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Ryan Mallett Declares for Draft; Now Almost Certain First-Round Pick

Headed to the NFL Draft. You're surprised?
Headed to the NFL Draft. You're surprised?

Well, this part of the day's NFL Draft news wasn't a surprise. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has decided that the looming lockout will not keep him from trying to make his millions.

After careful consideration, I have decided to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft. ... A year ago, when I returned to school I said I wanted to help lead this team to a place among the nation's elite and for the Razorback community to have a mindset to expect greatness. There is no doubt we got there together and this program will continue to play games on the biggest stages and when it does we'll come out swinging.

Between sobs, Bobby Petrino also managed to make a statement. It was, as you might expect with one of the best players on the Razorbacks, complimentary.

I am very proud of Ryan Mallett and I can't say enough about what he has done for this program. Leaders do their job extremely well and lift everyone around them to compete better and Ryan does those things. One of the greatest parts about coaching is watching individuals become adults while they are in college and Ryan has certainly developed not just as a player, but as a person. I know Ryan will be successful in life and I wish him the best in the NFL.

Petrino almost certainly had a plan in mind with Mallett likely to leave for the draft after this season, but it's still going to be a blow to Arkansas in 2011. Despite the fact that almost every fan base convinces itself that this is not the case with its team's promising back-up quarterback, the fact remains that particularly for a quarterback-reliant offense like Petrino's, a first-year starter almost guarantees a step back.

Which is not to say that Arkansas will be out of the SEC West race early next year and head to Memphis for its bowl game. But looking for the Razorbacks to make their next trip to Atlanta in 2011 is probably not a wise idea.

Meanwhile, even without Stanford's Andrew Luck deciding to come back, Mallett was a likely first-round pick; with the Cardinal signal-caller deciding to go back to school, it's a near certainty. I count eight teams that could be looking for a quarterback in the first round (in order): Carolina, Buffalo, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota, Seattle. Now, some of those teams might decide to try to go with one of their current options -- Arizona leaps out -- some could go the trade route, and some might decide to wait until later rounds when the contract will be cheaper.

But, particularly given that every team is now looking for their Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco or Sam Bradford, it seems unlikely that Mallett will fall out of the first round, especially now that Luck is out of the equation. Mel Kiper's gelatinous hair has Mallett third, though I'm not sure as a GM that I would take Gabbert over Mallett, and even taking Newton would depend on the offense I want to run. (Then again, I am not an NFL GM and am just as confused by most of their decisions as most college football fans.) The SB Nation mock draft already had Mallett going to the Seahawks in the first round. With Luck gone, he could move up the board and make millions more.

Then again, there will be an NFL team that will draft Jake Locker in the first round. Write that down. Mallett will likely be a better NFL quarterback, but the league's general managers have long ago proven that they are worse at evaluating talent than anyone else in sports.