He comes across as a good guy with a funny side, and the Arkansas product can apparently talk football until he's out of oxygen. That's where being the son of a coach comes into play.
Mallett is the ideal size for a franchise quarterback, standing tall among his peers at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds. And he's got the intangibles, evidenced by a 73-yard scoring drive in the final minute of last September's thrilling victory at Georgia, which was capped off by his 40-yard strike to Greg Childs.
But with that talent, and that personality, and those nerves, what's the deal? Why did he plummet into the third round of a draft that was littered with mediocrity at the quarterback position?
"There are people that say stuff all the time," Mallett said. "The only thing I can do is go out and prove them wrong. And that's what I intend on doing."
The "stuff" Mallett eludes to is the widespread rumors of drug use, which are littered across the Internet. Everyone within an earshot of the league has heard them. Mention Mallett's name to an NFL insider, and their eyes roll. Reports indicate he addressed those issues with teams during the combine, but Mallett hasn't said anything publicly, not that he necessarily needs to go that route.
With his arm — he said he's thrown a ball 87 yards — and ability, it's an obvious indication that teams found something wrong with his off-the-field habits, whether it has to do with maturity or his party habits.
Twenty-seven teams passed him over in the draft at least twice, and the quarterback-desperate Cardinals and Bills declined Mallett's services on three occasions. The Patriots, who landed him with the 74th pick, didn't take him until they were on the clock for the fifth time.
"Obviously, we’re comfortable with him," New England head coach Bill Belichick said. "We took him."
But the Patriots have Tom Brady, who has four seasons remaining on his contract and has said he'll play until he's 40, if not longer. What do the Patriots need from Mallett, if he might never last until the end of the Brady era?
In reality, New England might be the perfect spot for him. Mallett will be the center of attention for a few days — maybe even a few weeks — after the draft, and he'll re-spark some excitement when he shows off his right arm in front of the fans at training camp.
But there are too many stars on the Patriots' roster, and there's too much winning for the franchise for anyone else to notice the backup quarterback with a questionable past. He'll hide in their bubble and learn from the first unanimous MVP winner in NFL history, and Mallett will learn how to be a pro from one of the game's model citizens.
He isn't taking the reins of a struggling franchise, and he won't have to deal with the attention that comes with that responsibility. Eventually, the wonder of Mallett will subside, and he'll fall in line as one of the backups. His character concerns will fade away, and the things he claims are "definitely false" will remain somewhere else.
"I’m going to go up there and be the person that I am," Mallett said. "I’m a people person. I love to be around people. So I'm going to go up there and work as hard as I can to get on the field. Mislabeled? If that's what you want to call it, fine. I think I was portrayed in a different light than the people that know me and know who I am."
Of course, the Mallett experiment could fail miserably. Maybe his doubters will rejoice, and he'll free Ryan Leaf from the unenviable burden of being the most recent Ryan Leaf. And if that's the case, the Patriots can part ways with their 2011 third-round pick.
The low risk was the draw. The high reward will come years later, either as Brady's successor or trade bait in another draft. If Mallett puts together some good tape in the preseason and no tape in the TMZ season, the Patriots can dangle him for a first-round pick in a few years.
"I don't know," Belichick said about his expectations for Mallett. "Come in and let him compete and let them see what they can do. It's the same for all the rookies. Give them an opportunity to play and see how they play. It's up to them."
It's especially up to Mallett, who has been given an opportunity to revitalize the one thing that has derailed his career — that unmarketable image. If he cleans that up, he'll be running a franchise in short order.
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