Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett both gave up their senior seasons and made themselves eligible for the NFL Draft, so they must have been confident that their names would be called early.
Bowers, the country’s leading sacker with 15.5, is a nightmare for offensive linemen rushing off the edge. At the Scouting Combine, even though he wasn’t able to work out because of a knee injury, the 6-3, 280-pounder was in the running to be selected No. 1 overall and said he wanted to be the next Julius Peppers.
Mallett, one of the premier passers in the nation, had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 62-to-19 the last two seasons after transferring from Michigan. The 6-7, 253-pounder can throw the ball over a mountain, and since he was dubbed the most NFL-ready of any QB available, he supposedly couldn’t escape Round 1 with so many teams in need under center.
However, Day 1 of the draft featured 32 first-round selections, including 12 defensive linemen and four quarterbacks, but Bowers and Mallett were still waiting for their phones to ring.
On Day 2, Bowers got the call at No. 51 in the second round from the Buccaneers, who had already taken another player at his position in Round 1 (Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn). Mallett’s freefall didn’t come to an end until the third round, when the Patriots mercifully took him off the board at 74.
At least Bowers still gets a chance to compete for a starting job as a rookie, as Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris indicated he would like him to play left end, with Clayborn lining up at right end.
"The last 24 hours have been crazy long," Bowers said. "It was grueling waiting for that one phone call, and I'm just glad for the opportunity that Tampa Bay gave me. Now I just want to show them that they made a great pick and it wasn't a mistake."
Mallett, on the other hand, is going to be carrying a clipboard for a while considering the fact that unanimous MVP Tom Brady is signed through 2014, and it's possible he won't even outduel third-year pro Brian Hoyer for the backup job.
“When I got that call, it was just a great feeling just to know somebody wanted me,” said Mallett. “It’s been a long road to get here. I’ve been working my tail off, and to get here now is unbelievable.”
Bowers wasn’t able to put his skills on display in Indianapolis back in February because of a knee injury, but he assured the media that he was close to 100 percent and couldn’t wait to set the world afire at his Pro Day. But then his Pro Day was pushed back, then pushed back again, and when he finally did subject himself to the scrutiny of scouts, quite simply, he just didn’t look very good.
Once it was time for medicals, many franchises didn’t like what they saw and removed Bowers from their draft board completely, even if previously he had been the best 4-3 defensive end available by far.
North Carolina’s Robert Quinn was the first defensive end chosen by a team running a classic 4-3 defense, going to the Rams at No. 14. Last year, Texas safety Earl Thomas was drafted 14th by the Seahawks and received a five-year contract with $12.3 million in guaranteed money. By comparison, the player selected 51st in last April’s draft, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, got a four-year deal from the Vikings worth $1.9 million in guarantees. Do the math: The slide Bowers endured cost him eight figures.
The Bucs rolled the dice in Round 2 in part because, worst-case scenario, a swing and a miss wouldn’t be crippling for the franchise financially.
"I'm really fired up about this pick,'' Morris said. "I wish you guys could have seen all the chest bumps and high fives that were going around with the coaches and staff after we made it.''
If Bowers can be the pass-rushing presence coaches saw on film this past season at Clemson, those chest bumps and high fives will have been worth it.
As for Mallett, he was able to do all the drills at the combine and threw the ball as well as any of the other signal callers, but it was his performance at the podium that led to so many red flags. Rumors of him being a party boy and a user of recreational drugs while at Arkansas began to surface, but instead of being open and honest about it, be blew off questions and did so in porcupine-prickly fashion. Despite being more willing to discuss the issue with teams than he was with reporters, he came off as cocky and immature.
On the field, Mallett is a statue in the pocket and will not be able to elude NFL-caliber pass rushers, plus he threw a handful of crucial interceptions against top competition with the game on the line.
Even if he may have been the fourth and final quarterback given a first-round grade by talent evaluators, well behind Auburn's Cam Newton, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Washington's Jake Locker, clearly he has more potential in the pros than Florida State’s Christian Ponder. Nevertheless, when the QB-desperate Vikings were on the clock at No. 12, with Newton, Gabbert and Locker already gone, they pulled the trigger on the squeaky-clean Ponder. Then TCU’s Andy Dalton went 35th to Cincinnati and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick went 36th to San Francisco, another indicator that Mallett turned off too many people during the pre-draft proceedings.
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However, New England coach Bill Belichick always believes in acquiring assets, so while Mallett may never play a down for the Pats, he could end up being a bargaining chip down the road.
“He’s definitely a football guy,” said Belichick. “He’s a great kid to talk to. He’s very into football. His father is a football coach and he’s grown up in a football family, and I can definitely relate to that. Either you get sick of it, or you marry into it and you love it. It’s one of the two. He’s a kid that’s eager to learn and has a thirst for knowledge and for football and his position.”
Maybe an ego shot as jolting as this one is exactly what Mallett needs in order to grow up, become a professional and realize he isn’t so special after all.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|