Why Mallett is a better prospect than Gabbert

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Why Mallett is a better prospect than Gabbert

Postby Pudge » Fri Mar 18, 2011 2:13 am

I do enjoy reading KC Joyner's take on things, but I think in regards to the QB situation, he is a bit too blindly faithful to stats. I still think it's very difficult to say how much better (if at all) someone with a YPA of 7.6 is vs. someone with 6.2, which seems to be basically the gist of his argument here.

It's interesting that he noted that Mallett was better completing short passes. It's comparing Mallett's 75% completion on his short throws vs. Gabbert's 73.6%. Really?

And the more I've read of Joyner in recent years, the less it seems that he puts stats in context.

When you really look at the numbers, they really don't make a compelling argument at all for why Mallett is a better prospect than Gabbert. They would if you were only looking at total yards per attempt.

You realize that "in context" the reason for Mallett's higher numbers is because he was better throwing the "Bomb" of 30+ yards. But when you just look at throws under 30 yards, you see that Gabbert is better. Gabbert completed 69.8% of those passes, had a YPA of 7.6, and had 6:2 TD-INT ratio on 172 total attempts. Mallett on the other hand completed 66.9% of his passes, had a YPA of 8.2, and had a 6:5 TD-INT on 124 attempts. Those INTs IMO are critical.

I don't think Joyner's point that he makes at the end of hte article is wrong. I agree that Gabbert's main weakness is that he's not good improvising. He becomes a fairly average QB when you ask him to move. THat's not a strength of Mallett's either as he really struggles to reset his feet, but he's at least more natural when you pressure him to try and improvise. I don't think comparing him to Roethlisberger is a good comparison, since one can say that's the best aspect of Roethlisberger's game, while it's not nearly what could be considered a strength for Mallett.

But I also think that yes, there are similarities to Big Ben with Mallett, and that Joyner is right that in a vertical offense he could shine similarly to Big Ben. But I think one has to consider that Big Ben plays on a team that protects his high turnover rate with strong defensive play. Roethlisberger doesn't turn the ball over nearly as much as he did his first 3-5 years in the league, but it is important to note those turnovers.

And that is the critical difference of why Mallett isn't a better (at least immediately) option for teams at the top of the draft. Being drafted early means he'll likely be going to a bad team that isn't going to have the quality of defense that the Steelers have that can cover up for his numerous mistakes.

On a bad team with a weak supporting cast, a dinker and dunker like Gabbert is going to lead to much earlier success than someone that is going to sling the ball downfield. That's why guys like Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, and yes even Joe Flacco were able to come in and have some more immediate success. Because what Mr. Joyner fails to realize is that for those bad teams likely to be picking at the top of the draft, being able to reliably and efficiently complete those 5-15 yard passes is MUCH MORE important and impactful for overall offensive success than being able to complete those 30+ yard bombs.

While plenty of QBs have entered the league with the skillset to be a successful vertical passer, it's not a skillset that often immediately translates in the NFL, at least at a level that compares with an above average to good NFL starter. Stafford, Flacco, Freeman, Russell, all have that unique skillset where they have excellent vertical potential, but none came into the league and were above average vertical passers.

Rant over. Now you can read it for yourself... :mrgreen:

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft201 ... id=6229004

Updated: March 17, 2011, 6:57 PM ET
Ryan Mallett is the top QB prospect
A metric analysis reveals that the Arkansas QB is better than Missouri's Gabbert

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Joyner By KC Joyner
ESPN Insider

Ryan MallettMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesRyan Mallett could end up being a steal in this year's NFL draft.

In 1970, Bill Walsh was the top offensive assistant for Paul Brown's Cincinnati Bengals. Walsh had devised a vertical passing game built around quarterback Greg Cook, the top draft pick in 1969, but a shoulder injury forced Cook to retire after one season. This left Walsh with the weak-armed Virgil Carter at quarterback.

Carter was good at diagnosing coverages and getting the ball out of the pocket quickly. Walsh knew that trying to run a vertical offense was not going to work, so he created the system that evolved into the West Coast offense.

Even the greatest playcaller in NFL history could not use a one-size-fits-all approach to quarterbacking, instead adapting his offensive philosophy to his quarterback's strengths and weaknesses.

That lesson seems to be lost when it comes to comparing Ryan Mallett and Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert is currently considered by many pundits to be the No. 1 quarterback in this draft, but a metric and game scouting review of the two provides several pieces of evidence to show that Mallett is the better choice.

