Ryan Mallett is scheduled to be in South Florida today to meet with the Dolphins for, by my estimate, the fourth time since the Indianapolis Combine in February.
Mallett is obviously more than just a passing fancy for the quarterback-hungry team. He is, by any definition, a player they are seriously studying and seriously considering in the coming draft. (Please note I did not say they will take him at No. 15 overall. I think they would consider him if they can trade down and pick up a second-rounder they lack or an extra third rounder.) So there's that.
Mallett is fascinating to me.
He has so much promise. And he's got some obvious red flags.
The promise? It's pretty obvious. He has a great arm. He can throw the football 80 yards. He also has great confidence. "Trying to be like Tom [Brady] and Peyton [Manning] and guys like that is something that I strive for," Mallett said. "I watch the way they play the game. They control the game at the line of scrimmage and that's what I like to do."
You have to appreciate the unmitigated swag of a quarterback who has not thrown even one NFL pass and already is comparing himself to future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Yes, there is a but as large as Mallett's 6-foot-7 frame. It's the reason Mallett is not a likely Top 10 pick and perhaps will have to wait until the latter part of the first round to get selected in the April 28 draft.
The waving red flags are plentiful. He did have consumption issues in college, according to a source. He did drink. At multiple times. To excess. That is a fact all teams know about. Drugs? I cannot report to you with certainty on that topic so I am not going there.
Don't diminish the alcohol. We're talking about a 22-year-old coming to South Florida. South Florida simultaneously offers and threatens a lifestyle about a million times faster than Mallett's native Texarkana, Texas. There are fifty ways to get in trouble on Miami Beach after you've had just one too many. Ask Fred Evans about that. (Google his South Beach moment).
So do not dismiss the beverages issue.
There are also whispers -- and they haven't diminished, but rather have increased -- about his unimpressive leadership qualities. A QB must be a leader. A guard doesn't have to be. A nose tackle doesn't have to be. A quarterback cannot succeed in the NFL if he is not a leader.
Frankly, the rumblings I'm hearing is that Mallett shrank in big moments during games and did it time and again. When the pressure was on most, he stepped tentatively. That is an issue because the fine NFL quarterbacks must play at their best under pressure, in the spotlight, and in the face of enormous odds.
NFL quarterbacks are the faces of billion-dollar franchises. Pressure? They better be comfortable with pressure both on and off the field.
But I am more interested in football and Mallett is more than the 32 TDs and 3,869 yards he rolled up as a junior. He is more than the 69 TDs and 8,388 yards he churned in limited 2007 action with Michigan and in 2009-10 as the starter at Arkansas.
The positives? There are plenty.
He improved, for starters. His completion percentage went from 55.8 in 2009 to 64.7 last season. That shows he learns, he adapts, he responds to coaching. Yes, he also threw for more more yards, touchdowns, and had a higher yard per attempt statistic last year than the year before. All excellent signs.
Mallett did this while playing in the Southeastern Conference, which is as close to the NFL as you're going to get without actually being in the NFL -- and that includes the UFL and Arena League.
Mallett was a classic passer in college. His team used the pro-style attack which is a big plus because his transition to the NFL won't be as difficult as if he was coming from the spread option.
His third down completion percentage was 64.1 last year with 8 TDs and 2 INTs. That means even when the defense expected him to throw, during football's money down, he was effective.
He was nails on third-and-three-to-seven-yard plays. He completed 72.7 percent of those throws. And he was even good on third-and-eight-to-10-yard situations in completing 55 percent of those throws. He was outstanding on third and very long. He completed 59.3 percent of his passes on third-and-11-plus- yards last season. That is, again, excellent.
So that makes him star quality.
But watch Mallet on tape, dig a little deeper into Mallett's impressive stats, and you start to see a couple of warts.
When the competition got better, Mallett got worse. Yes, he threw five TD passes vs. UTEP. Yes, he threw for 400 yards against Louisiana-Monroe. But I don't frankly give a darn about those. Last I heard, UTEP isn't on the Dolphins schedule any time soon.
Against ranked opponents, Ryan Mallett was only slightly better than average. He threw only 11 of his 32 TDs (34 percent) against ranked opponents. But he threw eight of his 12 interceptions (66 percent) against those same ranked teams. That should raise an eyebrow.
This should also: He faced one NFL-caliber defensive scheme in 2010. Nick Saban runs exactly that at Alabama. Watching them on tape is like watching Miami's defense in 2005 and 2006.
And, frankly, the Crimson Tide defense rolled Mallett. He threw 1 TD pass and 3 INTs in that game. His mistakes -- misreading coverage, not anticipating, inaccuracy, getting rattled -- were partially responsible for his team blowing a lead and ultimately losing.
And that kind of performance against the best competition was not isolated. It was, in fact, almost a pattern. He threw for a modest 96 yards against Auburn. He completed only 53 percent of his passes his final two games of the season against LSU and Ohio State.
In the video below, Mallett shows a bit of a testy side as he walks off during what was yet another question about the drug rumors. That has raised minor questions with some teams. I don't have a big problem with it. Dan Marino often got snarky with the media, too. So that is a non-issue to me.
What interests me in the video is Mallett admitting he's not meant for running around the field. That is obvious from watching him play. That is a major, major, major, major, major concern for me. I don't worry about him resembling Michael Vick. I don't need that. But a quarterback in today's NFL must, must, must, must be able to slide and glide and move in the pocket. That's not an option. That must come standard.
I don't think it comes standard with Mallett. If his receivers don't come open quickly, he's toast. If his blocking isn't pristine, he's toast.
And if you blitz him, he's burnt toast because he not only doesn't move well, but isn't good at recognizing the coming blitz, either. He is well below average on this issue.
As a result, the man who threw 69 career TDs in college was also sacked 61 times. That means you're just as likely to get a sack as a scoring pass from this guy. And that was behind what was by most accounts very solid collegiate offensive lines.
So why is that a concern? Well, aside from the fact that a sack is a negative play -- particularly in the red zone or within field goal range -- it means you got hit. And hits in the NFL result in injuries. And injured quarterbacks either don't play as well or don't play at all.
And that leads to loses. And loses lead to coaches and general managers getting fired.
If Mallett cannot develop a better approach to evading sacks and even hits that don't lead to sacks, his career will be in much greater risk than quarterbacks who do have that ability.
The Dolphins, indeed, any team must measure that potential risk as they think about investing a draft pick, and probably a signature pick, on what could essentially be a sitting duck who's wearing a target on his back.
The Dolphins must chew on all these things and more.
They'll be masticating plenty today when Mallett is scheduled to be at the team's facility.