Part 1 of the Ryan Mallett series can be found here.
In typical fashion, much of the sports community is only now taking a fair look at the Arkansas signal-caller and judging him in the light of actual NFL attributes. He's a polarizing figure, to be sure. All it takes in this reactionary pre-draft environment is one notable writer or reporter to laud a guy, and suddenly everyone starts jumping on board. ESPN ran a front-page piece on him this week. Phil Simms pumped up the guy. Jon Gruden hosted a whiteboard session in which Mallett blew Cam Newton and Andy Dalton out of the water in a demonstration of his grasp of pro-level offensive concepts. And now Greg Cosell, a knowledgeable scout and draftnik, is tweeting about him in the context of actual NFL offenses.
With the hype machine finally swinging in Mallett's favor for once, expect a resurgence of his draft stock. Some draft experts will keep Mallett in Round 2, but I'm fairly sure they'll be proven wrong on draft day when some desperate team reaches for him.
And it's not insane to say that said team should be the Seattle Seahawks, even despite rumors that they're not interested. (Rob Rang claims they still are.)
Which is why, when our little draft team traded up from #25 to #15 to select Mallett in the Mock Three Twitter draft, we raised a few eyebrows. Several people asked why, Adam Wright of Seahawks Talk thought it too costly, and a couple guys said we could have waited until the #57 pick to grab him, if not the third round.
Most of the rest of you just say - rightfully - that the team has too many holes to fill and can't afford giving up a second-round pick to trade up.
Here's part two of my defense.
Holes on the Team
People say that Seattle lacks the offensive talent to protect or enable a rookie quarterback. They're not exactly wrong. It could be worse; we have our franchise left tackle, some decent receivers, a determined pair of running backs, and possibly a solid center and right tackle depending on how the front office plays its cards. But much of this talent isn't translating to a cohesive offense, and other offensive positions (guard) remain gaping holes that may leave a rookie QB exposed.
So if Seattle were to sacrifice a second-round pick to trade up in the first round, they'd need a strong justification. Let me offer one.
Have you ever noticed how defenses tend to stack and crowd any offensive line with Matt Hasselbeck behind it? The amount of pressure Seattle's O-line has endured the last few years is above NFL norms. Teams commit heavier blitzes against the line, choke Hass's throwing lanes, and jump receivers' routes. This hasn't been a rule, but a noticeable trend for sure. They know Hasselbeck can't punish pressure by throwing over the top of this raging swarm; he doesn't have the arm. So defenses can pile on the pressure without risking much. This isn't anti-Hasselbeck bias; it's how the NFL works against any weak-armed QB.
Many folks don't notice the difference because they don't watch other teams. Defenses don't dare pull that crap against Drew Brees. He'll rip the top off your defense. They don't try it against Peyton Manning either; his system is built to defeat pressure with his quick reads and quick throws (system built around QB, not the other way around). The jobs of their offensive lines are much easier; the pressure they have to contend with is both lighter and more tentative because of the downfield threat.
Allow me to hypothesize: what if Seattle's holes could be filled in somewhat by relieving the pressure? What if the Seahawks deployed a strong-armed QB who deterred defenses from crowding the line and forced them to back off? An arm like Ryan Mallett's could accomplish this, to an extent, almost by default. And it's not just his arm strength. If Mallett were an empty cannon, I'd be concerned. But unlike some such players, he has the accuracy and the experience reading and adjusting defenses to enable that gun of his. A QB with those tools can pick apart even tight defenses with his arm strength and game savvy, and can do so consistently enough to base an offense on it. Defenses will back off accordingly to defend that deep game.
How much better might Chester Pitts, Max Unger, and Stacy Andrews look without having to contend with blitzers every other play?
How much more running room might Marshawn Lynch have with defenses stacking the box less often?
How many more yards might deep threats like Deon Butler and Ben Obomanu rack up with a QB who can take advantage of their deep-threat skill sets?
I'm not saying that a QB will turn everyone into Pro Bowlers. Some of these players' struggles are purely their own. I am hypothesizing that a rookie QB with a good arm and quick read could take some pressure off the talent around him, improve them from "awful" to "serviceable enough to delay replacing". That's how good NFL offenses tend to work. Offenses have to scheme and tweak to accomodate a QB with limited arm strength, while big-armed QB's demand less and could be thought of as "lower-maintenance". (Seriously, give Greg Cosell's Twitter stream a follow. It's great stuff.)
