I’ve made it my mission recently to watch college football games more intently, specifically with teams that have elite prospects that could intrigue the Buffalo Bills, who barring a miracle over their last six games will be picking early when the 2011 NFL draft commences next spring.
With growing sentiment that Andrew Luck will be the top player selected overall should he elect to come out (he’s only a sophomore)… and the strong possibility the Bills have played themselves out of the Luck sweepstakes in recent weeks, I made sure to catch Ryan Mallet of Arkansas, regarded by most as the second-best quarterback prospect after Luck, take on a tough LSU team Saturday afternoon.
I began my viewing completely on the fence regarding Mallet as worthy of an early first rounder by the Bills, and finished thinking the exact same thing. While I certainly don’t profess to being a draft day guru, nor will I ever be confused with Buddy Nix when it comes to evaluating talent, these eyes saw a lot to like— and not to like about Mallet.
For those who like comparisons to present/former NFL players, it’s remarkable how much Mallet reminds me of Drew Bledsoe. For those who remember the Bledsoe in Buffalo era, that comes with plenty of pros and cons.
Firstly, the good. Mallet can sling the football like few guys I’ve seen at the college level. There’s no question he can make all the throws. For having as strong an arm as Mallet possesses, he’s quite accurate with the football. No one will ever accuse him of lacking confidence and at 6-6, 238 pounds he has prototypical NFL size that most organizations will love.
But for all this talent, he’s not free from flaws. For starters, his mobility nearly makes Bledsoe look like Fran Tarkenton by comparison. To say Mallet’s never going to beat you with his feet is an understatement. He also, at least from what I saw in the LSU game, has a habit of occasional tunnel vision. Twice Mallet was picked and both times he was locked into one receiver and never wandered his eyes elsewhere. Like one of the Bills all-time greats, Jim Kelly, Mallet’s perceived overconfidence at times could work against him. He attempt to throw the ball in spots more mindful quarterbacks may not. Lastly, he’s sure to drive whatever team he goes to fans mad with his propensity for holding on to the ball too long.
Numbers-wise, I saw the Jekyll and Hyde version of Mallet against LSU. At times he was spectacular, especially in launching touchdowns of 85, 80 and 39 yards. But he also threw a pair of boneheaded picks while trying to force the ball into good coverage.
I turned on the television already wary of his slow footwork and at times was horror-struck seeing how statuesque he is in the pocket. Frankly, he could be a disaster if he’s surrounded by a weak offensive line.
Against LSU he finished 13-of-23 for 320 yards with three scores and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times. For the season he has 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and has thrown for 3,592 yards. Eight times this season he’s thrown for three or more touchdowns in a game. Statistically speaking, the man is unquestionably impressive.
At the end of the day, his physical skills will see him go very early in the draft. Carolina, Buffalo, San Francisco and possibly Cincinnati will be interested parties, not to mention teams that may want to move up to take him.
Assuming the Bills pick somewhere in the first half dozen spots and Mallet’s on the board, Nix will definitely have his work cut out for him. While some will make an argument for future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newtown, Mallet is the consensus second quarterback in this draft. From the limited time I’ve spent watching and reading about Mallet, he’s the kind of player that’ll literally drive a fan crazy. With the right coaching and development there’s no question he has franchise player potential.
At the same token, he’s the kind of player that could just as easily be the next Alex Smith or JaMarcus Russell.
I asked Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 for his opinion about Mallet. Buscaglia is a Bills reporter for the station and a college football enthusiast. His take is quite similar to mine.
“He’ll either be a top QB or a complete bust,” he said. “There’s no in between with him.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s surprising magical season makes things a little easier on the Bills. A month or so ago it was a foregone conclusion the Bills would be nab a quarterback with their first pick in April, whether it was the first, second, third or fourth rated prospect on the board. Heck, Ralph Wilson basically said so himself.
But the way Fitzpatrick is playing, that’s no longer automatically the case. Sure, the Bills could and probably should draft a quarterback when they’re on the clock. But it’s no longer life or death to the franchise. Fitzpatrick’s emergence allows the organization to not have to panic before handing in their draft card.
If they do decide to take Mallet, Luck, Newton or any quarterback for that matter, it’ll be because Nix is in love with him, not because he doesn’t have another alternative.
A lot can and surely will change between now and April. As of today if the Bills were on the clock and it was me running the draft, Mallet would be staying on the board. I think his “bust risk” is off the charts and with Fitzpatrick holding down the fort for now and the Bills recent history of first round failures; it’s not a chance I’d be willing to take.