Thoughts on Ryan Tannehill & a pair of Clemson Tigers

Ryan Tannehill - far from a first round pick

Not impressed with Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) vs Arkansas

Ryan Tannehill is the next quarterback everyone wants to be better than he actually is. Time for a reality check because he’s not a first round pick.

It’s completely undestandable why he became a really intriguing prospect coming into the season – all he did last year was win games. His only defeat came against powerhouse LSU in the Cotton Bowl – the victories against Landry Jones and Oklahoma, Robert Griffin III and Baylor, plus four more wins against Nebraska, Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas. He had 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Overall it was an impressive picture and rightly people wanted to see more from a receiver convert who suddenly looked like he had a full-time future at quarterback.

Against Oklahoma State he had a decent start before a poor second half with three turnovers in a choke job defeat. The game against Arkansas had a similar outcome, but the general performance from Tannehill in my eyes was poor.

He runs a very basic offense for starters. There’s a lot of extreme-spread concepts and his passes are often one read throws into the flats, he has run option a lot of the time and he’s not making more than one read before resorting to the checkdown. He has flashed in the last two weeks 3-4 throws that are very impressive and that’s where the potential lies. On Saturday he made a picture perfect throw on a wheel route, dissecting two defensive backs to fit it into a really tight window for Ryan Swope. You sit up and take notice. The next throw? A lofted pass up for grabs which is easily intercepted having made one read (Jeff Fuller) and basically just thrown it in his general direction. That’s not good enough.

In the second half Texas A&M looked lost on offense. They couldn’t run the ball with ease like they were earlier and yet they never really turned to their quarterback to open it up. They had a chance to win it at the death with a final drive. The result? Two inaccurate check downs to Swope, a QB scramble for eight yards and a failed fourth down run. Game over.

Tannehill’s final stat line was 25-35 passing, 247 yards and no touchdowns with the single pick. That’s now a 6-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the season.

Even after the game I noticed several high profile pundits who have promoted Tannehill backing him up. You can only talk about athleticism for so long and seemingly a lack of starts is being used to justify mistakes. I look at it a different way. Unless you’re going to make up for a lack of starts by throwing the guy in too early in the NFL – how is he going to overcome that issue if it’s still on the table by the end of the college season?

For me Tannehill is a far less technically gifted and polished version of Jake Locker. People argued strongly to suggest Locker deserved a grade outside of round one, so why is the opposite happening for Tannehill? They are both athletic guys who are prone to mistakes, don’t go through progressions particularly well and force throws. Every now and again though, you see the pro-level pass. Locker was better out of the pocket while Tannehill is marginally more comfortable dropping back to pass (he also plays behind a better offensive line with better receivers) but overall I think it’s a fair comparison. While Locker had extreme physical potential and was a superior NFL prospect, I think there are similar issues between the two.

I can understand why Locker went in the top ten – I put him that high in every single mock draft I compiled from December onwards. I can’t give Tannehill the same level of support in that instance because overall he has a much lower ceiling. My grade for Locker was round two as it happens – my grade for Tannehill is round 3-4. I’m not so risk averse to avoid potential if it’s in the extreme. The Seahawks need a quarterback and they need to be aggressive finding one for the long haul. Even so, I wouldn’t want to be tied to Ryan Tannehill as ‘the guy’ for my regime. He’s a project, he needs to work on a lot of areas in his game and while there is some athletic potential – right now he’s an absolute mile away from anything but slight promise.

And it has to be said – if Tannehill had replaced Jerrod Johnson last year with a 6-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, losing two deflating games to Oklahoma State and Arkansas… would he be riding the crest of a hype wave right now? He has some potential, but as I said previously he remains too much of a project for me to consider building a front offices reputation on.

All of this just reaffirms my suspicion that this isn’t a unique group of quarterbacks. At this stage I can only give Luck and Barkley first round grades. Tannehill, Landry Jones and Austin Davis are the three players I have in the second tier – I much prefer Davis personally but I think someone will overpay for Jones or Tannehill. The Seahawks would be better served aggressively pursuing the top two rather than settling for anything else at the position.

