Most of you know Ryan Mallett’s story: highly touted pocket passer transfers from Michigan to Arkansas after the Wolverines bring in Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense. Puts up pretty prolific passing numbers in the SEC. Drug rumors off the field and bad decisions under pressure on the field kill his draft stock and he falls to the third round – to the New England Patriots, a team that knows how to develop quarterbacks over the long term.
While studying Mallett’s week one preseason debut, I noticed something contradictory in his game. For a big, slow-footed quarterback, he is surprisingly adept at moving and re-setting in the pocket, as well as playing in confined spaces. This goes back to his college days, actually. While Mallett’s decision-making under pressure was really questionable during his college career, from a skillset standpoint, he always displayed the arm talent to make throws with bodies around him, defenders dragging him down, or while moving in the pocket without having his feet set. Basically, his arm very much functions independently of his body. It’s one of the reasons I was high on him coming out. As you’ll see, Mallett’s actually pretty advanced at using subtle movements to find space to operate from. That’s usually something that takes some time for quarterbacks to get comfortable with, as college pockets are generally much cleaner and safer than the ones in the NFL.
(Climbing the pocket to avoid the rusher, keeping his eyes downfield. )
(Mallett climbing the pocket and throwing an accurate ball without being afforded the convenience of getting to set his feet)
Overall, though, Mallett’s performance left a lot to be desired. The root of it revolves around one specific problem, and it’s the reason why I say there’s a contradictory nature to his game. When he actually has a big, open pocket and functional space to step into his throw and deliver the ball, he locks his front knee and raises his back leg. This leaves him unbalanced – his upper body gets way over his front leg, his trunk doesn’t rotate, and the throw is made with all arm.
(On this picture in particular, look at the alignment of his upper body in relation to that locked front leg)
These pictures are just a few of many examples where Mallett exhibited this problem. None of these throws were accurate, ranging from “slightly off the mark” to “laughably not even in the receiver’s vicinity.” As you can see, the problem is really apparent when he has plenty of room in front of him to stride into his throws. Now, compare those pictures to this one.
(Displaying proper form. Front knee bent slightly, back heel raised but the leg is on the ground to maintain balance. He throws an accurate ball here. Zoomed out like this is, would you be able to tell him apart from Tom Brady if you didn’t already know who it was? )
Overall, Mallett continues to be an incredibly talented, but frustrating prospect. As I said, there is a maddening contradiction to his game – normally you expect big, slow-footed pocket passers to need wide open pocket space. Mallett, on the other hand, does much better in confined spaces. He knows how to move and slide around in there, and his arm talent is so good and works so independently of his body, that he’s able to overcome having to throw from poor pocket conditions (again, though, how his decision making holds up in these situations remains to be seen). Give him time, space, and room, and his mechanics go to crap, and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Mixed feelings, here. If the Patriots staff can get him to stop locking his front leg, though, they’ve definitely got a quarterback to work with.