Home > NFL > NFL Draft 2012: Is Ryan Tannehill a Good QB Prospect?

NFL Draft 2012: Is Ryan Tannehill a Good QB Prospect?

I promise I’ll put something interesting up about what appears to be one of the better super bowl matchups.  Four in a row, now!  Today is about a college player.

It’s a simple question with a complicated answer: is Ryan Tannehill a good quarterback prospect worth drafting at the top of the first round?

There are two general truths about Ryan Tannehill that no scouts disagree on: he generally makes smart, quick decisions with the football, and he has a natural feel for the game.  What is the difference between having a natural feel and a great feel?  The level of experience.  Ryan Tannehill has just 20 college starts.  That’s five fewer than Tom Brady had.  It’s the same number as Tony Pike, and within the realm of Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, and Aaron Rodgers.  We don’t actually know how great his feel for the game is, but it seems to be natural because there wasn’t an awful learning curve for Tannehill.  He pretty much picked up the offense immediately.

There are a number of other things that scouts like about Tannehill that are in dispute.  The first his his athleticism.  Athletic QBs are good, right?  I think that lies in a system to system thing.  If you put Tannehill in a downfield throwing offense, like the ones favored by the Redskins, Raiders, and Giants, it’s going to be an adventure to see how being fleet of foot affects him when he’s in an offense that requires time to set up routes down the field.  In an offense like the one run by the Packers or Seahawks, his athleticism would be a pretty big plus since the defense favored to defend those spread teams is two-man.  And having a quarterback who is a running threat limits two man coverage.  The second thing is his arm.  Tannehill spins a good ball from sideline to sideline and he has a quick release.  But driving the ball down the field into space is a big problem for Ryan Tannehill.  Too often, his throws hang or dive or sail going down the field.

Defenses seemed to learn that to take away Tannehill’s comfort level, you needed to get quick pressure on him, and you needed to take away his ability to get the ball out to his front side route combination.  In other words, defenses needed to play very active against Tannehill.  When they did this, he was a very pedestrian college quarterback.

Still, what the modern NFL game boils down to typically fits to Ryan Tannehill’s physical strengths.  There have been plenty of pro quarterbacks who can’t drive the football down the field who have enjoyed great success in the rhythm/timing west coast offenses.  Tannehill was as good completing passes behind the LOS and within 10 yards as anyone in the country.  At the end of the season, Tannehill missed some rhythm throws early in games.  That can probably be fixed by a strong support system at the next level.  Tannehill is tall, and he can hit receivers in stride so that they can run away from man defenders.  And ultimately, if you believe in athleticism in quarterbacks being the decisive measure of the modern game, Tannehill grades out quite well.

Look back at the 2005 draft.  Alex Smith was the first overall pick, and was a classic bust for the first four years of his career.  Aaron Rodgers fell in the draft.  Jason Campbell went the pick after him and didn’t even appear in the first 25 games of his pro career.  But the thing with those three guys is: they were all good athletes.  Jason Campbell throws the ball well, but probably isn’t still a starter in this league seven years into his career if he wasn’t a highly efficient runner against man coverages.  Alex Smith kept getting chances in part because he can extend plays with his legs.  And while Aaron Rodgers’ arm would have carried him at this level without his legs, Rodgers is an elite player because he’s as good running with the ball as he is as a passer.

The comparison that makes the most sense for Tannehill is almost certainly Alex Smith.  Smith was the first overall pick in 2005.  He’s just now finding his bearings in 2011.  Both are very good athletes for the position.  Both played for a QB guru in college (Urban Meyer at Utah, and Mike Sherman at Texas A&M).  Both have their accuracy issues throwing down the field, but both have ideal heights and build for pro players and are said to be incredibly bright.  Perseverance is an intangible that helped Alex Smith overcome criticism in San Francisco.  If Tannehill can show rare toughness and perseverence, he’s tall and desirable enough to get enough chances to succeed.

You can probably tell which way I’m leaning with regards to the question.  I think Ryan Tannehill is a good QB prospect who looks the part.  I don’t think he’s the kind of natural prospect that warrants consideration at the top of the draft.  In terms of natural QB talents, I prefer at least five guys to Tannehill: Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Arizona’s Nick Foles, and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins.  Beyond that, I think there’s no question that Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler is more physically gifted, and that Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden is more pro-ready.

Without being able to put a grade on the quality of Ryan Tannehill’s intangibles, I can’t say for myself how well-built he is to succeed in the NFL.  I think that any prospect who can stick with it long enough can make themselves successful for some coach (though whether they can achieve success before that coach is out of a job is always a race against the clock).  It just seems to me with the depth and quality of this draft, there is always someone who fits your system better than Ryan Tannehill who will be available.  Tannehill’s best chance to go in the Top 10 picks is to hope Luck and Griffin go off the board immediately, which would leave him as the most athletic talent high on the quarterback draft board.

The way the game is changing, I think that helps Ryan Tannehill’s quest to be drafted and ultimately succeed as an NFL quarterback.  Is Tannehill a prospect ahead of his time?  Or is he just a younger version of Alex Smith?  I don’t think a team is going to spend a first round draft pick for the right to answer that question, but that doesn’t mean Tannehill can’t find his way to the Pro Bowl eventually.  Provided there is even still a pro bowl for Ryan Tannehill to make.

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  1. April 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm

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