Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) vs Baylor

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.


  1. Colin

    There are definitley some positives to Tannehill. I think with a bit of work and good coaching he could become a good NFL QB. With that said, I would take him no higher than round 3. He will be a project. His arm seems to be a bit lacking and he locks onto receivers at a frightening rate. For the Seahawks, this is not a viable option in my eyes.

    • Rob

      I would tend to agree Colin. The time has long passed where the Seahawks can take a developmental guy, wait three years and introduce them into something like a comfortable environment. Even with the best intentions, it’s just not accessible for teams that don’t have something like a structured QB situation. Take Jacksonville for example – they drafted Blaine Gabbert at #10 and have felt pressured to start him as a rookie. Minnesota traded for Donovan McNabb, but are now going with Christian Ponder in year one. Bringing in a rookie with a high draft pick these days comes with the pressures of starting early. In 2006/7 when Matt Hasselbeck was in his prime, the Seahawks could get away with benching a high pick. The fans, the media, the situation won’t allow a young highly drafted QB to sit on the bench if a stop gap isn’t blowing away the NFL on the field.

      This is why I keep coming back to Matt Barkley. I am not trying to suggest for a minute that he is flawless, but he ticks almost every box in terms of potential early starter. Experience in something like a pro-style offense, ability to progress through reads and change calls at the LOS, accuracy on a short/intermediate level with good enough deep accuracy to get by. Not elite arm strength but good enough. A character who enjoys a laugh and a joke but ultimately a leader with a professional attitude. He’s pro-ready – to the extent that the term can be paired with a quarterback. He offers the best opportunity outside of Andrew Luck for the Seahawks to find not only a quick starter, but someone who can develop into a star.

      • Colin

        If the Hawks were to draft Barkley next year, do you think they would start him right away, or start Tarvaris until he proves inadequate?

        • Tom

          The question was to Rob but I’ll toss in my 2 cents.

          Yes, if they draft Barkley, which will be a top 10 selection, you start him from day 1. No need to hold a clipboard and watch Jackson, if he’s even on the squad.

          • cliff

            I think that’s the reason they wanted Carson Palmer so bad. They could play to win with Palmer and have a QB sit for 2 or 3 years to develop.

        • Rob

          Ideally you sit any rookie, but Barkley is one of the few players who I’d feel confident going with. He’d be learning on the run, but he did it as a freshman at USC without disastrous results.

          • Tom

            Today’s NFL has changed, especially, the rule changes favoring QB’s and WR’s, so you start high drafted rookie QB’s from day 1.

            The only reason ARodgers was on the bench was because they had the luxury of having Favre.

            Build an OL, have some playmakers on the outside, a decent power back and the rookie QB should have some comfort and won’t turn skittish and into David Carr.

  2. Erik

    I sure do hope we can snag Barkley. I also think Landry Jones need to be viewed as the 2nd best QB and Barkley number #3, there are just too many QB needy teams. With the new rookie wage scale top picks are even more valuable so PC/JS will need to give up alot to get him.

    The problem is all the things that have to happen for us to get him. First he has to declare, second he can’t be rated too highly or he’ll get picked too early for the Hawks to have a chance at him ( I think it’s likely we pick between 10-15), then we need a trade partner and not have another team outbidding us, like Cleveland with two 1st’s.

    Lastly I think the positioning of top round will have a lot to do with our chances. We need for only two of the teams picking 1-5 to need a QB. If the top five contains QB desparate teams like Miami, Cleveland, and Denver I don’t think we have a chance at Barkley. There really are too many variables at this point. I do hope things break our way and we can get him.

  3. Tom

    Based on the comments, I was expecting a much poorer showing from Tannehill.
    I thought the kid looked just fine and showed what I can see as definite NFL upside to his game.

    Tannehill looks the part. He’s smooth in his drop back, nice step into the pocket and fires a pretty ball, guys. Yes, I said he was raw but he looks better than Barkley vids in my eyes. He may not fit the Hawks but look how raw both Freeman and Flacco looked coming into the NFL and they’re progressing just fine.

    :05 and 1st pass of the game. Tannehill shows his athleticism with a nice roll out and fires
    a 22 yd out route rope for a 14 yd gain and 1st down.

    2:35 Crossing route to Swope. Right on the money with accuracy and led his receiver.

    4:00 the 68 yd TD pass was over the db and into Swopes hands. Rob, you said Swope had to slow down on an underthrown ball. It wasn’t underthrown.

    6:50 Swope Td was thrown prior to Swope’s break, so when he turned the ball was right there. Heck, you can’t find that in most NFL QB’s today.

    7:48 Roll out pass to Swope. Tannehill shows you the athleticism and NFL arm consistently in this tape and this is another example.

    8:06 Roll out pass to Kennedy.

    8:32 You could see closely that Tannehill went through his 3 progressions before dumping it off. Great sign from an inexperienced signal caller.

