- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The NFL draft is annually filled with unpredictable stories like the one that unfolded Friday night, when a three-time Super Bowl winning coach -- seeing a little bit of himself in a talented, free-falling, highly scrutinized quarterback -- opened the doors of his locker room to someone most teams were running away from.
To say Bill Belichick's selection of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round sent shockwaves across the NFL would be an overstatement. Still, it was easily the most intriguing pick of Day 2 of the NFL draft.
Belichick might be forever linked with quarterback Tom Brady, but Friday was about the unlikely Belichick/Mallett draft alliance few could see coming.
"He's definitely a football guy, a great kid to talk to, and he's very into football," Belichick said late Friday night at Gillette Stadium after the New England Patriots -- in a draft highlighted by an early run on quarterbacks -- tabbed Mallett 74th overall.
"His father is a football coach and he's grown up in a football family, which I can definitely relate to," Belichick continued. "Either you get sick of it or you marry into it and you love it. It's one of the two, and he's very much a football person."
Is there more of a football person than Belichick himself? It's no wonder the two hit it off, starting when Mallett visited the team's facility earlier in April.
"We're a lot alike," Mallett recalled Friday. "We're both coaches' sons and love the game, and so we want to do anything we can to get an advantage, and watch film all the time. I felt like I had a great connection with him. I guess he did, too."
The Patriots were not deterred by questions about his makeup and maturity, issues that contributed to his plunge down the draft board.
"Obviously we're comfortable," Belichick said. "We took him."
Mallett's visit was viewed by many as a typical Belichick pre-draft smokescreen. After all, why would the Patriots, with Brady and a promising third-year backup in Brian Hoyer, even consider drafting Mallett when they have other more pressing needs? That was when the possibility of Mallett going in the first or second round seemed likely.
Now fast-forward to Friday and consider Belichick's mindset as he looked up at his draft board early in the third round and Mallett -- who rated as one of the team's best quarterback prospects alongside one other player who went in the first round -- was still there while the rest of the board was unappealing.
Belichick, never afraid to stir the NFL drink and likely considering how many realistic spots he had on his 53-man roster, figured, Why not?
"I don't think you can have too much depth at that position," he explained. "We got by the last two years with basically just two guys [Brady and Hoyer], and you put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run it."
So in comes Mallett as a likely third option, a role that figures to be significantly different from the other signal-callers in the draft class selected before him -- Cam Newton (No. 1, Panthers), Jake Locker (No. 8, Titans), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10, Jaguars), Christian Ponder (No. 12, Vikings), Andy Dalton (No. 35, Bengals) and Colin Kaepernick (No. 36, 49ers).
If he was deflated about that turn of events, he hid it well, saying he was excited to learn from Brady. He feels the two have a similar style of play -- they aren't fast, but have a knack for picking defenses apart with their ability to read a defense before the snap, or after the snap.
"I'm just looking forward to having the opportunity to play for the greatest organization in the NFL right now," Mallett gushed from his home in Arkansas. "Obviously, it's frustrating, but for anybody just to get a chance to play in the NFL is something that a lot of people don't get to do, so it's a dream come true for me. I can't wait to get started."
The start might come as early as Saturday, as the Patriots were hastily making plans to have their rookie class in town. In Mallett, Belichick feels he's added a winner to the locker room, someone "eager to learn and who has a great thirst for knowledge for football and for his position.
"He's been a successful, productive quarterback all the way through his career -- high school, college -- and he's an impressive guy to talk to," Belichick said. "I'd say he's pretty far along relative to some of the other quarterbacks we've seen."
Inevitably, the question was going to be asked: With Brady signed through 2014, might Mallett be his successor?
Belichick said it's too early for that type of talk. If anything, Mallett might be insurance if Hoyer becomes next year's Kevin Kolb, a quarterback who performs well in preseason and spot starts, ultimately generating interest on the trade market.
"He'll come in, compete, and let's see what [he] can do," Belichick said of Mallett. "It's the same for all the rookies -- give them an opportunity to play and see how they play. It's up to them."
That Belichick was the one to provide Mallett the opportunity was unexpected. After all, when ranking the quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, the Patriots are near the bottom of the list.
But there seems to be something about Mallett that Belichick likes and, maybe, it's that he sees a little bit of himself in him.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
1dEric D. Williams