The Seattle Seahawks are in the second day of a two-day hosting of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who is ranked by most draft experts as the third- to fifth-best quarterback in this draft class. At 6-foot-7 and 253 pounds, Mallett will enter the NFL as the tallest quarterback since well, since a certain Dan McGwire came into the league as the 16th overall selection in the 1991 NFL draft.
The famed brother of baseball slugger Mark was the tallest quarterback in NFL history at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, but McGwire could never bring his figurative stature anywhere near his actual height.
Immobile and subpar from a passing perspective, McGwire lasted four seasons with the Seahawks, completing 74 passes in 148 attempts for 745 yards, two touchdowns, and six interceptions. He was part of the quarterback rotation in the Seahawks 1992 season, in which the team went 2-14 and put up what may have been the worst offense in NFL history (and by far the worst passing efficiency metrics in Football Outsiders 20 years of advanced stats).
Mallett has a far better and more accurate arm than McGwire could dream of its the best arm in this draft class, and probably the best arm from a draft prospect since Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens came out of Delaware in 2008.
In Bobby Petrinos offense at Arkansas, Mallett was able to complete just about any pass on time and in tight windows. From that perspective alone if the quarterback position in 2011 was just about arm strength Mallett would probably be the first player taken in this draft.
Problem is, the quarterback position is about much more these days, and to pinpoint the effects of Malletts primary liability a pronounced lack of mobility all you have to do is review the two quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are quite possibly the NFLs two best quarterbacks at not only evading pressure, but making great plays on the run. Over the last two seasons, according to Football Outsiders DVOA metrics, no quarterbacks have been more efficient after theyre pressured and flushed out of the pocket. Combining efficiency with escapability is a must against the advanced blitzes at the pro level.
But for Mallett, anything that forced him out of the pocket and upsets his timing can lead to disaster. Hes decent enough when rolling out on his own to extend a play, but when hes forced to reset his passing expectations by an on coming defender, he balks and makes poor decisions.
The 5.47 40-yard dash Mallett ran at his pro day is a concern to a degree, but its more about his extremely slow 10-yard splits quarterbacks dont generally run 40 yards in a straight line, but they are often asked to get outside the pocket and make shorter runs to stay alive and continue to make plays. Because of his height, Mallett takes too long to reset his body after moving in and out of the pocket, and quarterbacks have to have quicker reactions than ever before.
This makes him a very curious fit for the kind of West Coast Offense the Seahawks will ostensibly be running under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Above all, West Coast Offense quarterbacks are required to get in motion effectively and quickly after all, the most famous play in the history of the WCO is the sprint right option Joe Montana used to hit Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone in the 1981 NFC Championship against the Dallas Cowboys. That play set the Bill Walsh offense on a dynastic path that is as valid today as it has been for the last 30 seasons, but any team running it must have the right type of quarterback. Even a cursory look at game tape will tell you that Mallett would be a very tough fit in such an offense.
Based on his interest in Mallett, and his third-round trade to the San Diego Chargers last year for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, its fairly clear that Seahawks general manager John Schneider has an affinity for big, tall quarterbacks who can make all the throws.
However, the difference between Mallett and Whitehurst is that though Whitehurst still appears to be a very long way from NFL starting caliber, he can be used in certain option situations to be successful, and this was most evident in the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams. Whitehurst was given an abbreviated playbook and the directive to extend plays with his legs. He did that well enough to get the Seahawks in the playoffs, but Mallett would have been a sitting duck in similar circumstances.
If Schneider wants an oak tree with functional mobility at the quarterback position out of this draft class, hed do better to take a good, hard look at Nevadas Colin Kaepernick, the only player in NCAA history to run for 4,000 yards and throw for 10,000 yards in his career. Not only can Kaepernick make a range of throws, hes also very mobile, he has a great feel for play action given his history with the Pistol offense, and he can get downfield on his own. A comprehensive look at Kaepernicks game tape resulted in the following recent scouting report:
Pros: In the Pistol (where he’s usually lined up four yards behind center, with a running back three yards behind him), Kaepernick has exceptional field vision, sense, and timing, understanding his limited reads after a playfake to a possible bootleg he’s completely conversant with that system. Good build that allows him to be a very physical runner he’ll probably make his NFL coach nervous with his predilection for running into and past hits as opposed to out of bounds. Nevada’s offense was complex enough from a route perspective to give him a good overview of the throws he’ll need to make in the NFL. Is used to throwing on the run to the point where he can do so accurately in just about any situation even across his body and against his own momentum.
Cons: Has a serious lag in his throwing motion and a very wide wingspan that will make it tough for him to rein everything in and become more mechanically streamlined Kaepernick brings the ball up and out in kind of a truncated “pizza delivery” pose before letting the ball go. Years in a read-and-run offense will probably have him thinking to bail out of pressure before he should, though this is more a schematic concern and less an issue of him fearing contact. Intermediate to deep spirals could be a bit tighter at times passes will sail on him once in a while, which is what we saw at the combine.
Motion and release point varies (this is a problem shared with Washington’s Jake Locker, making me wonder if it’s an ex-pitcher-centric issue). Will need to show consistent ability to operate under center, but this is less an issue than some might think.
Conclusion: In every draft, there’s a pick that comes out of nowhere and leaves everyone surprised. Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked most observers by taking Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu with the 10th overall pick when many had him at a second-round grade. Similarly, in a quarterback class that is muddled at best, I’m of the belief that NFL teams are going to rate Kaepernick higher and higher the more they watch him, talk with him, and work him out.
He needs adjustments to his throwing motion and overall offensive concepts, but in an NFL where there’s three times as many shotgun sets as there were a decade ago, and Chan Gailey put together a productive NFL offense based on the Pistol with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, forward-thinking executives looking for real value at the game’s most important position might zero in on Kaepernick and make him this year’s out-of-the-box first-rounder. The Josh Freeman comp is based less on specific attributes and more on the fact that Freeman had all the measurables and intangibles in a unique package like Kaepernick.
Note: Doug Farrar will be talking about the Seahawks’ quarterback situation, the NFL Draft, and all other pro football subjects during this week’s NFL chat. It starts tonight at 8:00 PM, so feel free to jump in and converse!