    9:03 Tannehill shows off his NFL arm again on an out route.

    10:00 Td pass to Swope.

    10:40 Pass to Fuller

    11:40 Terrible pass. 1 of the first poor throws in a long while on this tape.

    12:15 TD to Swope was right on the $$.

    12:50 Another NFL deep out route to Fuller on the $$.

    I expected much worse from Rob’s write up. I see 2nd rdr right now and with the upside he shows, Tannehill is going to be a 1st rd draft selection.

    If Mark Sanchez (Barkley’s brother) and Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow and Christian Ponder and the list goes on and on can be taken in the 1st round, that’s where Tannehill will be drafted.

    He is going to wow some GM with his athleticism, NFL arm, apparent knowledge (via Charles Davis on tape) and upside.

    He may not fit the Hawks right now, but I see more in Ryan Tannehill’s game transitioning to the NFL more than I see in Matt Barkley because I still don’t see the justification for the Barkley love.

    Great site, Rob, and thanks for posting the youtubes.

    • PatrickH

      I believe the underthrown TD pass that Rob referred to occurred around 13:30 (and not the one around 4:00). On that throw, I don’t think arm strength was the issue as much as the receiver was a bit faster than Tannehill had estimated (the speed of the receiver apparently surprised the 2 defenders as well).

      On the shovel pass, it looks like there was a lane and the receiver was open when he made his throw, but Tannehill didn’t see (or expect) a defender (#78) was about to shed his block and would be able to stick his arm into the lane to deflect the pass.

    • Rob

      Thanks for the thoughts there Tom. Generally I look for the extremes – reasons why a player will be a success in the NFL and reasons why he won’t be. Generally it’s a solid performance against a bad defense, but there are extremes within his game that flash as a concern for me as I noted. Barkley in my mind is a lot more rounded – a player without any extreme negatives. He doesn’t have the potential upside of a spectacular athletic talent like Cam Newton, but he’s a very technically gifted passer who is capable of doing things that Tannehill just can’t right now. Barkley gets an extremely high grade IMO, very few players have impressed me more since I started writing this blog.

      • Tom

        You know your football, so I’ll defer to you first, but my gut instincts after watching a lot of Barkley over the past 2 seasons gives me an uneasy feeling.

        I hope you’re right because I want all players to succeed, including Barkley, but I think he’s a very good college QB who won’t have that NFL success that warrants a high 1st rd draft selection.

        There will be quite a few excuses why Barkley doesn’t translate as well to the NFL. His OL won’t be that great, his receivers won’t be elite, the running backs don’t relieve some pressure from his game.

        I’ve been wrong before like on Drew Brees but I didn’t see as much game film on Brees as I’ve seen on Barkley.

        I trust your judgment and knowledge, Rob, but my gut instincts after watching a lot of college Qb’s give me the impression he’ll be more like Mark Sanchez that’s a game manager than leader that you have faith can rally you from a 10 pt 4th qtr deficit.

        I’m sure you’ll be right on about Barkley and I’ll be giving you kudos sometime in 2012-13.

        Enjoy the games tonight if you’ll be watching. I’ll have the World Series and UW/Stanford on so I won’t catch the ND/USC game but look forward to your evaluation of Barkley and Luck sometime next week.

        Thanks again for the forum you have to share our thoughts and opinions.

    • Colin

      Tom, I strongly disagree with your analysis of Ryan Tannehill. I don’t think he has a very good arm for starters. Sure, he got the ball to his receivers but he can’t drive the ball at all and that’s a quality that all the best QB’s have. I would question his ability to fit the ball in at the next level.

      Second, he stared down his intended targets like they had a bullseye on them. Tannehill got away with it because the Baylor pass rush was non existent. This issue doesn’t bother me as much becuase all QB’s tend to do this from time to time.

      I must say though, I think you are correct about where he will be drafted. I think some team will take him towards the end of round 1, although I strongly disagree with that thinking. Your statement about if a Ponder or Tim Tebow or Brady Quinn can go in round , is truely spot on. Someone will take the plunge. In my humble opinion, this is not a guy I want to be shackled to a 1st round status with. I would not want the pressure to start him on opening day. As I said in my original comment, I think with the right coaching and some time, he could be a legit NFL QB.

      But he is not what the Seahawks are looking for.

  4. Kip Earlywine

    I was expecting a much more positive review Rob. Six paragraphs discussing negatives vs. two talking positives after a 25/37 for 415 with 6 TD/1 INT performance? I appreciate that you call it like you see it, but to a neutral 3rd party viewer this kind of post certainly smacks of an anti-Tannehill agenda. I usually don’t bring things like this up because I whole-heatedly agree with your agendas 99% of the time, but in this case I see things slightly differently.

