Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III held much-publicized pro days last week, but neither outing carried nearly as much importance as Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill's workout Thursday.
Not to kill the suspense, but Luck and Griffin are going to be the first two players off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft. Their scripted throwing sessions weren't going to change this. (It should be noted, though, that both quarterbacks performed swimmingly.) But when it comes to Tannehill -- the third-rated QB in April's draft -- Thursday's workout definitely will have a huge impact on where he is drafted.
In December, I surveyed a dozen teams on Tannehill's draft value. The consensus: He was worth a second-round pick. Just to clarify, draft value is what a team feels a player's ability is worth, not necessarily where he will be drafted. Without having a feel for the complete draft board when you are evaluating a particular player, you resort to draft value. This also refers to where you would like to draft a player, not where you need to draft him.
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I watched four Texas A&M games from this past season. Overall, there are many things to like about Tannehill's game. He has a strong arm and can plant his back foot to throw the ball with velocity into tight spots. He throws a nice deep out, which is a true test of arm strength. He also displays good movement, both in and out of the pocket; he can slide to avoid the rush and also has the ability to make plays in the open field. He has experience in a pro-style offense. I have seen him read through his progressions and go to secondary receivers. The accuracy is above average, but there's certainly room for improvement.
Sometimes it appears that Tannehill and his receivers are not on the same page in their routes, which feeds into his inaccuracy. He tends to pat the ball and hesitate before he releases it, causing him to be late on some throws. He also gets some balls tipped, possibly because of this slight defect. And at the end of the day, you just don't see as many of those "wow" throws as you'd like to see from a top-10 prospect. But, I believe there's plenty of upside because of his relative inexperience at the position compared to the other QB prospects. After all, Tannehill spent his first two years at Texas A&M as a receiver. (And a pretty darn good one, I might add.)
After watching the tape and spotting some flaws, I understand why NFL types rated him in the second round back at the end of last season, but I don't fully agree with this judgment. When you grade a player as a scout, the first thing you do is look at the tape and mentally place him in a round. Next, you look at players at the position selected in that round in past drafts to see if your prospect would fit with that group historically. When you look at second-round quarterbacks taken from 2006 to 2011, you see names like Andy Dalton, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Pat White, Kellen Clemens, Brian Brohm, Chad Henne and Tarvaris Jackson. Not a whole lot of sustained success in that group, but Dalton's certainly off to a fine start. Personally, I like Tannehill at this point in his career better than those players at that point in their careers.
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In fact, I like Tannehill more than some first-round quarterbacks taken during this period. I think he displays better decision-making and accuracy than Josh Freeman, more experience at a high level than Joe Flacco, a stronger arm than Christian Ponder and more precision than Jake Locker.
Is the eighth overall pick too high for the Miami Dolphins to scoop up Tannehill? No, not based on the comparisons I have drawn. Quarterbacks are drafted higher than they are rated because without a franchise QB in this league you have little chance to be successful.
I like Tannehill's raw skills, though he will need time to develop. I don't see a special QB, but a player who can be a solid QB in the NFL. In Green Bay, Joe Philbin oversaw the development of two quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn. Both played very well when given the chance, but they had another thing in common: They were both given time to develop. Tannehill will need that same time to refine his game.
In this draft, there are six elite players: Luck, Griffin III, RB Trent Richardson, LT Matt Kalil, CB Morris Claiborne and WR Justin Blackmon. After that, there are many players grouped together. Is Tannehill in that next group? Maybe not right now, but with Miami's desperate need for a quarterback and Tannehill's upside, you can certainly defend the pick.