NEW YORK – The New England Patriots' selection of Ryan Mallett in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft on Friday may have made sense in a lot of ways, but it did beg one big question: Is coach Bill Belichick focused on what he has left of the Tom Brady(notes) era or is he setting up for the 2014 season?
The Patriots rescued Mallett from his draft freefall, nabbing him with the No. 74 overall pick. It was a stunning drop for a quarterback at one time considered a strong first-round candidate. Mallett has what many scouts consider the strongest arm of all the quarterbacks in this draft, is very accurate and has excellent size at 6-foot-7, 248 pounds.
However, for a team that many people believe needed an injection of youth and talent in their defensive front seven, New England didn't do anything to fix what appears to ail them the most. Rather, it added depth at a position that could be considered a luxury with the presence of Brady.
The downside is that Mallett is seen as an immature guy who has a history of making bad decisions at critical times. Beyond that, rumors about drug use in college have haunted him for months. Mallett said Friday that much of the information out there on him was "false," but then declined to elaborate. His decision not to address the rumors publicly has been seen as a sign of immaturity by several NFL team executives.
"He's not my type of guy, I'll just put it to you that way," an NFL general manager said earlier this month. "I can't see him standing up in front of a team and being taken seriously when he spoke."
While the attitude of executives and coaches from around the league was negative, there is no denying the physical skills.
"He can flat-out throw," an NFC assistant coach said. "Any throw you can draw, he can do it. Deep outs, post, intermediate stuff between the linebackers and the safeties, tight spots, whatever. Pretty throwing motion, quick release and even pretty good footwork for a slow guy."
Mallett's arm wasn't enough to make teams overlook the red flags.
"Just an odd kid. You talk to him and you get this feeling like he just doesn't understand what this is all about. Nice enough kid, but just kind of clueless and goofy. It's like he's in his own world," the assistant coach said.
In that respect, New England might be the best place for him, where he will be in a vice grip of expectation between Belichick and three-time Super Bowl winner Brady.
"I'm so happy for him, that's a great situation," Super Bowl-winning coach and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said after the third round concluded. "I like the kid and there's going to be pressure on him to get better. Anytime you have Belichick around you, you have pressure.
"But yeah, he won't have to play right away. He can sit and learn and see what happens."
Belichick had success last year dealing with tight end Aaron Hernandez(notes), who reportedly failed multiple drug tests at Florida, grabbing him in the fourth round when many considered him a first- or second-round talent.
After taking Mallett, Belichick said it was simply a matter of getting good value in the draft.
"We just felt like he was a good player," Belichick said. "He's had a lot of production. He's won everywhere he's been: high school, college. He did a good job at Michigan. They came in and changed offenses and that was definitely beyond his control. … He's an impressive guy to talk to."
At the same time, this pick is slightly curious. At 33, Brady would appear to have at least three good years ahead of him after leading the Patriots to a 14-2 record last season. If Brady, who the Patriots obviously tried to help by selecting offensive tackle Nate Solder(notes) in the first round and running backs Shane Vereen(notes) and Stefan Ridley in the second and third rounds, respectively, can stay healthy, there's a good chance Mallett may never play for the Patriots.
Brady was sacked 25 times in 2010.
Brady has had an assortment of injuries and surgeries over the past three years. There was the missed 2008 season with the knee injury. He had foot surgery after last season and dealt with broken ribs, a broken finger and a sports hernia over the past three seasons. He's generally one of the most-hit quarterbacks in the league each season because of his willingness to stand in the pocket against pressure.
In other words, Mallett isn't a bad way to hedge a bet. For example, the Patriots turned former seventh-round pick Matt Cassel(notes) into a second-round pick after he played most of the 2008 season. In short, there are far worse ways than taking quarterbacks if you're looking for a future return on a draft pick. In all, Belichick saw this as a solid gamble.
"I think you have to take some of those things into consideration and certainly I think you have to look at the situation of how high you can take on at that position," Belichick said. "You get into the situation like San Diego did a few years ago where they took [Philip] Rivers and had to get rid of [Drew] Brees – or had to get rid of somebody. I think when you do that in the first round, it's a little bit of a different scenario. Once you get past that first round, I think it changes a little bit. We felt – I mean, look, I don't think you can have too much depth at that position. We've all seen what can happen there. We got by last year – or really the last two years – with basically just two guys. And you put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run it, so it's good to have depth at that position."
While all of that makes sense, what also would have made sense was to get a pass rusher or two for a defense that pales in comparison to what New England had during its run of three titles. Instead of selecting one of the dozen defensive linemen in the first round, the Patriots took Solder and then traded out of the first round with their other pick.
They followed that up with cornerback Ras-I Dowling(notes), the two running backs, and then Mallett. While the QB could end up paying off in the long run, the Patriots are a team seemingly built to win now.
Not a team that should be thinking about its long-term future.