Here are Gabbert's numbers from the four games in which he faced an opponent from a BCS automatic qualifying school that ended up ranked in the top 40 in passer rating allowed (at Texas A&M Aggies, versus Oklahoma Sooners, at Nebraska Cornhuskers and versus Iowa Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl). The idea here is to see how he fared against top-level competition:
Route Depth Att Comp Yds TD Int Pen Pen Yds YPA
Short (up to 10 yards downfield) 125 92 689 4 1 3 20 5.5
Medium (11-19 yards) 34 20 399 2 1 1 10 11.7
Deep (20-29 yards) 13 8 214 0 0 0 0 16.5
Bomb (30+ yards) 5 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.0
Other (throwaways, etc.) 11 0 0 0 0 1 10 0.8
Total 189 120 1302 6 2 5 40 6.9
Vertical (11+ yards) 52 28 613 2 1 1 10 11.8

Now check out Mallett's totals in his four games against tough competition (versus Alabama Crimson Tide, at Texas A&M, versus LSU Tigers and versus Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl).
Route Depth Att Comp Yds TD Int Pen Pen Yds YPA
Short (up to 10 yards downfield) 88 66 598 1 1 1 1 6.7
Medium (11-19 yards) 24 12 295 3 1 0 0 12.3
Deep (20-29 yards) 12 5 117 2 3 0 0 9.8
Bomb (30+ yards) 10 4 233 3 1 0 0 23.3
Other (throwaways, etc.) 12 2 21 0 1 0 0 1.8
Total 146 89 1264 9 6 1 1 8.6
Vertical (11+ yards) 46 21 645 8 5 0 0 14.0

Let's break this down by sections:

Total and vertical yards per attempt (YPA)

In games against top-level competition, Mallett tops Gabbert in total YPA, vertical YPA and in two of the three vertical YPA categories (medium and bomb).

Short passes

Short passes are supposed to be Gabbert's specialty, but Mallett had a better completion rate and YPA total on these throws.

Interceptions and passer rating

Gabbert did have a sizable advantage in fewest interceptions thrown, but it still wasn't enough to give him the lead in the passer rating category.

The passer rating system assigns a penalty based on interception rates, but even accounting for that, Mallett posted a higher number here both in the overall category (144.19 for Mallett versus 130.32 for Gabbert) and on vertical throws (199.08 to 156.47).

Productivity on standard vertical route types

Mallett also had a significant productivity level lead when throwing any of the six standard vertical route types (comeback, corner, deep in, deep out, go, post).

Gabbert was 10-of-23 for 198 yards when throwing these types of passes. That equates to an 8.6 YPA and a passer rating of 115.79, both of which are mediocre showings at this route depth level.

Now look at Mallett's totals on these routes: 14 of 31 for 454 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. That equates to a 14.6 YPA and a 195.59 passer rating, both of which are elite totals.


Gabbert did fare much better in many of the combine drills, but leaning on this as a reason to pick him higher leads to a somewhat rhetorical question: How would Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady fare if they had to do those drills today?

What those three have in common is that they are pocket passers. Pocket passers need a specialized type of athleticism that doesn't show up in combine drills. Mallett is a pocket passer and thus the poor showing at several combine drills should not hurt his value.

Footwork/freelancing ability

The scouting notes say both quarterbacks fare well in the footwork area. Mallett does have some issues in this area when he is on the move, but it isn't a Cam Newton-like situation where his entire body of mechanics is out of whack. This weakness should only require some fine-tuning to correct.

Gabbert's footwork in and out of the pocket was fine, but he seemed quite uncomfortable when situations called for him to freelance. Gabbert's mind seemed to operate in the same manner. For example, he was very successful for most of the game against Iowa because the Hawkeyes tend to sit back in coverage.

He ran into trouble when Iowa mixed things up. A great example of this occurred in the middle of the fourth quarter, when a Hawkeyes linebacker blitzed -- something that Gabbert didn't seem to expect. His reaction was to scramble to his left, even though one of the Tigers' offensive lineman peeled out to pick up the late blitz. Gabbert then put his head down while running toward the sidelines and didn't turn his head to look downfield until he had run nearly the entire width of the field.

By that time, a Hawkeyes defender was closing in. Instead of throwing the ball away (something he was very good about doing all season long), Gabbert decided to force a pass to a receiver who was very well covered. An Iowa defender picked off the pass and returned it for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

Gabbert's flustered reaction both in and out of the pocket on a play that would have been best served by his normally overly cautious approach showed that freelancing could be a significant weakness in his game.

In the end, it comes down to this: Gabbert has the physical tools necessary to succeed in the NFL, but he has a long history of working in a dink-and-dunk offense and isn't good at adjusting to in-game surprises. A team will either have to retool its system around his current limitations or wait for him to retool his skill set to an NFL-style system. Mallett, on the other hand, has shown that he is capable of operating a vertical-based NFL offense right out of the gate. His combination of size, long pass ability and a willingness to take chances in the vertical game are very reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger.

That Day 1 readiness is why Mallett should be considered a better pro prospect than Gabbert.

KC Joyner, aka the Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. He also can be found on Twitter @kcjoynertfs and at his website. He is the author of "Blindsided: Why the Left Tackle is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts."
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.

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Re: Why Mallett is a better prospect than Gabbert

Postby Mr. Offseason » Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:58 pm

He also ignores the fact that Mallett is mistake-prone late in games, and regularly makes poor decisions or turns the ball over at critical moments in close games.

Mallett isn't even in my top 32 big board and I don't think he ever will be. He's just got too much bust potential and not impressive enough intangibles.
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Re: Why Mallett is a better prospect than Gabbert

Postby takeitdown » Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:51 pm

Good critical thinking and analysis of the analysis, Pudge.

Takeaway seems to be Mallet might be better for a very vertical oriented team, but probably not for the vast majority of teams...and even for the few it's debatable as his short distance hindrances might not overcome the deep ball ability.

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