JMPasq has supplied us with the tape (see above) for Ryan Tannehill’s performance against Oklahoma State. I’ll have more on this game later in the week and also some thoughts on UNC vs Georgia Tech that I’ve just finished watching.
This really was a contrasting performance from Tannehill. It was interesting to see on Twitter how people were climbing over each other to jump on the Tannehill bandwagon. In the second half, the masses fell silent. The only noise you could hear was a distant choking in the background, emanating from the television screen showing the game.
Before I get into a review of the performance I want to make a general point. A lot was written about Tannehill in the week, with high profile draft pundits such as Rob Rang tweeting that he could leap frog Matt Barkley and Landry Jones to be the #2 ranked quarterback behind Andrew Luck next April. In fairness Rang wasn’t alone in making that early prediction, yet I couldn’t disagree more.
This was Tannehill’s 1oth start for the Aggies, having previously been beaten to the starting job by Stephen McGee (a 4th round pick) and Jerrod Johnson (an UDFA, now a free agent after being released by Philadelphia). He’s had some impressive victories since replacing Johnson and shown plenty of promise and potential. Yet projections in the first round were putting the cart before the horse in my mind, a point I made long before Tannehill threw three picks against Oklahoma State in a floundering second half. I have no doubt that Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are a class above any other 2012 draft eligible quarterback. Can Tannehill rise to the top of a growing second tier of QB’s? Sure – but let’s not go over the top on what he’s capable of achieving here.
Are we desperate to promote quarterbacks above their means, particularly this year given how much everyone has talked up the class? Possibly so and it’s not a surprise given how many teams (including the Seahawks) need a franchise passer. However, we can’t force players into grades they don’t deserve. I’ve maintained a mid-round grade on Tannehill with potential to rise. I see him as someone who shouldn’t be expected to start early, but could sit and learn and develop into a possible starter. You also have the added bonus that he could work out at receiver or take part in some trick plays and special packages early in his pro-career. Is he a handcuff quarterback who you stake your reputation on with a first round pick? No. No. No.
I’m far from an oracle on quarterbacks, but I’ve had some success grading the position since I started writing this blog. When most people were projecting Jimmy Clausen as a shoe-in top five pick, potentially the #1 overall choice, I gave him a round two grade and put Sam Bradford at #1 long before those two possibilities became a reality. Not many people will remember Bradford as a skinny, spread offense quarterback who would be a permanent liability with injury - but that’s what a lot of people believed at the time. Clausen wasn’t turnig the ball over and was putting up big numbers, but he played in a Charlie Weis offense that dictated the situation. Here’s what I wrote on the 16th November, 2009: “I’ve just gone through Notre Dame’s 27-22 defeat to Pittsburgh and I have to admit quarterback Jimmy Clausen was very disappointing. Despite all the injuries and the fact he’s coming from a spread offense, Sam Bradford has to be the highest ranked quarterback for the 2010 draft.”
I didn’t have Colt McCoy in round one or two that year – and projected Tebow poorly despite admitting he would almost certainly be a first round pick. A year later I was among the first (if not the first) to pair Cam Newton with the Carolina Panthers. In fact, as soon as Andrew Luck chose not to declare, Newton was my #1 as evidenced in this piece I wrote: “I’ve no doubt that Newton has star-potential – the kind of ceiling that Clausen will never have. It’s unfortunate for him that Carolina have regressed this much to be in position to own the #1 pick – but that’s life. Cam Newton can have the kind of impact for the Panthers that a Bowers, Fairley, Green – or a Clausen – simply cannot match. For that reason, I maintain that Carolina should and possibly will draft a quarterback with the first overall pick – even with Luck out of the picture.”
Has Newton shown start potential so far? I’d say so. It wasn’t just about physical qualities either – he was always a much more natural passer than many gave him credit for. What about the next two quarterbacks taken – Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert? Against popular opinion I consistently maintained Jake Locker would be a top-ten pick throughout the process – he went #8 to Tennessee. I couldn’t find a mock draft that included Blaine Gabbert in round one before my own, when I had him going to Seattle at #13 by Christmas Eve. A little while later he declared and eventually was taken with the 10th overall pick. I stated he had top-ten potential in this piece.
So by now I know what you’re thinking – how arrogant to spend the last three paragraphs pumping up his own tyres. I’ve not got everything correct – far from it in fact. I graded Christian Ponder in the mid/late rounds last year – projected he would be taken as a reach in round two – yet he ended up being the 12th overall pick. I thought Andy Dalton would be a mid/late rounder but he went at the top of round two. C’est la via, you can’t win them all.
However, the reason I linked to those old pieces and took the role of shameless self promoting was purely to try and add some value to the point I’m about to make – that the class of 2012 will not bring about a timeless group of quarterbacks. If Matt Barkley returns to USC, which remains a possibility, we’ll have one player and one player only who I believe is capable of having a lasting impact as one of 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL - and of course that’s Andrew Luck.
