'The NFL Beat': Ryan Mallett Learning From the Best

The 'Chronicle' catches up with a former Texas high school star

'The NFL Beat': Ryan Mallett Learning From the Best

In 2007, Texarkana (Texas high school) QB Ryan Mallett was the top HS player in the state according to various recruiting services.

Throughout his prolific high school career Mallett threw for close to 8,000 yards with a 72-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, every college in the country wanted him.

Initially, Mallett committed to the University of Michigan and played one season there before Rich Rodriguez was named head coach. Along with Rodriguez came the spread-option offense, and there was little need for a 6 foot, 7 inch QB with a cannon of a throwing arm, but little mobility to speak of.

Since the minute Mallett stepped foot on a college campus, the expectation was that he could be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft one day. So, when he decided to transfer from Michigan, the recruiting battle heated up once again.

Among the schools that Mallett seriously considered transferring to were Texas A&M, Tennessee, UCLA, and Arkansas. Nearly every day for the second year in a row, Mallett was wooed and begged to sign with most every football powerhouse in the United States.

With so much attention and notoriety bestowed upon an 18-year-old kid, a sense of entitlement can be forged and an immaturity developed. Not to mention the pressure to live up to ridiculous expectations.

Ultimately Mallett decided to attend the University of Arkansas and “come back home." Mallett was named “starter-in-waiting." Little doubt remained that under the tutelage of former Atlanta Falcons head coach and QB guru Bobby Petrino that Mallett would develop into a first-round pick.

Mallett didn’t have to wait long to become the starter at Arkansas. Once he became eligible under NCAA guidelines, he was named the starter and played in each game until he declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft after the 2010 college football season ended.

Mallett lived up to most of the expectations, and had a very good career while at Arkansas, passing for 7,493 yards, 62 touchdowns, with a 60.3 completion percentage. However, a career which saw him break 16 school records on the football field and lead Arkansas to the Sugar Bowl was overshadowed by off-the-field run-ins and rumors of questionable behavior.

Mallett was arrested for public intoxication in 2009, and innuendoes of drug use encompassed his career at Arkansas. Despite all that, he put himself in position to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, which was supposed to be the plan all along.

As current Patriots QB and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady can attest, the NFL Draft doesn’t always go as planned.

Brady had to wait an excruciating six rounds and 199 picks before hearing his name called. Not only that – he had to watch six quarterbacks be drafted before him. Quarterbacks he knew he was better than.

Brady was never projected to be a high pick, but being passed over 198 times has left a giant chip on his shoulder and has driven him to this day. He has worked harder and has stayed more determined than just about any player in the league.

Mallett was considered a first-round pick up until the day of the 2011 draft. During the process, he faced constant questions about character, immaturity, and off-the-field behavior. However, as the draft approached it looked like his talent and “god given right arm” would outweigh the question marks.

Round one concluded and Mallett didn’t hear is name called. With the new NFL Draft format, round two was scheduled for the next day, a brutal 20-hour wait, but surely his name would be called early on.

It wasn’t, Mallett had to wait 74 agonizing picks and watch six quarterbacks be selected before him. QBs Mallett knew he was better than.

Finally the New England Patriots, a team that already had a Hall of Fame quarterback entrenched as their starter, made him their selection.

One quote from that day has resonated with me when it comes to Ryan Mallett. It was said by current ESPN analyst and former NFL Head Coach Jon Gruden. When Mallett was drafted by the Patriots 74th overall he said:

“For this kid to have the opportunity to play for Bill Belichick and watch Tom Brady on a daily basis, this is the best thing that has ever happened to Ryan Mallett, I don’t care if he was the first pick in the draft. I’d rather be in position that he is in right now.”

Sure, Mallett could have been drafted in the first round, made a lot more money, and become the “future” of a losing franchise. Instead he was going to a team with structure, a Hall of Fame head coach who demands the best from his players, and a Hall of Fame QB who demands even more.

It was the best possible scenario for a kid that needed a little guidance and a little growing up to do.

If Mallett was taken in the first round he would be constantly visible. He would have been thrown right into the fire and would have faced criticism for almost any mistake. That alone is enough to ruin a quarterback’s career.

Instead, Mallett is not seen or heard from, unless it’s on the practice field or in a preseason game. Instead of playing in actual games, he is observing and learning from the best in the world. Learning what it means to be a professional, learning the meaning of hard work and learning what it takes to be a successful QB in the NFL.

As Mallett told the Chronicle, “I’m trying to learn each and every day. There is always something new I can learn and that is what I am trying to do.”

Mallett was criticized for not being in the best shape before the NFL Draft, but this season he has come into training camp in much better shape and noticeably thinner. Mallett was known for his borderline cocky personality while in high school and college. Now he is indoctrinated in the Patriot way.

When asked what specifically he was trying to improve on in training camp, he told the Chronicle, “I am just trying to get better at everything, each day, just trying to improve.”

Who does that sound like to you?

Based on the first week of Patriots training camp, Mallett is staying true to his word and getting better each day. On the fourth day of practice at Patriots training camp, Mallett had what many people close to the Patriots say was his best day since he had been there. His footwork looks better, he’s not thinking as much, and he is learning how to use his arm strength more efficiently.

That’s not to say that every day will be that good, there’s no scientific formula when developing a QB and everyone is different. But, with the situation Mallett landed in, his chances of reaching his potential are increased exponentially.

There’s no doubt Mallett will face struggles along the way, as every quarterback does. Instead of going through those struggles and growing pains alone, Mallett has Brady to turn to. Mallett told the Chronicle, “Tom Brady has helped me a whole lot. Not just me but the whole team. Brady demands a lot out of everyone.”

For Mallett specifically, Brady has been through the same struggles and he will face the same situations and the same growing pains. Brady knows what it’s like to fight for a starting QB job and he knows what it’s like to be passed over.

For Mallett, he is once again the “starter-in-waiting." This time around he may have to wait a little longer than he probably anticipated, but while he waits he is growing as a person and “getting better each day” as a quarterback.

When the opportunity presents itself, Mallett will still have that same “cannon for a right arm” but he will also have a wealth of invaluable tools and skills, which were taught to him by two of the most successful people in history of the NFL.

That is something that no amount of money can buy and something that nobody will be able to take away from him. Jon Gruden was right; this was the best thing that ever happened to Ryan Mallett.

[Mike Loyko (follow on Twitter) is a freelance NFL journalist, Boston-area sports media authority, editor and lead scout at NEPatriotsDraft.com and Director of Pro Scouting at Rosterwatch.com.]

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Ryan Mallett, Patriots, Texarkana

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