It seemed only yesterday that NFL draft analysts administered an almost daily beating on the character and concrete-like feet of Ryan Mallett.
Come to think of it, it was only yesterday.
Today the perception of Mallett's worthiness as a first-round pick appears to have changed dramatically.
Whole new outlook
All of a sudden, most of what you hear about the former Arkansas quarterback is positive. The conversation has shifted from concerns over the type of person he is and how slowly he runs the 40-yard dash to his superb passing arm and ability to throw the ball precisely as a quality NFL quarterback should.
Listen to highly credible voices on the subject of quarterback evaluation in particular and player assessment in general, and you come away with the distinct impression that very little separates the presumptive top signal-callers in the Class of 2011 (Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert) and Mallett.
Listen long enough, and you might be even be persuaded to think that Mallett is the best of the bunch.
Former NFL quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms, who puts throwing ability ahead of all other physical qualities when judging his favorite position, raves about Mallett's arm. NFL Films producer Greg Cosell, who watches as much football tape as anyone (including scouts and other club talent evaluators), is equally effusive in his praise for how well Mallett can throw.
They and other analysts also like his decision-making on the field and point out that he had a number of excellent passes that his receivers dropped.
A portrait of Mallett, the football player, is seemingly being heavily retouched by the day -- if not the hour -- and it is clearly looking increasingly better to the critics.
What the finished product is going to look like by April 28, when the 2011 NFL Draft begins, is anyone's guess. For now, the guess here is that it probably looks at least a little closer to what it did before last season, when Mallett was widely viewed as a potential top-five choice. Has it changed dramatically enough for Mallett to supplant Newton as Carolina's likely selection with the No. 1 overall pick? Probably not. Has it been improved to the point where Mallett is a first-rounder? Probably.
It will be interesting to see how the many teams interested in drafting a quarterback look at Mallett when comparing him to Gabbert. It also will be interesting to see how clubs searching for help at the position view Mallett against all of the other quarterbacks in the draft.
The character issues haven't disappeared, but how much worse are they than those of some other prospects? I've heard it mentioned by multiple people in and out of the league that it would be easy to structure a contract that would protect a team's interests if Mallett or any player that might have some baggage got into trouble as a pro.
I've also heard that team representatives that have met Mallett so far aren't bothered by what they've heard or seen, and that more are looking to see for themselves what he's all about rather than relying on unflattering observations that others have made about him.
Even if Mallett were a saint, that wouldn't change the fact that he ran the 40-yard dash as if he were holding a pair of giant mallets in each hand. But Simms and other analysts don't have a terrible problem with that. They do question Mallett's wisdom for not investing the time and effort to improve his technique in running the 40.
However, in watching him in action at Arkansas, they don't see a lack of speed as being any real detriment to his playing skills. They see a quarterback who moves well enough to avoid pressure and who can more than sufficiently execute plays while running.
If the recent buzz is any indication, Mallett's draft stock could very well be what's on the move. And the direction just might prove surprising to those who had been concentrating mainly on his flaws.