Texas game tape no better for Ryan Tannehill

December 19th, 2011 | Written by Rob Staton

Tannehill had three more picks against Texas

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.

15 Responses to “Texas game tape no better for Ryan Tannehill”

  1. Jarhead says:

    Last night I found a very tangible comparison for Landry Jones in the NFL. Watch Joe Flacco from last night. Lost, uninspired, insipid play. Never once does he look in control, not once does he ever look like he is in command of the offense. He is just waiting for the next call. He couldn’t create anything and he was not merely “aware” of the pass rush, where he could move to avoid it, he seemed to be “focused” on it, where the rush superceded his own routes. That is exactly what I see happening to Landry Jones in the NFL. It was kind of enlightening, and maybe other pro scouts or even just fans will notice the similarities. As for Ryan Tannehill, to have Walter mock him to us in the first round is just lazy. Watch the games Walter, do some research on the player being drafted and the team drafting. I mean mock drafts are all just guesswork, but you’re making money on that site. Take some pride. Tannehill needs a lot of polishing- years, not just a season. Honestly I see Tannehill being a better suit for the ‘Favre-Rodgers’ type situation than Luck-Manning. A player who can sit for a few years behind an established starter, with no pressure to throw him in early. A place like New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, or even San Diego could fit. You have really good QB’s in those cities and except for SD they’re all well coached (Norv is gong to be mercifully fired soon) and those are teams with high octane offenses. I don’t like Tannehill in Seattle’s situation, but for the right team with a stable QB situation, he could be groomed to fit nicely into a system

  2. Doug says:

    No thanks, Ill pass. We don’t need a possible project. We need to do whatever it takes to get one of the big 3. We have a project in Portis, who just might be our QBOTF, I don’t know. They are keeping him a pretty good secret I think. And with that thought, if they are, then we are all sure wasting a lot of ink talking about QB’s hehe.

  3. Ray Smith says:

    I was wondering what happened to this guy…uninspiring seems to be the apt word for the winter version of Tannehill. I wonder how much has to do with his head coach?

  4. David says:

    Doug,

    I dont know if they are keeping him or secret or just dont have much to say about him, he doesnt get much if any Practive reps.

    The only thing ive heard about Portis is how much Potential John and Pete believe he has which is alot from what i hear.

    He has a good work ethic, from what I had heard during an interview or something along those lines is he is in before practice starts and working on his game.

  5. Tom says:

    Great thoughts, Jarhead. Your post was spot on.

  6. Colin says:

    Having been fortunate to sit down and watch a few games of Tannehill, the best I can make of him is a backwards Pete Carroll. I’ll explain.

    The Seahawks have been very slow in 1st half of games this year. They have thoroughly dominated in the second half of nearly every game. Tannehill plays well in the 1st half, only to wilt and blow a good lead or fail to command his team to victory. I find this a huge red flag. It signals he does not adjust well and teams that make adjustments nearly stop him cold. I can’t justify taking a guy who can’t adapt to what the defenses do.

    Outside of Luck, Barkley and RG3, there are hardly any QB’s I can see worth taking a flier on in the later rounds. Who knows.

  7. Peter says:

    Jarhead,

    I know what you mean about Water Football, for the longest time regardless of Seattle moving out of the top ten do to actual wins, he kept mocking us Landry Jones, now Tannehill. I could see Austin Davis later if you can’t get a suitable QB early on, but Tannehill and Jones, sheesh. Forever they’ve had us taking a corner, not even factoring that now we actually went from “CFL corner and Marcus Trufant is gone,” to perhaps having a difficult time figuring out a way to pay Browner after the end of the season since he’s also figuring out the game speed.

    Sometimes I wonder how lazy mockers can be, on Mocking the draft which usually has good info, they have us most recently taking Decastro, which I woul dbe fine with, but the reasoning is the Moffit could play center…uhh, Max Unger anyone? He’s quietly had one of those years where you don’t here about him because he’s seemed to finally picked up the NFL speed. Decastro to move Moffit to Center is just laziness. Plus to further invalidate their mock they still have Sanu (WR) who recently said he won’t declare.

    Rob to you again sir, keep up the good work. I like that you don’t mock the players to Seattle that Seahawks fans would want out of the very easy reason that they simply would go to other teams (RGIII, sure we all want him, but is that going to happen probably not) and thanks for also taking the time to mock according to what all the teams.

  8. Michael (CLT) says:

    As for late rounder that intrigue, Ryan Lindell of San Diego State is one that still catches my eye. He reminds me of Charlie Whitehurst. Who knows, if this guy can learn to read a defense and legitmately go through reads after a couple years, the coach that succeeds Carroll might have something.

    I just do not see Seattle finding a trade partner without mortgaging the franchise. How much would trading out of a position to draft a QBOTF ruin the fan trust in Cleveland, Miami, Jacksonville, Indy, Washington. And remember, Cleveland has two first round picks. There is almost no “objective” way that Seattle finds a partner willing to “wait three more years” with numerous picks, and no veteran package that any of those teams will willingly take on.

