This was the sixth time I’ve watched Ryan Tannehill this season, and each time I’ve gone in with an open mind. I want to be impressed enough to make the kind of ambitious first round projection others are making. It’s not happening.
The problem is, Tannehill came into the year a ‘flavor of the month’ prospect. People were looking at Texas A&M winning games with this new quarterback who had athletic and physical tools and he looked interesting. This was an opportunity to grade a guy with the benefit of a full off-seasons’ positional coaching after his switch from receiver. He had a good offensive line, some talent at wide out and some serviceable running backs. This was his time to shine.
There’s no other way of looking at it – he simply hasn’t delivered. He’s only been sacked eight times this season, which is less than Andrew Luck and only one more time than the notoriously untouched Kellen Moore. He’s still struggled and he’s been a significant part of team that continued to throw away big leads. He’s turned the ball over too many times and only dominated once against a Baylor defense ranked even lower than Washington’s.
To project Ryan Tannehill as a round one pick is to ignore a lot of the conventional wisdom that comes with making sound decisions in the draft. You’d be taking a leap of faith on his atnohleticism and background as a receiver, hoping you could polish him up to be a starting quarterback who will always be more athlete than dynamic passer. While Robert Griffin III has played beyond his athletic brilliance to look like a guy who can throw the ball around, limit turnovers, make good decisions and game changing plays – Tannehill has blown more cold than hot.
This latest game - a 27-25 defeat to a Texas team that consistently provides almost offensive threat – was a portrait of his season so far. The Aggies are in a comfortable position, but turnovers and mistakes give the Longhorns a shot and suddenly A&M have capitulated. Tannehill threw three interceptions, completed 41% of his passes and did not look like a first round prospect.
One of the things that puts me off a lot of quarterbacks in college is a dependance on the play call. When a player is reliant on everything else around him clicking into place, that’s a concern. The NFL is not a league where things run smoothly most of the time, you need to be able to improvise. A quarterback doesn’t necessarily need to make three quick and precise reads like Matt Barkley, but he does need to show the ability to make plays when things don’t go according to plan.
Landry Jones is a big culprit of this because he’s so zoned into a play call, when things go wrong he looks completely out of ideas. If a play isn’t on, he’ll try and force it anyway because the thought process goes, “this is the play call, I need to hit this receiver on this route.” Matt Barkley is probably thinking, “This is the hot read, this is the second option, this is the checkdown. What are the defense showing me? Do I need to get out of this call? Are they conceding an inside run here?”
Ryan Tannehill isn’t as restricted as Landry Jones because he’s a vastly superior athlete who should be able to extend plays at the next level. At the moment his athletic abilities are only really used on read-options and designed runs, but with good coaching you’d hope he’d be able to learn how to keep things alive given his mobility. Yet he does share a common problem with Jones and that’s how little improvisation he currently shows on tape.
On his second interception against Texas, he has a three step drop and throws without noticing the defensive back who’s gained the upper hand in coverage. Barkley and Luck see that and quickly go to option two, to the checkdown or just back out of the play. Tannehill throws the ball and it’s picked off for a touchdown going the other way. If you’re drafting a player in round one, he has to see that defensive back. It’s a game changing score, with A&M 16-7 up at the start of the second half, suddenly it’s 16-14. The play highlights the main issues you see time and time again on the tape – no pre-snap read, bad decision, forced throw, turnover with a big return.
Over and over again Tannehill will stare down his first read with no intention of actually throwing the ball, hope that draws the safety before going to his actual hot read. That’s what the play call tells him to do, so he better do it. If the safety sits and tries to under cut the pass, Tannehill will still make the throw. On one play against Texas he fakes the read over the middle (very Nick Foles) and turns to the right for Fuller, throwing a floaty pass to the right sideline. He doesn’t notice the defensive back sitting in coverage anticipating the throw and it’s almost intercepted. Because he’s not making reads and reacting to a defense, he’s relying on the play call. If you watch the top three quarterbacks in this class, they all improvise, they all adjust and they generally make good decisions. Tannehill has 14 picks this year, but each game he’ll have two or three extra examples where you think, “that could easily have been a turnover.” Barkley, Luck and Griffin are much more compact and don’t have anywhere near the same level of near misses. If 14 interceptions doesn’t sound that many, let’s remember that Andrew Luck (9), Matt Barkley (7) and Robert Griffin (6) have thrown less.
He’ll be at his best in a quick tempo offense that gets him out of the pocket, running bootlegs and making shorter completions on the run. Tannehill, as with Jake Locker, looks less comfortable and more error prone when he’s sat in the pocket. The technical issues, the mental issues – they’re both less emphasised when the pocket is moved or he’s throwing to developing routes on bootlegs. For whatever reason, his velocity is better throwing on the run and I’m surprised A&M don’t get him moving around more.
His first interception against Texas is a great example of this problem throwing from a standing start. He’s in the pocket, he stares down his receiver on a route down the middle of the field and floats a pass into double coverage. A defensive back reads his eyes and under-cuts the route, forcing the turnover. It’s bad ball placement (tries to throw to the back shoulder, but it’s too high), it’s bad velocity (needs to drive that pass because of the coverage) and it’s the kind of typical turnover Tannehill has forced too many times this season. Simply put, if you’re asking him to sit in the pocket and pick apart a defense, he can’t do it. He needsto be on the run. The big difference between Jake Locker and Tannehill, however, is Locker’s offensive line couldn’t keep him clean for more than 2-3 attempts, while Tannehill is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in college football and is virtually untouched.
Due to his problems in the pocket, it’s impossible to give him even an average grade for accuracy and he’s not grasped touch passing yet. He’ll fire a missile on a simple curl route, then float a deep ball and risk being picked. He doesn’t have a lot of big downfield completions because he generally doesn’t throw the ball into areas that give a receiver a chance to make a play. A lower, flat throw which hugs the sideline won’t cut it when the read is single coverage on a deep out. Tannehill also has a lot of passes tipped or blocked, I have to believe due to his slingy release given he’s got ideal height. It’s an issue he’ll need to correct, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smoother release at the senior bowl if he attends.
The third interception is the worst of the lot, which is saying something. He’s just given up a pick six to make it 16-14, then he throws one of the laziest interceptions you’ll see all year from inside his own 10-yard line. Shotgun snap, stares down his receiver to the left who’s in double coverage and then just missed, badly, with a looping floaty pass. Perhaps the fact it was so high helps Tannehill, because otherwise it would’ve been another pick-six rather than just an interception. It’s a terrible pass, absolutely nowhere near the intended target, thrown almost with a sense of disregard. A pass like that should scare a scout out of the building. He should never attempt that throw.
People want to use inexperience as an excuse, but we’re not seeing a progression here as he spend more time under center and more time practising at quarterback. If anything, he’s been consistently patchy all season. If you could point to tangible improvements during 2011, I might be willing to accept he’ll enter the pro’s and with high level coaching it’ll click. The mistakes I’m seeing instead make me believe this is a guy with a lot of ideal physical tools, but is only a mediocre quarterback.