We’ve seen quite a lot of tape on Ryan Tannehill now, at least enough to start forming a fair opinion. Let’s break down his latest performance against Baylor.
Note: It’s important to remember that Baylor’s defense is prolific in it’s poor quality. Tannehill’s stat line looks fantastic – 25/37 for 415 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. The performance overall isn’t quite as good as that looks, but there are strong positives and also some big negatives.
A lot of the issues with Tannehill’s game are blamed on a lack of experience. By the time he enters the NFL, he’ll have played 1.7 seasons of college football at quarterback. Let’s remember that Sam Bradford – as prolific as he was and having just won the Heisman – felt he had to return to Oklahoma for a third year starting to sufficiently prepare himself for the next step. The Lewin Career Forecast (LCF) originally projected that quarterbacks’ success at the next level would be dependant on a specific number of starts (35) and whether they had completed 60% of their passes. The system wasn’t an exact science because it projected success for players such as Kellen Clemens and Brian Brohm, but it was a good indicator in highlighting how college experience related to success at the next level.
Football Outsiders updated the LCF to try and find a more accurate system for the future and now looks at a minimum of 20 starts and other factors such as improvement as a senior to determine success. It’s not flawless – Brady Quinn still scores higher than Matt Ryan – but it scores Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees highly while undermining the potential of Alex Smith, Brody Croyle, Ryan Leaf and David Carr.
Tannehill will have to play every game this season – including a bowl game – to get to the 20 starts which would put him in the range to even receive a score in the new LCF. What I would say is this – a lack of experience can be blamed on certain aspects, but how are these problems going to be solved holding a clipboard? Or worse if Tannehill is indeed thrown in at the deep end as a rookie starter in the NFL? The lack of experience can be used as an excuse, but it cannot be used as a definite reason for some of the negatives to his game.
One of the things that bothers me about Tannehill is his inability seemingly to get out of a bad play. At 2:42 he takes PA and the play design is to check it down to the running back who’s taking a short route to the left. It’s diagnosed quickly by the defense and one defensive back gets right into Tannehill’s face to break it up. What bothers me is the way he still tries to force the throw, there’s no adjustment given the play isn’t on. The attempt is tipped and could’ve gone anywhere, but with a bit more poise he could’ve stepped away from the DB and looked for Ryan Swope on a crossing route who was actually 6-7 yards upfield and open.
Is that a lack of game experience? Or is it an issue he’ll carry to the next level? I don’t like to see quarterbacks tied to play calls in college. Landry Jones is similar in this respect – he throws blind too often for my liking and when a quarterback is forcing throws regularly it’s usually one of two things – that a quarterback is incapable of improvisation or he’s being prevented from doing it. One of the things I like most about Matt Barkley is the way he rarely forces a pass that just isn’t on, he’ll get out of a play and look to a second or third option. That’s not to say he’s a flawless decision maker, but the NFL will throw all kinds of challenges a quarterbacks way. I have confidence that Barkley will answer those challenges because he’s able to improvise and make things happen, he plays on the move. The evidence so far suggests Tannehill will lock on to one read and if everything clicks (receiver is open, time in the pocket, nobody on defense makes a spectacular play) things work. If it’s not on, he’ll too often try and force things which will lead to mistakes and turnovers in the NFL.
Another example is the shovel pass interception at 1:03. This is another strict play call which goes wrong – the running back’s body language (turns quickly to look for the ball) shows it was always the call and not a checkdown option. Tannehill tosses it into traffic when it simply wasn’t on – bad decision, bad execution and another example of being tied to a play call.
He also misses on some basic throws – at 8:51 it’s a simple dump off to the receiver on the left hand side but he’s a bit jumpy and misses the target. There are a few examples – in this game and others – where his accuracy is slightly off.
Arm strength is generally a positive and I’m loathe to criticise any player for a 47-yard touchdown pass, but he under threw a wide open receiver who had to slow right down and turn to face the ball in order to make the completion. You really want to see that pass thrown into the end zone. Had one of the two defensive backs managed even a mediocre job in coverage that easily could’ve been broken up and a missed opportunity.
He throws with a slightly greater 3/4 motion than you’d like to see. There are tipped passes with Tannehill which is a bit of a surprise given his height. He can work on this and I suspect come the Texas A&M pro-day and after working with a good QB coach he’ll rectify this, but it’s something that does need work.
Onto the positives and certainly Tannehill does a good job taking what a defense gives him. He gets good protection from the Aggies offensive line and he’ll make the most of single coverage. He does take some risks with defensive backs under cutting routes, but there are several occasions this season where I’ve been really impressed with his pass placement finding a receiver who’s just created enough separation between two defensive backs. The connection between Tannehill and Ryan Swope is very natural, although I don’t think they’ve made enough of Jeff Fuller’s overall skill set in this offense. The pass at 8:15 shows he is capable of fitting passes into tight windows in single coverage, he doesn’t rely purely on the talented weapons he has at receiver.
The pass at 12:00 goes for a touchdown but would’ve been no less impressive had it merely been a first down. Poor tackling allows the score, but that’s a very accurate pass in good coverage with the sufficient level of velocity.
I think NFL teams may be split when they review Tannehill ahead of next year’s draft. Some will look at the physical potential and the relative success he’s had so far and back their coaches to turn him into a more rounded player. Others will wonder whether a lack of experience is a good enough excuse to feel confident about some of the issues he has. He’s a lot lower in my personal grades than Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Sam Bradford – but he’s also higher than some of the players I didn’t rate highly such as Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy. Even so, I cannot grade Tannehill in round one.