With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who completed 528 passes in 908 attempts for 8108 yards, 67 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in his time with Michigan (one season) and Arkansas (two seasons; he sat out the 2008 season after transferring). He moved from Michigan to Arkansas to get away from the spread offense run by Rich Rodriguez, and move to the more traditionally dynamic offense led by Bobby Petrino.
Pros: Mallett has the best pure arm of the 2011 draft class; he has no problem firing away on deep posts and sideline routes, and he has an easy delivery with throws that most quarterbacks would have to heave with all their might. At his best, he can zip the ball into short spaces and beat any coverage. Incredibly productive at Arkansas; set several school and conference passing records. Tall player with no trouble establishing sightlines after the snap. Good accuracy in the pocket on all throws, and he really can make them all ... if he's not pressured.
Cons: Mechanical issues plague Mallett in nearly every aspect of his game. At 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds, he's not a runner at all, nor is he effectively mobile in or out of the pocket. His footwork has improved to a degree, but he's still clumsy when navigating his way through pressure. Loses accuracy when leaving the pocket and on the move, even when throwing little bailout routes.
On the move, he has trouble coordinating short-to-intermediate timing routes (slants and crosses) to a really worrisome degree for a guy who's about to don an NFL uniform. Padded his stats to a fairly decent extent with quick throws to wide-open receivers in the flat in Bobby Petrino's wide-open offense. For a guy with an arm this big, Mallett lacks the ability to make repeatable stick throws downfield when he's under pressure.
Character concerns have followed him from Michigan to Arkansas - he's said to have a very elevated view of his own abilities, and the rumors about his off-field activities are already starting. Every year, it seems as if there's one player whose extracurricular activities (real or imagined) becomes the talk of the pre-draft process. Mallett's odds are as good as anyone's in 2011.
Conclusion: If there's one thing the two quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLV showed, it's that the ability to beat pressure in a productive fashion is more important that it has ever been. In a lot of ways, Mallett is the anti-version of Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Ben Roethlisberger(notes), two star quarterbacks who have built estimable careers on their abilities to frustrate defenses no end by evading hits and hurries and consistently throwing for killer downfield gains. He's more the older-style quarterback (think Drew Bledsoe) with a great arm and a lack of modern-day skills around it.
Think of him as a statue with a cannon attached, and then ask yourself how well such a player would do against the 2010 defenses of Dick LeBeau and Rex Ryan. To be an elite NFL quarterback, Mallett will need a top-5 pass-blocking line, and there isn't much room for error there.
I have my own football biases, and having grown up watching quarterbacks in West Coast offenses from Montana to Young to Elway to Hasselbeck, I'm accustomed to players with functional mobility and advanced route concepts. As a result, I wouldn't put Mallett anywhere near my own hypothetical draft board - it will take an organization inordinately in love with deep-ball quarterbacks to try and make Mallet the centerpiece of its offense. As much as I don't enjoy writing profoundly negative scouting reports of draft prospects, Mallett has as many warning flags as any potential first-round quarterback I've ever seen.
- Bobby Petrino