That's my hypothesis. We'll see how valid it is.
No, quarterbacks do not bear the entire burden for an offense's success. I know at least one reader who's getting sick of me "blaming Matt Hasselbeck" for everything, and that would be unjust. In reality, I'm just emphasizing elements of offensive play that we don't always consider (how a QB helps the offense), while setting aside those we already know (how they help the QB). Of course a first-round guard would help. But because of the two-way dynamics between a QB and his surrounding talent, I simply believe a fresh quarterback would help more.
Seattle will need quite the quantum leap in the first round to trade ahead of the QB-needy teams best positioned to take him - Jacksonville, Miami, and possibly Minnesota. This would demand our first- and second-round pick. For a team loaded with holes and lacking a third-rounder, that's admittedly a heavy trade. (And to be honest, any team without a franchise QB is at least a slight threat to take the guy, including second-round teams looking to leapfrog us. Never say never.)
But here's how it could be justified: if a QB can improve the talent around him, the resulting boost in production could have the effect of drafting multiple starters in one pick. That would mitigate the loss of the second-rounder. Unlike some, I do believe there's talent on this offense, perhaps waiting to be "unlocked" in a manner similar to how I "unlock" half my pantry by buying a gallon of milk. It's a necessary ingredient to all the Tuna Helper and other quick dinners I have in there; without the milk, it's all pretty bad.
This trade-up is certainly high-risk and high-reward. Rob Staton is all for the idea; Danny Kelly is more conservative. I find myself somewhere between the two. If Mallett busts, you're out two starter picks, not just one, and the image of this front office suffers accordingly (GMs' images are most connected to QB handling). If it pans out, though, it becomes a bold risk that makes them look like geniuses. Like most risks, a trade up for Mallett would be judged by its outcome.
We're talking a franchise-altering move here - the quarterback and leader of the team. There is no greater need on this team. It's so bad that other positions are suffering for it. You've got to factor that in when you talk about holes on this team.
Trading up for Ryan Mallett has to be at least a consideration. It would be a massive gamble, but I don't see it as unjustifiable. Obviously your opinion on this will be a synthesis of several elements, such as your opinion of Mallett, your value of a late second-rounder, and your views on the importance of the quarterback. But it also has to be mentioned that should Mallett experience the late rise that I expect, or if there's an early second-round team trying to move up for him, an expensive trade-up might be Seattle's only option to effectively fill this hole. #25 is no man's land for QB's this year, too low for the big four and too high for the third-tier guys like Kaepernick, Dalton, and Ponder - who, if history is any indication, won't do much anyway.
Not every rookie quarterback immediately makes his team better. I believe Mallett can. He's not a finished product by any means; he'll need time to develop his delivery, footwork, and decision-making. His mobility is probably fixed. But he'll be able to buy himself a lot of time, both in the pocket and in his development, with his accurate cannon arm and his ability to read coverages and run his offense. Those particular tools are huge for a QB stepping onto the field for the first time.
I know John Schneider just got done practically waving the #25 pick over his head saying "come and get it" to the second round teams. That could be honest, or it could be smoke and mirrors. There's no benefit for a GM who advertises his team's draft plans that blatantly. Yes, our front office was fairly transparent last year with its eventual picks, but that was with two high first-rounders that were hard to mess up. This year's #25 is less viable. Also, Schneider has never had either the opportunity with Seattle or the need with Green Bay to address the QB position in the draft like this. His approach here is still largely a blank slate.
Do I think it likely that Schneider will do this? Honestly, no. But I don't think it's impossible, either, nor would I complain if he did. Wes Bunting points out that Seattle is one of three teams doing thorough homework on Mallett. Michael Lombardi of NFL.com expects Mallett to be gone before #15 (he's a good fit for the established offense in Minnesota), but still thinks that Seattle could be interested, although Doug Farrar thinks the mobility issue makes Mallett a schematic misfit. I'll post soon on how I think Pete Carroll's offensive vision fits into all this.
This is what I keep coming back to: when I look at almost every QB in this draft, I see talent buried amidst the dysfunction, schemes, and uncertainty of a college quarterback. When I look at Ryan Mallett, I see the NFL peeking out. That's the undeniable difference for me, and it's all the upside I need. Seattle has to consider the guy, and shouldn't be shy about securing him. If you think a guy is a franchise quarterback, there's no better player to reach for.
To be continued...