Two Tigers make an impression

Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch are two Clemson defensive lineman who I regularly get asked about. JMPasq has put together tape on both from the weekend’s impressive victory over Virginia Tech (see videos below).

They are two players that are tough to work out. Thompson, for example, has flashed a few performances like this during the last couple of seasons. He’s got a great bull rush, it’s really come along over the last 12 months and you can see in the video how often he drove back the interior Virginia Tech lineman to create disruption up the middle. His real value comes against the run – he’s quick off the snap and has great upper body power to jolt back lineman and fill running lanes. You almost expect him to be bigger than the listed 6-2 305lbs because he plays with the attitude of a bigger NT.

Mobility is good, he moves around well for his size. He’s got a relentless approach and has a motor that never stops despite the fact he plays the bulk of the rotation at Clemson. However, I keep coming back to the fact he has just three career sacks in four years. Last season he had Da’Quan Bowers soaking up blockers and still only registered a single sack. This year, Branch is providing the edge attention and he’s had two games with 0.5 sacks only.

He’s consistently in the backfield and you want to buy into his play, but why isn’t he getting more production? For starters I think his hand use could be better to disengage, buying maybe that split second to finish a play rather than ‘nearly’ make it every time. You can’t sniff at a player who looks that disruptive though and while he may not reach the dizzy heights of former elite defensive tackles, he looks like a solid R2 prospect who could really promote his stock with a blast of production over the rest of the season.

This was the best game I’ve seen Andre Branch have and it’s not close. He’s always left me underwhelmed in the past, a side issue to superior players on the Clemson line. Against Virginia Tech he had three sacks and flashed balance comparable to the much lighter Bruce Irvin – rounding edges with a speed rush at almost an impossible angle to avoid the offensive tackle and get to the QB. That was impressive, because previously he’s looked a bit sluggish off the snap and he’s generally not an explosive pass rusher.

He’s not a one-trick player who relies on speed – which is a big positive. However, I’d like to see a better inside move. The other thing that stood out to me in this game was the way Branch coped against the run, driving blockers and preventing the edge being set. For a guy at 6-4 and 260lbs that was impressive strength and it shows that he has some LEO potential playing in a four man front for Seattle. His disengaging skills are above average in general and he plays with patience and control.

Branch is someone to keep an eye on for the rest of the year and if the Seahawks want some youth at the defensive end/LEO position, he could be a possibility in rounds 2-3.


  1. akki


    So suppose that there are two gems in the QB class, and Seattle cannot get either of them. Let’s say Seattle drafts around 5th, they have Miami and Indianapolis in front of them, and Miami and Indy hold the same notion of QB value that you hold. They’re thus unwilling to let Seattle trade up to get one of them no matter how aggressive the Seahawks are. I don’t think this is a farfetched scenario – we have an unusual amount of teams that didn’t have a long-term solution at QB, in a league where the passing game is ever becoming more important. And peeking around some other teams’ fan boards, many fans of needy teams would trade their entire draft for Luck, so we’re not alone.

    Also, you have Jones and Tannehill getting overdrafted, so let’s say they wouldn’t be there by the time the Seahawks pick in the 2nd.

    Given those scenarios what can you do?
    1) Trade down in the 1st and overdraft Jones or Tannehill
    2) Pick top QB available in the 2nd round, possibly also an overdraft
    3) Go for Davis in whatever round he’s ranked, maybe late
    4) Draft other positions and wait until 2013

    • Rob

      Well whatever the situation they have to aggressively pursue the top two QB’s. Do what it takes. I don’t think Indy will feel obliged to take a QB considering they’ve just signed Manning to a major deal, it’s just that Luck would be an obvious replacement for the long haul. But teams like Miami and KC will look at QB’s. Seattle need to be creative, aggressive, obsessed with the top two QB’s. That is of course, if Matt Barkley even declares.

