FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is annually unpredictable on draft day, but this year, he might have outdone himself by picking sliding quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round (74th overall).
Few saw this one coming, even though Mallett took an April pre-draft visit to team headquarters at Gillette Stadium. That visit appeared to be more of a Belichick smokescreen, a case of trying to drum up interest in Mallett in a trade.
But Belichick was actually doing due diligence on one of the more talented quarterbacks in the draft, one who has been dogged by questions about his maturity.
"I just feel like he's a good player," Belichick said Friday, speaking about what induced him to select the Arkansas quarterback. "He's had a lot of production, he's won everywhere he's been -- high school, college. ... He's been a successful, productive quarterback all the way through his career."
Mallett was frustrated he fell to the third round, but nonetheless expressed excitement about beginning his NFL career.
"Obviously it's frustrating, but for anybody to just to get a chance to play in the NFL is something that a lot of people don't get to do," he said. "It's a dream come true for me."
Tom Brady is entrenched as the starter and the Patriots also have a promising backup in Brian Hoyer. Third-stringer Jonathan Crompton, a 2010 fifth-round draft choice of the Chargers, filled out the third spot on the depth chart entering the draft.
From a football standpoint, Hoyer's contract expires after the 2011 season and if he plays well in the preseason, he could draw Kevin Kolb-type interest around the NFL.
Belichick was unconcerned about any potential logjam at quarterback.
"I don't think you can have too much depth at that position," he said. "We got by the last two years with just two guys. You put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run [the offense]. It's good to have depth at that position and we'll see how it goes."
Mallett will now have the luxury of learning behind the scenes. Being around a pro like Brady should only help him.
"I know Tom is a great player," Mallett said Friday night. "It's an opportunity for me to learn from him and [to] further my knowledge under that coaching staff was something I'm really excited about when I got the call. I can't wait to get started."
Mallett is considered a quarterback who can make all the throws, but he seemed to slip in the draft because of non-football-related questions. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview wrote, "issues still reside about his makeup and lack of maturity."
Mallett dismissed the concerns Friday night.
"That's just people talking," he said. "I'm focusing on getting to New England and learning as much as I can, and getting on the field as quick as I can. It's something that's behind me, it's in the past, and I'm looking in the future."
For his part, Belichick said the Patriots weren't worried about off-field issues:
"Obviously we're comfortable. We took him."
Belichick cited Mallett's dedication to football and the film room as evidence of a strong work ethic.
"He's definitely a football guy," the coach said. "He is a great kid to talk to. He's very into football. You can't wear him out. If you want to talk about it, he'll be there, however many hours it is, he's ready to go watch the next film. He'll talk about a new technique, or a route, or a read, whatever. His father is a football coach, he's grown up in a football family, which I can definitely relate to that. Either you get sick of it or you marry into it and love it. It's one of the two. I think he's very much of a football person; both his parents are educators. He's a kid that's eager to learn and has a great thirst for knowledge for his position, which there's a lot going on there. He'll certainly get an opportunity to receive a lot of knowledge at that position around here."
Belichick likes Mallett's track record as a proven winner.
"He's been a winning quarterback all the way through his career," Belichick said. "He's won a lot of games. He's been a very productive guy, not just statistically, but more importantly wins and losses, doing things that it takes for his team to win."
Mallett started 13 games for Arkansas last season, setting school records with 3,869 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. He ranked fifth in the NCAA with 297.6 passing yards per game.
In 2009, Mallett started all 13 games, throwing for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns and was a second-team all-SEC selection.
Mallett sat out the 2008 season after transferring from Michigan, where he played 11 games as a true freshman in 2007.
"He did a good job at Michigan when they came in and changed offenses, which was definitely beyond his control," Belichick said.
Mallett gives the Patriots a highly touted in-house option to move up the ranks should that scenario unfold, though Belichick stopped short of dubbing him Brady's eventual successor.
"He'll come in, let him compete and we'll see what [he] can do," Belichick said. "It's the same for all the rookies."
Mallett was the Patriots' final pick on Day 2 of the draft. They selected Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling with the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall) to kick off the action Friday night. They then added Cal running back Shane Vereen later in the second round (No. 56 overall), and took another RB, LSU's Stevan Ridley, in the third round at No. 73 overall, one pick ahead of Mallett.
The Patriots drafted Colorado OT Nate Solder with the 17th pick of the first round Thursday night.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak contributed to this report.