    Thus… QBOTF = Tarvaris Jackson.

    It is what it is. I hope he grows like Matt did.

  9. Jarhead says:

    Well for a little perspective, WAS, CLE, MIA, and IND haven’t really ever been viable trading partners for us. CAR, JAX, and MIN have made much more sense. Because how much trust would be lost in Jacksonville from the fans if the FO there traded up to get Blaine Gabbert and then drafted another unproven QB while they have so many other needs that have to be addressed. I think there are several teams who have there young QB who would love to surround him with lots of other young talent. They are much more than a QB away, as we in Seattle are. Any one of those teams would be happy to take the bevvy of picks that we would offer, and it will be much more a bidding war with all the QB needy teams. I do believe that CLE and KC are not going to be looking at QB early, CLE because it’s only Colt McCoy’s 2nd year and they have added no true weapons for him- they may want to add two playmakers with their first rounders, and KC because the devastating injuries they suffered derailed them from the start. So bringing in a new QB would be like starting over from scratch. Maybe later in Round 2 or 3. These are just my thoughts. But I feel that Seattle trading up is very possible, in fact I consider it the most likely. We don’t need to add depth to 6 different positions, and if we don’t go QB that’s exactly what we’d be doing. That’s just wasteful. (There are no true players available in the D-Line to draft who could be starters, only rotational players) Except LB, we could get a starter there. But would you rather have a LB and Tarvaris, or resign our vets and draft one of the Big 3? Seahawks FO will be asking themselves the same question

  10. Jarhead says:

    And I meant to say- We ARE a QB away. That was written in a confusing manner

  11. Brian says:

    Michael, if we trade up for a QB, it won’t be directly with another QB hungry team, it will be with the team ahead of them. IE, if Tampa Bay is on the clock ahead of Washington and RG3 is still on the board, we call up the Bucs and trade for their pick.

    It doesn’t seem rational to me that it would require much more than two firsts to move from 17-20 up to 10-12. Simply because if the ‘hawks were drafting at 11 and didn’t need a QB I would be thrilled to drop down seven or eight spots and pick up another first round pick. But the NFL isn’t always a rational place, as the standard of giving up a 1st next year for a 2nd this year shows.

  12. Michael (CLT) says:

    Good points. That said, Washington will have more to offer in pick position. Cleveland will riot if Holmgren passes on a QBOTF. Remember, Holmgren made an offer to St. Louis for Bradford. They have two picks. No way we can beat picks offered in 2012 alone with Cleveland. And McCoy is done. KC has a new coach coming in. The only way they stay the course is if McDaniels is brought as OC with Crennel made HC.

    We would have to offer at least three first round picks or a highly valued veteran (Earl Thomas?) to compete with Cleveland. I guess that leaves us RG III to perhaps sell the farm for. But again, how do you out-offer Miami or Washington. And don’t think the new owner at Jacksonville is above picking another QB and calling a spade a spade: Gabbert does not show any signs of having “it”.

    I am most likely wrong; PC/JS have surprised me all year. But I do believe Jackson is a Pete Carroll type QB. This is the team he wants to win with. It is what it is.

  13. Brandon Ellefson says:

    You’re right that Tannehill needs to improve his decision making. That comes with experience, and I certainly think he can quickly improve that. He’s a sharp kid — 3-time All-Big 12 Academic team. What I think a lot of people miss about Tannehill is the offense he’s played in at college. He’s played under Mike Sherman’s pro-style west coast offense for two years at quarterback now. His first full season starting: 3700 yards, 61% completion, 29 TDs, 15 INTs. Not really that bad if you ask me and that’s better than Barkley had in his first two full seasons starting. Further, look at the Seahawks offense and our coordinator: Darrell Bevell. He coached under Sherman during their years in Green Bay and I certainly see them having similar offensive strategies. (I know Sherman ran some college wrinkles in the system such as the read option, but they’re still very similar). This would create a very unique situation for Tannehill, as he would basically stay under the same offense from college to the pros and create a great and easy transition for him. And just look at what Pete Carroll can do with the talent he drafts. He’s able to get the best out of them. And it’s not like we’d be asking Tannehill to run the offense. We’ve got a strong running game and a good developing line. Throw in some tall, solid receiving targets in Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and Zach Miller along with the playmakers Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate and you’re giving any rookie a good situation to come into.

  14. Rob says:

    Hi Brandon,

    The problem is, using the experience card is an intanigble aspect of grading a player. We have no idea whether his problems are down to not playing a third year as the starter at A&M. All we can do is watch the tape and make a judgement, and what I’ve seen on tape worries me. I’d also say, the offense A&M used this year was a million miles away from a WCO. It was pure spread, completely broken down and scaled back (Sherman has admitted that). There was an awful lot of read-option.

  15. Matt says:

    Just trade for Brian Hoyer! He has experience playing under TOM BRADY! Also, I think you should analyze one of his pro games. Hes a pretty solid quarterback.