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Drafting Mallett could be winning decision upon further review

I wrote a piece last month about Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and suggested back then that a solid investigation of his off-the-field issues was well worth the time and money. And apparently more than a few teams have done so.

"I'm on a plane every other day visiting clubs" Mallett said.

On the field, Mallett has what every team is looking for in a quarterback. All of a sudden it seems like the light has turned on for those who have studied him and done the work to dig deeper on his character and what the potential risks might be.

I spoke with Phil Simms last Friday on my Sirius NFL Radio show about the quarterbacks of this draft, and Phil said he began the 2010 college season with this thought: "There's Ryan Mallett in this draft and others to follow."

Maybe someone would emerge and, of course, Cam Newton did just that, but Phil already held Mallett in high regard. Phil believed that being coached by Bobby Petrino, who is tough on his players and gives the QB a lot of responsibility, was a huge plus for Mallett's development.

Phil has followed Mallett since his high school days and shared the story of the first time he saw him play and thought to himself, "there's an NFL quarterback."

The more I watch Mallett on tape, the more I like what I see. In the South Carolina game he faced repeated pressure calls, and he really demonstrated an ability to move around in the pocket and even scramble to his left like Ben Roethlisberger does and look deep. When the inside pressure broke down the pocket, Mallett demonstrated more than once that he could stand in there and take a lick while flicking the ball to a shallow crossing route like I have seen Joe Flacco do with his great height.

I sent an email to a very well-respected retired NFL quarterback coach and asked him to watch the Arkansas-Ohio State game and get back to me. I told him that was the game Mallett identified as his toughest because the Buckeyes were able to get good pressure while dropping seven into coverage. The coach called me back after two plays and already had his mind made up.

"I've seen enough," he said. "This guy is an NFL quarterback. He can hum a frozen rope 45-50 yards in the air, and he can hit a shallow crosser on the up-field shoulder."

Both passes the coach cited were dropped by the receivers. What was interesting to me in the times I have interviewed Mallett is that he never mentioned a dropped pass when discussing how tough that game was. That's because he is not a guy to point fingers.

It's interesting that one guy with his finger on the pulse of the NFL said Mallett could go "anywhere from the 10th to the 45th selection of the draft." That is a wide range, to say the least. But Phil had an interesting take when he said "things have been quiet in Washington (the 10th pick), and Mike Shanahan got a real taste of what it's like to have a QB that can just stand in there and throw a great ball when he had (Jay) Cutler (in Denver)."

Brad Childress watched Mallett and said "he has a presence under center, a command on the field, and he can throw a back shoulder seam route to the inside receiver to his left, which isn't easy." A number of coaches pointed out that he could use more leg strength, which I agree with, but that's easy to fix. I have watched too many 20- to 25-yard patterns to the boundary that get there in such a hurry that they will be tough to defend.

On the issue of the 5.37-second 40-yard dash Mallett ran at his pro day, Phil had a few thoughts: Mallett moves around well, can execute the bootleg throws off the run-fake and should have prepped better. But in all the tape I've watched, I definitely don't view Mallett as a lumbering athlete. Bottom line: Numbers in combine drills aren't all that important when you stack those results against quarterbacks over the past 25 years.

If you go by the numbers you have some real doubts. If you go by the game tapes you get real interested.

So how exactly do you factor the off-the-field issues? Well, you can talk to him, his coach, his family, his friends, his teammates, and anyone else, and a picture will come into light. If you think the risk is worth the reward -- and I agree with Phil Simms that it is -- then you go right to the construction of the contract. Build a deal that protects the club if he really does have issues that would continue into the NFL.

Mallett might be no more of a risk than a number of guys in this draft. After really digging into his game with Phil, who is an expert on quarterback play and a man a few club executives have solicited his opinion when it comes to quarterbacks, I feel someone will take a shot in the first round.

That might be the best decision a team makes.

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