Just to be clear, I don't believe in grabbing any old first-round QB just because he's first-round. Plenty of teams have busted with that mentality. I also don't believe that he's an instant fix to every problem on a football team, nor that other picks can't help the situation. And I don't believe in throwing a rookie QB to the wolves on a team that can't afford him one iota of protection.
So when I say that I consider Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett the most likely-to-succeed prospect in this draft, it's for good reason. I've analyzed the guy, compared him to the other options, and emerged convinced that selecting this guy will bring bigger returns than any other. Sure, my judgment is fallible, but at some point you have to pick a belief and stick to it. I believe that Mallett has what it takes to win in the pros, and that he has it right now. The other guys do not, and it's questionable whether they ever will.
So here's my take on why Seattle should rate this guy very highly on its draft board. In the interest of sparing my generous readers from having to read essays, I've broken it down into three parts. Enjoy part one, in which I take a look mostly at Mallett himself.
(You might also appreciate the more technical scouting report of Kip Earlywine over at Seahawks Draft Blog.)
Upside By Any Other Name
This draft carries an unusually high number of first-round-rated QB's. The essential difference between Mallett and the rest is that Mallett is actually showing NFL characteristics right now, while the rest get a first-round grade mostly for their unusually huge "upside".
I hate upside. Basically, it means "he has a long ways to go, but might get there." It's easy to get caught up in imagining a fully developed form of Cam Newton or Jake Locker, but here's the thing: upside is notorious for just never showing up. Upside scares me. Newton and Locker have gotten by largely on physical characteristics that served them in college where most starting defenders are worse than your average NFL backup. They've shown flashes of pro qualities, but a flash by definition is the brief presence of something preceded and followed by the prolonged absence of said something.
If Mallett has work to do and obstacles to avoid despite his pro-style experience, what will Newton do if he can't read NFL defenses? What will Locker do if he can't make decisions from an NFL pocket? What will Colin Kaepernick do when NFL linebackers cut his rushing yards in half (not if, but when)? Everyone always said that Ryan Leaf had more upside than Peyton Manning. Look how that turned out.
Many call Mallett an upside guy, but he isn't. He's close enough to an NFL product to where we can project him with more confidence: a pure pocket passer with the tools to become another Manning or Philip Rivers. That's comparatively modest ceiling, but it's also nothing to sniff at. Who would really complain about Seattle getting that caliber of QB, regardless of what these other guys might turn into? Everyone else might have once-in-a-decade potential, but they also have the floor of Jamarcus Russell.
From all the talk of Mallett's slow 40 time, you could be forgiven for thinking he's a running back prospect. Rob Rang was one of the few to remind people of what a quarterback's job actually is. Hint: it has to do with the arms, not the legs. Pointing out how Mallett's 40 time was a few hundredths of a second slower than Tom Brady's is a simple mathematical sophistry. That's a blink of an eye's difference. It's the same mobility class. Last I checked, "statuesque" QB's like Brady and Peyton Manning weren't exactly brooding on a bench somewhere as forgotten backups.
Here's a rough listing of traits that actually pertain to NFL quarterbacks and that scouts look for in college prospects, along with how each major prospect stacks up:
|Ryan Mallett||Jake Locker||Cam Newton||Blaine Gabbert||Colin Kaepernick|
|"Can make all the throws"||Yes||Kinda||No||Kinda||No|
|Experience under center/dropbacks||Yes||Kinda||No||No||No|
|Experience with audibles/adjustments||Yes||No||No||No||No|
I didn't even list those traits in order of importance. If I did, pocket accuracy, pre-snap recognition, and multiple progressions - all specialties of Mallett - would be at the top of the list, further clarifying his superiority in running an NFL offense.
I don't know any other way to put the mobility concerns in the right context. It just isn't a deal-breaker. Bootlegs aside, the vast majority of NFL passes occur from the pocket, and if you want to win in the NFL, you need to be able to handle yourself there. Mallett has what NFL teams place a premium on. He's so much less of a project than any other QB likely to avail himself to the Seahawks.
There is this...aura, for lack of a better word...that has followed Mallett all year and turns both ordinary folks and media pundits off to him. Never mind the fact that he's never failed a drug test, or that none of his "character flags" have ever been assigned a real source. Ever since Mallett scored well in his private team interviews and took away the media's "character" hammer, they've started zooming in on his footwork and mobility issues. Funny how there's always something.
I think I can tell you exactly why people don't like Ryan Mallett, the real reason that some people reach for things to criticize and dismiss any support for him as biased. Here's what I think it really boils down to (and this is just an opinionated stab at amateur psychology):
"He's just got one of those faces."
That's all. I think that's the basis of people's dislike, whether they realize it or not. Much of his criticism isn't any deeper or better-defined than that. He just rubs people the wrong way. Square-jawed face with small features. Light but sharp Southern twang combined with the laid-back diction of the American college student. Straightforward manner that's unpolished and devil-may-care. A confidence that rides the line of arrogance.
Maybe Mallett just has one of those combinations of face and demeanor that average people don't react to favorably. This profile certainly doesn't help contradict the rumors of "petulance", "lack of composure", and/or "immaturity" (vague as that label is), and it's not a big step from there to "poor leadership".
Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers also have one of those faces. They show their emotions on the field, avoid reporters, yell at other players occasionally, and sport sour expressions from the bench. This turns people off somehow. Matt Hasselbeck, by comparison, just grips the front collar of his pads and makes funny shapes with his mouth. Why does everyone read into sideline shots of Cutler and Rivers and decide that they're one interception away from a complete, career-ending, Charlie Sheen-esque meltdown? (Or should I say, Ryan Leaf-esque?)
Most Bears and Chargers fans couldn't care less. You know who does gripe about it? Fans of the teams that Cutler and Rivers beat. QB's are defined by their win totals, not their demeanor on the field. Every fan base has a few snobs who will knock the demeanor of even a winning QB, but in the end, most just want to win. Success covers over a multitude of sins.
I think that what we're seeing with Mallett is not a crippling bad attitude but simply a personality. He's Cutler, not Leaf. Yeah, he'll show his feelings on the field, good or bad. He'll argue with refs. He'll holler at a few clueless rookie wide receivers. He'll blow off the odd reporter and won't trip over his tongue trying to appear smooth. And when he loses, he'll show the occasional ticked expression that will immediately get Photoshopped into an endless array of amusing demotivational posters. I can see it all.
And if he starts winning, all will be forgotten. Fans are looking for a franchise quarterback, not a choir boy.
Until people have something concrete or attributable on Mallett's attitude or work ethic, then he has no red flags in those departments. No more second-hand or surface impressions. Admitting to occasional drug experimentation won't shock the world or his stock. Everyone does it. There's no addiction or current concerns. Mark Sanchez was drafted at #5 despite accusations of worse. As far as I'm concerned, the guy is NFL-clean except for a competitive fire and a chip on the shoulder that will fuel that fire for years to come. Let's move on.
In Part 2, I'll give my thoughts on how Mallett could benefit the Seahawks particularly and even be worth trading up. Check back soon.