesday night that Mallett is “almost certain” to drop out of the first round of April’s draft, even going so far as to say it “wouldn’t shock (Caplan) to see Mallett fall to the third (round).” Similar to Breer, Caplan cites “baggage, and not the kind you carry” as the main reason for Mallett’s projected draft-day slip.
Read that first sentence and notice its psychological impact. One would look at that and naturally think, "Hmmm, for all this buzz to be going on, there must have been something big behind that original Breer report. That 'off-field issues' snatch must be part of a more comprehensive, descriptive piece. I'll click on it and see what's generating all this buzz."
So you click on it and find...another PFT article referencing the same original report. The article admits that Breer doesn't go into detail about Mallett, but you're still thinking, "OK but come on, there must be more to it than the words 'off-field' and 'issues'." So after a brief grunt of annoyance and strange flashes of the movie "Inception", you click down another level and finally arrive at the original source expecting to see at least some elaboration, some insight into this great big hullabaloo. It can't be all coming from just one two-word phrase...right?
Here's what you find in the original NFL.com piece:
Broncos believe Elway, Tebow can lead franchise to glory
(1,154 words on the Broncos)...
(562 on Vince Young)...(308 words on Rex Ryan)...(297 words on the Rams)...(348 words on the upcoming lockout)...
Andrew Luck's decision to stay in school seems shocking now, since it just happened, but it's actually consistent with what the Stanford quarterback has said all along. The fallout? It seriously devalues Carolina's pick, the first one in the draft, which figured to be as marketable as any in recent memory. And the reason why is simple. "Andrew Luck," one college scout told me, "is the safest quarterback prospect to come along since Peyton Manning." What you were bound to hear over the next few months, had Luck come out, was how Arkansas' Ryan Mallett has a stronger arm. Which is exactly what folks said about Manning in comparison to Ryan Leaf. That brings us to the second point of impact. You might hear now that no quarterback can rise to No. 1. Like when Matt Leinart decided to return to USC in 2005 (Alex Smith went first), or when Sam Bradford went back to Oklahoma in 2009 (Matthew Stafford went first). Someone will, inevitably, go up there. The first candidate would be Mallett, but sources say off-field concerns are likely to affect his stock. That brings us to Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, with Auburn's Cam Newton as the dark horse.
...(1,797 words on various other subjects)
...and that's it. Ten words.
In a feature article of over 4,600 words with a headline about the Broncos, in a sub-article that's actually about Andrew Luck and No. 1 quarterbacks, the only new thing we learn about Mallett's off-field concerns is that they come from "sources".
What source? A former coach? A teammate? A close friend? Some skinny, bespectacled education major like myself whose car Mallett accidentally scraped one day?
In other words, a wave of totally confident anti-hype and un-confirmed Hint-ese that has the potential to destroy a college player's career and re-shape the entire NFL for a decade to come is based on...a ten-word snippet from an article that has nothing to do with Ryan Mallett.
I realize that I'm fighting a well-entrenched system here and that asking for real information at this point is like asking for the moon. I suppose Adam Caplan has good reason for not sharing the nitty-gritty yet, and has to answer readers' questions with something. I just wish he could manage more than fifteen unsubstantiated words as opposed to Breer's ten. Not much better is Wes Bunting's nebulous quote of an "area scout", although he at least addresses Mallett's talents in his work. If there's a waiting bombshell about Mallett that could so assuredly kill his stock, can't we just learn what it is? Instead of being teased like high school freshmen in September who haven't found the right cliques yet?
I also wonder whether these "character flags" are truly enough to discourage teams from looking at a skilled prospect like Mallett. Sure, we think of Ryan Leaf, Matt Leinart, Jamarcus Russell, and Vince Young when we hear about the supposed self-centeredness and entitlement that supposedly infectts Mallett. But do we think of fellow malcontents Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, and - dare I say it - Michael Vick? As Rob Staton points out, of course not. The NFL is full of so-called immature QB's, all of whose teammates defend them vigorously. All that matters in the end is results. Did Leaf, Leinart, Russell, and Young bust because of their character or because they just aren't very good?
Tough question. I don't have the answer. I do believe that lack of work ethic can cripple a player's future. It remains to be seen whether these ominous rumblings on the horizon are really significant. They could very well be. They're certainly pervasive and thick enough to be. What would really be funny is if this hype draws so much extra attention to Mallett that it backfires, by causing teams to notice the under-the-radar improvements he's shown in 2010 and rate him higher than otherwise.
Anyway, forgive me for not basing my opinion on rumors at this point. I'm going to focus on what's been shown and proven - like Mallett's ability to read a defense, his accuracy and arm strength, his footwork and throw mechanics, and the stories of his improving maturity and work ethic that are actually backed up by quotes from people with names, teammates who grown to respect him and have no overriding reason to lie.