Still, after Ryan Mallett's performance on Thursday night in New England's 47-12 dismantling of Jacksonville, it certainly appears at first blush as if the Patriots got another quarterback steal. Yeah, we know: After nearly three-and-a-half decades of trying to learn this job, you think we'd know better than to offer a knee-jerk reaction to a young quarterback who many regarded as, well, a jerk entering the '11 draft.
But if you watched Mallett in his NFL debut, you couldn't help but be impressed by his poise, pocket presence, decision-making skills and raw passing strength. In his one half of action against the Jacksonville reserves, the former Arkansas star completed 12 of 19 passes for 164 yards, with one score, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 108.2.
Among the 16 rookie quarterbacks (10 draft choices and six free agents) who saw action over the weekend, none had a better passer rating. Only one, Baltimore sixth-round choice Tyrod Taylor, threw for more yards. Taylor was the only one with more attempts, and he threw two interceptions. Just one other of the 10 draft picks, Jake Locker of Tennessee -- whose selection by the Titans was similarly questioned by the pundits -- managed a touchdown pass.
A third-round choice, the 74th selection overall nearly four months ago, and with six other quarterbacks off the board ahead of him, Mallett worked five series, and the Pats scored touchdowns on the first four of them. The final sequence ended with New England deep in Jaguars' territory again, and Mallett taking three kneel-downs to mercifully end the evening. On a night when the 15 other rookies who played took a sack every 5.17 "dropbacks," Mallett, who is reputed to have poor feet and who ran a ponderous 5.37-second 40-yard time at his school's "Pro Day" workout, was not dumped a single time.
The final two passers in the 2011 rookie class, T.J. Yates of Houston and the New York Jets' Greg McElroy, make their first appearances Monday night. But the two youngsters will have to be extraordinarily special to eclipse what Mallett did in his introduction to the league.
[Editor's Note: Yates completed 6 of 12 passes for 50 yards, and was sacked twice. McElroy completed 23 of 39 passes for 208 yards and 1 TD. He was sacked 5 times.]
It doesn't take a professor to assess that, as a whole, the league's rookie class acquitted itself pretty well over the weekend. Nor does one have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that, even with a limited body of work on which to draw a conclusion, Mallett is an intriguing prospect.
Given the unfounded drug-use rumors that hounded Mallett before the draft, and an off-putting personality that rivaled that of his college head coach and mentor, Bobby Petrino, for brusqueness and lack of tolerance, it's somewhat understandable that so many franchises in need of a quarterback passed on the former Razorbacks star. Yet in a league that places such a premium on physical skill, one look at the manner in which Mallett can sling a football still makes the slights somewhat puzzling.
A pariah to some scouts who evaluated the 2011 quarterback class, Mallett could end up being the best of the bunch.
Even before Friday night, there were whispers that New England and coach Bill Belichick, a man and a franchise whose due diligence on prospects is unrivaled, enacted one of the draft's heists in landing Mallett in the third round. The notion is likely to become more than just an idle suggestion.
As is the widely held belief that Belichick and the Patriots will nurture Mallett for a few seasons, surround him with the leadership and structure that exists in the organization, and then deem him either the successor to Tom Brady or attractive trade bait.
Again, it's only one game, and a preseason opener at that, but possibly every bit as admirable as Mallett's ability to throw a football is Belichick's polished eye for discerning quarterback talent. The flawed read on Belichick us that he is a defensive genius only, with only a passing familiarity for the offensive side of the ball.
But take a look at the seemingly ordinary quarterbacks with which Belichick has made do during his New England tenure. Since the departure of Drew Bledsoe after the 2001 season, the Patriots' quarterbacks not named Tom Brady who have launched regular-season pass attempts have been Damon Huard, Rohan Davey, Doug Flutie, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Cassel, Kevin O'Connell, Matt Gutierrez and Brian Hoyer.
Not exactly a murder's row.
An undrafted college free agent, Hoyer will begin his third season as Brady's caddy. He might be better than current starters for several teams.
Since he became the New England coach in 2000, Belichick has never selected a quarterback above the third round of the draft. Four of the seven quarterbacks he has chosen during his tenure were taken in the sixth or seventh rounds. Even Brady was a sixth-rounder.
He turned Cassel, a seventh-rounder in 2005 who had thrown just 33 passes in his career at Southern Cal, into a starter and, almost as important, a second-round pick in compensation when he was dealt to Kansas City in 2009. It's early, for sure, and Friday night's performance might have elicited some premature hype.
But the bet here is that he turns Mallett, the highest quarterback ever chosen by the Pats during the Belickick regime, into something as well.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.
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