Ryan Tannehill isn’t like any of the other quarterbacks among the group of 2012 prospects. Until last year, he was’t even a quarterback.
Recruited by Texas A&M (Tannehill wanted to play at Texas Tech, but received no offer) as a red-shirt freshman he lost a quarterback battle which included Stephen McGee (now with the Dallas Cowboys) and Jerrod Johnson, before making the switch to receiver. A 6-4, 219lbs receiver.
Tannehill took to his new role comfortably, recording a school freshman record 844 yards and a record 55 receptions. He’s since posted 1596 receiving yards and scored ten touchdowns. That was, of course, before his return to quarterback.
Jerrod Johnson took over the starting role from McGee after the 2009 draft and had some success in year one as a starter. However, he struggled in 2010 and it led to Tannehill’s opportunity. In six regular season starts last year he posted a 6-0 record with eleven touchdowns and just three interceptions. He averaged a 66% completion rate and led the Aggies to wins over Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech.
Such an achievement cannot be underestimated. Remember, prior to those six big wins against no easy opponent, TAMU had lost their previous three to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri. The impact Tannehill had, the success he enjoyed and the end product was nothing short of excellent.
At least, that’s what the statistics and score books say.
I had no opportunity to scout Tannehill last season. I witnessed the three defeats prior to Johnson’s benching, but none of the subsequent games. The Cotton Bowl – where they were defeated 41-24 by LSU – was not broadcast in my region. Fortunately this off season we’ve been able to rely on an increasing number of individuals publishing game tape – and not just the positive highlights either. Draft Monsters made available Cotton Bowl tape which I’ve had on the blog before, but for the purpose of this thread I’ve added it again below:
It’s easy to make an assumption about a player based on his circumstance, but I was surprised by how orthodox Tannehill looks for a quarterback who has switched positions twice. His technique isn’t as awful as you’d presume and in fact there’s some things to like. His footwork is good dropping back from center, he gets the ball out quickly when necessary and his release isn’t bad at all. There’s a couple of instances where he clearly looks through his options, progressing quickly before making a sharp decision. The touchdown at 0:43 doesn’t go to his first option and I liked the maturity shown in that situation and the ability to stay composed.
He’s an athletic player as you’d expect for a converted receiver. The run on the very next play after the touchdown shows he has that ability to make plays with his legs, not just have freedom of movement in the pocket. I actually think this is a major area for improvement because the guy can run, but in this game shows no feel for pressure. He took some sacks that ideally he’d be able to dodge or extend the play using his legs. When he chooses to run, he can break it off. When a pass rush gets close, he’s often a sitting duck.
Of course accuracy trumps everything and that is an area where Tannehill also has to improve. He hasn’t got a lot of velocity in his throws, so he needs to be accurate. Too often he just flat out misses the target, going a bit high or asking too much of the receiver. I’m encouraged by the occasional pro-quality pass, such as the back-shoulder lob at 3:42 that picks out Jeff Fuller despite tight coverage from this year’s #5 overall pick Patrick Peterson. That throw is absolutely on the mark, so perhaps an off-season of work will provide the necessary polish to make that type of pass a more regular occurrence?
The first interception is clearly a communication issue or a trip by the receiver, so Tannehill gets a pass. The second pick is a different matter, a lazy pass into double coverage on a slant which gets the treatment. Likewise the third turnover is just a bad read and decision.
As I touched on earlier his arm strength doesn’t look great. He doesn’t try a lot of deep passes but he’s got adequate velocity on the short stuff. It’s not a major issue but certainly nobody is going to be drooling over Tannehill because of a cannon arm. That isn’t to say he isn’t capable of making deep passes, but he’s going to need a big target and better timing.
I’m loathe to be too critical or judgemental because Tannehill will not have received maximum attention to work on his quarterback skills the last two years. This off-season he gets that opportunity and you simply cannot ignore the big wins he managed in 2010 during the regular season. It also has to be remembered that LSU’s defense is no slouch either and there’s no shame in losing the Bowl game – his only defeat as a true starting quarterback to date.
If he can start the 2011 season how he finished last year, who knows how that will improve his stock? Can he become an even better technical passer, can he perhaps improve his upper body strength in order to create more velocity and can he get a better feel for pressure? He has the advantage of a decent running game and a receiver in Jeff Fuller that I ranked at #12 overall in my top-50 for 2012. Fuller’s presence alone should make life a lot easier, as you can see in his performance against Patrick Peterson.
I’ll reserve judgement on a grade for now, but it’s not unrealistic to offer a modest mid-round suggestion if he can take the full benefit of this off-season. Teams will certainly be intrigued by a player who has shown faultless character and effort and multi-talents in different positions. There’s always the knowledge that if he doesn’t work out as a quarterback, you can try him at receiver. It’ll be very interesting to watch Texas A&M and Ryan Tannehill’s progress this year.