Landry Jones, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III – if you’re banking on those guys being your savior, good luck with that. That’s not to say they can’t start or shouldn’t be on your board – I’d happily take a flier on Jones in the second round for example knowing I could move on if it didn’t work out possibly with reputation intact. I would’ve gambled on Ryan Mallett in a similar range, knowing that the risk was decreased outside of round one. If you can sit a quarterback like Jones and really work on the things he needs to improve, I think it could be a long term success story. Unfortunately, he’ll almost certainly be drafted above his means to a team that will essentially throw him in much too soon. Blaine Gabbert is already starting in Jacksonville and how long will it be until Christian Ponder takes over from Donovan McNabb in Minnesota? Both quarterbacks needed much more time than either will be given, although obviously I believe Gabbert is much more equipped to make it work.
That’s just my opinion. Like with Ponder, I could be completely wrong. On the other hand, maybe I’ll be right and next time I need to back up a bold statement on a quarterback class I’ll be linking to this piece. If I am wrong I’ll eat my words - I’m not here to be seen to be right every time, I’m here to make judgements and form opinions with the same differing results that everyone else has who follows the draft.
So what about Tannehill? For starters he’s strictly a one-read guy. I’ve noticed he often stares down receivers and doesn’t even resort to the checkdown and a number of his bad throws against OKSU came when trying to force things on the hot read. Some of the good throws came from this issue as well, including the first touchdown pass to Jeff Fuller which was a good, accurate throw with perfect velocity to a receiver who was well covered but only by one defensive back. Good throw, good catch.
He anticipates routes quite well, particularly come backs to the back shoulder. That’s a plus because it translates to the next level. What I didn’t like was his inability to react and get out of either a broken play or realise when the hot read wasn’t on. One of his three picks came when the receiver tripped up, yet Tannehill still makes the throw despite the cornerback having an obvious advantage. It’s a bad decision, one that I suspect Luck, Barkley and Landry Jones would avoid by checking off to the next option or throwing underneath. You simply don’t try that pass in any circumstance, yet Tannehill just ploughs in like a bull in a china shop.
The second interception was another bad decision – he’s staring down his target despite blanket coverage to the right hand side. He tries to fit the pass into an impossible window despite heavy pressure and an advancing pass rusher. Tannehill gets hit as the ball comes out, but in reality where was he going with that pass? Why doesn’t he see the danger there? I can’t decide whether it’s just a lack of experience, the system or if this is a more pressing concern. Staring down receivers will not get you a starting job in the NFL, and it’s one of Tannehill’s biggest issues based on the evidence in this game. The third and game-deciding pick was almost identical – again a bad decision to throw to a receiver he tracked all the way.
Teams are going to adapt and respond during a game. If something is working in one half, it won’t necessarily work in the second. Brandon Weeden took a difficult first half for his team and turned it around for an impressive win by making adjustments. When Texas A&M needed a response, they were found wanting. Andrew Luck’s offense at Stanford is a well oiled machine and he rarely has to make more than one read, but always has the checkdown or scramble option. Matt Barkley is adept at going through his progressions and already manages the USC offense like a pro-starter. Considering both players are also technically excellent and physically capable, it already puts them both on a completely different plateau to a quarterback like Tannehill. Really the only area Tannehill grades higher is with physical attributes, but even then it’s not like Luck and Barkley aren’t athletes, just just won’t see USC’s quarterback running a QB-option to the house.
There’s no doubt he is an athlete. The quarterback option draw that led to a big touchdown run was pure brilliance – Tannehill had the vision to make the call, execute and punish the Oklahoma State offense. It’s a big play aspect he’ll have in his locker that will interest pro-teams, even if this isn’t the kind of play he’ll ever run at the next level. Arm strength is more than good enough and from a technical point of view, his release and footwork is better than you’d expect from a convert.
Overall my impression is that Tannehill warrants a grade in the R3-4 area based on physical potential, but is likely to be one of thoseprospects who goes earlier due to the increasing importance of the QB position. I would be very cautious of investing a high pick and then hoping that he’ll end up making your reputation because you need to find ‘the guy’ for the next decade. He could be another Kevin Kolb who will not ultimately benefit the team who drafts him on the field, but could train up behind a proven veteran and earn a trade/starting gig elsewhere.
From a pure physical and potential stand point, he may be a more promising overall player than Landry Jones with more experience and starts. However, the suggestion that he could be better than Luck or Barkley I find slightly preposterous. Until he learns to run through progressions and stop staring down targets - even just take what a team gives him – he will turn the ball over against good teams when fighting from behind or needing to press matters.