      To actually answer the question, if every avenue is exhausted and the Seahawks can’t get at Luck or Barkley… then personally I would avoid the other quarterbacks. Reaching for a bad QB is much worse than failing to solve the problem. Austin Davis is worth drafting, but not an immediate starter. So I would look at options 3 and 4. Personally I grade Davis quite highly, so I wouldn’t have an issue in a small reach there.

      • akki

        I’m hoping that last year was just an aberration in terms of Locker, Ponder, Dalton, and Kaepernick all going well above expectations. Maybe it was unusual due to the number of teams with QB issues last year, either due to no QB at present, or aging QB, and it won’t happen this year because more teams are set for the future in their minds. Carolina, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Minnesota, Cincinnati, SF, and Arizona (and maybe Buffalo) are presumably no longer looking for QBs.

        On the other hand, what if it isn’t an aberration and the need for QB is now so high, such that the bar a QB has to surpass to be worth drafting in the 1st round is lower than it used to be. If every quarterback is going to be reached for in future years, then maybe you’re forced with either playing along and reaching as well, or never getting your guy. And a couple years later you realize it was a new valuation paradigm, and QBs will always be drafted higher even if limited ceiling or big project.

        Another draft issue to think about – if the Rams end up at the top of the draft, would they even entertain trading with the Seahawks, knowing that it would lead to having a top QB on a division opponent?

        • Rob

          I think the league has changed, Akki. Quarterbacks are almost ‘too’ important now – and the rookie wage scale is going to provide the opportunity for teams to take more shots to find ‘the guy’. I’ve no doubt what so ever that Minnesota, Cincy, San Fran etc – teams that drafted QB’s in R1-2 last year – would take a long hard look at Luck/Barkley etc. It’s not a case anymore of ‘this is our guy, we’re handcuffed to him’. It’s more – ‘we need to find that guy, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to do so’.

          I suspect we’ll see a cluster of QB’s taken above their means again next year. And at the end of the day, even the #1 overall pick is now a lot more expendable because the cost is so reduced.

  2. cliff

    I’m pretty sure when the Colts draft if Luck isn’t there they’re not going to draft a QB. Why would they take a QB like Barkley when they could try to trade down or take the top player available at that point and draft a QB later that they can develop under Manning? Draft a guy like Tannehill or Cousins or Lindley. Anyone that they think can develop in a few years under Manning. Why take Barkley or Jones if you’re the Colts i don’t get it. Even if Luck is there and Manning is 100% i’m not sure i would pull the trigger i’d trade down and win a Superbowl or two with the Picks and Talent i’ve acquired.

    • Ryan

      I hope the Colts feel the same way as you.

      Indy… you don’t need a quarterback yet… Indy… you don’t need a quarterback yet… Indy… you don’t need a quarterback yet…

  3. diehard82

    Rob, what are your thoughts on Josh Portis? Could he be the post-Jackson answer, as in 2013? Looks like he has the arm and legs. Just not sure about the head.

    Do you think Cincy may reconsider a trade (of a draft pick) for Carson Palmer at seasons end?

    What about a Curry and mid-round pick to Packers trade for Matt Flynn? What are your thoughts on Flynn?

  4. Jmpasq

    I have been very dissapointed by the play of Tannehill the last couple weeks. His descion making and his inaccuracy late in games is a big problem.If U made a highlight film of him he would look like a Top 10 pick but his down to down play is lacking. I still think Tannehill will be gone before the 2nd day ends.

    I have always thought Branch was an overrated prospect. Ive never seen what the buzz was about. This is by far the best game Ive ever seen him play and Im going to need some more until I jump on the bandwagon. I cant erase all the bad film ive seen just from 1 performance.

  5. Jmpasq

    Why didnt u upload the Tannehill vs Arkansas gmae.

    • Rob

      Thanks John.

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