    As far as the points you made, I agree with several of them. I agree that he’s not (yet) a 1st round QB, at least on paper (since QBs are always over-drafted, especially recently). I’d put him below the QBs you mentioned, except for Jake Locker.

    I agree that he does have a problem forcing plays, and I wonder if that is from inexperience, coaching (“let him play”) preference, or just a natural “Brett Favre” mentality. Tannehill has had a higher than average (for a good QB) number of interceptions this year, and I think this is a big reason for it.

    I do strongly disagree about Tannehill “locking onto receivers” though. In fact, I actually charted this game just to find out. Here is what I found:

    Designed play throws (screens, timing routes, etc): 10

    Single read throws (not by design): 12

    Multiple read throws: 15

    Evaluating a quarterback’s ability to make reads isn’t a perfect science, as there were a handful of plays were I wasn’t sure if he checked a second read or not. To be fair, I split those throws 50/50 between options 2 and 3. I differentiate scripted plays from unscripted single reads, because on scripted plays checking a 2nd read isn’t even an option unless the play breaks down. For example, if the play call is a timing route on a curl, then Tannehill needs to get the ball to a spot at a certain time, not go looking elsewhere.

    As far as production goes, 5 different receivers had multiple catches, and 3 receivers had 4 catches or more. Swope did have a monster day (11 for 206 with 4 TD), but he wasn’t targeted disproportionately on single read attempts.

    The thing about evaluating a quarterback’s ability to make reads is to remember that even in the NFL, most throws are made on the first read. Its unrealistic, and perhaps detrimental, to expect a QB to check his 2nd read on every snap. If he did, he’d never throw to his first read at all, which either means coverage is godly, or the QB is far too tentative. What’s more important is to simply look to see if the QB has the ability to check multiple reads, and Tannehill clearly passes that test with 15 second read passes (though only once did he check a 3rd read- a dumpoff pass to a RB- so there is still some room for improvement here).

    There is also scheme and coaching that factors as well. Tannehill plays in the same kind of offense that Andy Dalton did, and I watched Dalton play entire games without checking a 2nd read even once. He’s not as prolific at 2nd reads as Luck, Barkley, or even Keith Price, but those guys all play in pro-style offenses, and two of them are even point guard types, so its not really a fair comparison.

    In conclusion, I think Tannehill avoids locking on to WR about as much as you could realistically expect from a QB playing in a spread offense. Rather than a negative, I think his ability to read the field is a big positive.

    • PatrickH


      Thanks for providing the counterpoints. I am curious, of the examples that Rob cited in this article, which ones do you think are designed plays, where Tannehill has to get the ball to certain spots on time without second read possibility, and which are ones where he has more freedom.

      According to Chris Brown of smartfootball.com, NFL QB typically changes the sequence of progression (i.e., deciding which receiver to read first, second, etc.) based on how key defenders line up pre-snap and what positions they go to immediately after the snap, in order to maximize the chance that the first-read receiver is indeed open and the QB doesn’t have to go to the second read. I guess most college QB don’t do this or are incapable of doing it (instead just follow the sequence as called by their coaches), with Luck and Barkley being the exceptions perhaps.

      • Kip Earlywine

        A designed play simply means a play that is scripted pre-snap. It could be a screen, a delayed shovel pass, a bubble screen near the sideline, a play action deep pass, or a timing route (where the QB puts the ball at a spot and trusts the WR to be there, usually on a comeback route). These plays are preferable for quarterback’s who lack natural instincts and QB ability- guys like Charlie Whitehurst- because they take thinking out of the equation. Rather than reading and reacting to a developing situation, a QB need only to execute the job he’s given on these plays. These types of plays are very easy to identify. Any screen or timing route is pretty much a designed play be definition, and for other plays its easy to tell if the play was designed based on how quickly it occurred. Tannehill’s play action deep ball for a TD was a designed play because Tannehill clearly wasn’t thinking about anything else after he set his feet, and play action is a very common pre-cursor to a deep pass since it might suck up the safeties.

        Designed plays aren’t a bad thing in moderation, but they have 1 big problem: if a defense knows a certain designed play is coming, its very easy to stop it (blowing up a screen, etc.). Charlie Whitehurst was victimized by this against the Browns, who seemed to know when every bubble screen pass was coming. That’s why I’m a big fan of instinctive quarterbacks who can go through progressions, because they rely on scripted plays less.

        As far as what you said about NFL QB progressions, I did not know that, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering if the system worked something along those lines because even in the NFL most passes are made on the first read. It makes sense that by identifying a mismatch, a QB can make his first read his best one.

        • Rob

          I have no agenda on Tannehill, but even in a performance perceieved to be productive there are areas that concern me. I actually came out of this game less impressed with Tannehill and more impressed with Griffin III. There are several issues I have projecting Tannehill to the next level – and this game highlighted them again. And let’s be fair here, Landry Jones puts up big numbers and I’ve been critical.

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