Tuesday, May 03, 2011

SPORTS >> Mallett will get chance to mature

Leader sportswriter

Ryan Mallett has yet to play a down in the NFL, and his name is already being used in the same sentence with Tom Brady.

But obviously not in a strict comparison kind of way, as the former University of Arkansas quarterback and 2010 Premier Player of College Football award winner was taken as the second pick of the third round by the New England Patriots, 74th overall.

The jury on when Mallett would be selected was split down the middle, with most people closer to home saying he was a sure thing for the first round, while others on the national scene believed his off-field hijinks made him a risk and would lower his stock.

But just as anyone with an objective eye would have suspected, Mallett was picked near the middle of the annual get-rich-quick weekend for college dropouts with a nose for the gridiron.

Experts and analysts were always quick to praise Mallett’s size and the strength of his throwing arm leading up to the draft, but it usually served as a segue into discussions of his laundry list of supposed troubles.

Yes, there were some causes for concern, including reported use of controlled substances, not to mention his public-intoxication charge shortly after arriving on the Hill. Former dorm buddies at Michigan did little to help Mallett’s public image at a time when it was apparent the young man was sincerely trying to clean up his act.

Mallett’s one season in Ann Arbor before transferring to Fayetteville was allegedly action packed, on the playing field and beyond, according to various accounts.

The endless kiss-and-tell stories that depicted Mallett, then a freshman, as the most prolific of backseat Romeos came mostly from convenient “anonymous” sources, and the stories were frankly not much different than those of a number of high-profile college or professional athletes throughout the years.

Remember Wilt Chamberlain?

But Mallett held his own in the NFL combines and handled the intense scrutiny with as much grace as a 23-year-old in his predicament could be expected to with so much on the line and so many eyes watching.

Of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first round, three were expected to go high, including top overall pick Cam Newton of Auburn. Newton quickly surpassed Mallett and a host of other potential Heisman Trophy candidates last fall when he led the Tigers to the BCS national championship with an unbeaten record.

But one of the biggest surprises of the first round was Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, who was nabbed by the Minnesota Vikings as the 12th overall pick.

Overall for quarterbacks, Mallett was the seventh pick of 12, and one of three chosen SEC quarterbacks, which included Alabama’s Greg McElroy.

Now that he’s headed for the land of the Pilgrims’ pride, what does it mean for Mallett’s future? For starters, there’s Brady, the two-time Super Bowl MVP and fellow former Wolverine who actually graduated from Michigan.

There could not be a better example for Mallett to follow as he works to develop into a Sunday-afternoon quarterback. Solid, consistent, and mostly uncontroversial, Brady has virtually set the bar for the modern-day NFL signal caller.

Yes, we do like Peyton Manning, Mike Vick and Ben Roethlisberger, but as the old adage goes, “check the rings, baby!”

Whether or not Mallett takes character lessons from the squeaky clean Brady remains to be seen, but how about this for the pragmatic among you: Tom Brady holds the record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception to start an NFL career (162) and also holds the regular-season record with 338 and counting, a streak began in late October.

Only 2.19 percent of Brady’s career passes have been intercepted, a number second to Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers starter who has played considerably less time in the league.

There are plenty of other numbers Brady has posted in his amazing career for us to gush over.

But the oversimplified analysis is based on good decision-making — Brady has it, Mallett needs it.

So for those of you still offended that Mallett was not scooped up in the first 10 draft picks, look at it this way, he landed in a place where he can be nurtured into becoming a top-caliber pro quarterback, and maybe pick up the line on enhanced maturity along the way.