Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Mallett Ultimatum, Part 1

Yep. I'm driving this bandwagon.

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.

Mobility Issues

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 MallettJake LockerCam NewtonBlaine GabbertColin Kaepernick
Arm strengthYesYesYesYesYes
"Can make all the throws"YesKindaNoKindaNo
College successYesKindaYesYesKinda
Experience under center/dropbacksYesKindaNoNoNo
Experience with audibles/adjustmentsYesNoNoNoNo
Multiple reads/progressionsYesKindaNoKindaNo
Pocket accuracyYesNoNoKindaNo
Pocket elusivenessYesKindaYesKindaYes
Pre-snap recognitionYesNoNoKindaNo

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.

Character Concerns

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.


  1. Good read and and interesting argument. I'm a little confused about the "Height" portion of the chart- why is Locker a "Yes" and Gabbert and Kaepernick are "Kinda" when Locker is shortest of the five QBs compared? The only thing I can think of is height of delivery, since both Gabbert and Kaepnernick (Kaepernick esp.) can sidearm or shotput the ball.

  2. Ugh, fixed. Don't know why my last edit didn't save that.

  3. I expect Mallet goes to Vikings at 12 for all the reasons you cite, although I think Newton, Gabbert and Locker (to Redskins at 10) go even earlier. The question then for Seattle will be whether to reach on another QB at 25. I don't think they will, preferring to either trade down or if stuck at 25, taking the highest player on their board, probably D-line or O-line. Despite the media hype, I think Dalton or Stanzi will be there at 57 or later. Personally, I like Marvin Austin at 25, Dalton at 57 and Steve Schilling at 99.

  4. May also be teams wanting to trade into the 17-24 range to grab a QB.

  5. Kaep is looking like not so much a reach anymore.


  6. If all you say is true, Brandon, there is no need for us to worry about him at pick 25.

    You are definitely smitten, one of the worst cases of draftitis I have seen since I myself fell in love with Micheal Crabtree.

  7. I love the bandwagon! drive on! I think the major test come draft day will be the Dolphin's pick at 15. If Mallet makes it past there, I expect PC and co. to make a move up (if it is mallett they are going for). Any earlier than 15 will be very expensive to trade up for. Personally, i hope that face turns everyone off, because it might just park its self behind a hawks helmet in 2011!!!

  8. As this Mallett talk goes on it makes me wonder if Buffalo may consider taking him with the #1 pick? Why not if he's the most NFL ready?

  9. There's always the threat that even Carolina might take him #1. Never say never. But it's not very likely; top ten money is usually reserved for once-in-a-decade prospects in GM's minds, and Mallett is not that. (Plus Mallett doesn't fit Buffalo's system as well as a couple of the others).

  10. I would love Mallett for the Seahawks! I think his ability at the LOS to see blitzes and audible would also help our offense. Plus he has the arm strength to beat defenses when they blitz, another option we didn’t have with Hasselback.

    Can you imagine next year we have Ryan Mallett, Mike Williams, and Marshawn Lynch, all starting? Tim Ruskell's head just exploded.

  11. Great read, but I can't really agree with the chart.

    All 5 of those QB's fall into the "make every throw" category for me.

    I'd put Locker, Newton and Mallett as "kinda" for decision making. Locker played it much safer than Mallett did but Mallett was better at finding a place to throw to.

    I'd give Locker a "yes" for delivery. The release point thing people talk about is exaggerated. He's not perfect, but he's better than a "kinda" grade for me.

    Gabbert and Locker get "yes" votes for me with making adjustments, though by that standard Mallett would probably earn a "hell yes!"

    I'd give Locker/Mallett/Kaepernick a "kinda" for height. 6'4"-6'5" is considered ideal. Being more or less than that is not always a dealbreaker, but its not ideal. Locker is under 6'3", Mallet is almost 6'7" and Kaepernick is 6'6".

    I'd give Locker a "no" for multiple reads, Newton a "kinda" and Gabbert a "yes."

    You'll notice though, that I changed very few of your grades for Mallett, and Mallett does very well on that chart. So I think your general point remains completely intact, I just think those other QBs score a bit higher than you had them.

  12. I've gotten the same feedback from some guys at Fieldgulls, Kip. Probably should have used a better system.

  13. Great read and completely agree. Mallett to me is eerily similar to Philip Rivers, only with a better arm/cleaner delivery. His breakdowns on Gruden QB camp were flat out awesome and you can tell he understands it, and is not just spewing out terms that a "draft" coach told him to say.

    And please, let's just say no to Andy Dalton. I am not eager to trust a guy with zero tools, zero knowledge of the pro game (clearly evident in his sit down with Gruden). I could care less about nice stats in a bad conference on a loaded team. Guy shouldn't be mentioned in the top 75 picks.

    I say we mortgage our first 2 picks to get Mallett and subsequently package our 4th and 5ths (whatever combination) and move up to get a Will Rackley type. I know people hate trading picks, but I'd rather get 2 quality guys over adding a bunch of camp fodder and hoping you hit Tom Brady and Tramon Williams.

  14. I don't think Mallet is as low as the Seahawks....He'll go to a better football team

  15. Your analysis of Locker is totally off the mark, and I think you're deluded if you think Mallett is going to be getting out of the way of any reasonably decent pass rusher. If a QB with some mobility like Jay Cutler is getting sacked 3-7 times a game, unless the team that drafts Mallett is godly on the OL he's going to get totally creamed. This is the most rose-tinted glasses view of the QB competition in this years' draft I've read, and my family is from Arkansas and would practically taste Mallett's food for him if there were assassination concerns.

  16. Locker 'maybe' has pocket elusiveness? Hahahahahaha.