What do you call 9/22, 156 yards, TD, INT in a half of football? If the execution behind the stats isn’t studied then I call it meaningless. These stats belong to Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill’s performance in a blowout loss to Oklahoma in 2011. After studying his performance in this game and others, my conclusion is that Tannehill exhibits starter potential for the NFL.
Oftentimes the worst statistical games reveal strong positives in a player’s skill and potential. I’d rather see how a player deals with adversity than study games where he only has success. There are more situations that test a player’s skill to its limit and the absence of good stats doesn’t mean an absence of skills to watch. It’s why I had strong marks for players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Joseph Addai, Matt Forte, and several other prospects whose opponents over-matched their teams. If you’re watching technique, effort, and physical skill then stats fade into the background.
I’ve written about Tannehill here recently and with the Redskins’ exchange of three first-round picks for the second spot in the NFL Draft, there is a lot of debate among draftniks about Tannehill’s value as a top-10 overall pick. I’ve read one former scout write on Twitter that he’s the most likely player to get a GM fired. I read another say he’s overrated. On the other hand, Tannehill’s former coach Mike Sherman compares his A&M starter favorably to Bengals QB Andy Dalton – with a better arm.
Quarterback is one of the more difficult positions to project to the next level. I’ve had my share of hits – Jay Cutler over Matt Leinart and Vince Young and Matt Stafford over Mark Sanchez – and misses – John Beck and Blaine Gabbert if they continue to perform as they have – just like everyone else. But I’m going to show you in detail what I see that could make Tannehill a good, first-round prospect with the potential to have as good of a career – if not better than Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.
On 3rd and 11 with 7:37 in the first quarter, Tannehill hits his WR Jeff Fuller for 12-yard gain from a 2×2 receiver, 11-personnel shotgun set. Here is the look before the snap.
Tannehill drops from the shotgun, looks to the right (strong) side, and then scans back to the left.
The A&M quarterback finds his receiver for a 12-yard completion with a throw from the far hash to the near flat about a yard from the sideline.
Tannehill hits the WR on the out with the ball placed over the WR’s inside shoulder just past the trailing CB. Note the timing of this pass in the picture below.
Tannehill frequently delivers the ball with a three-quarter delivery. However his elbow is at or above shoulder level during his release which allows him to generate good velocity. Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon, and Philip Rivers all threw the ball with a consistently lower delivery point than Tannehill and all three had the elbow at shoulder level. The release is a non-issue.
Velocity and Accuracy Off-Balance
Tannehill’s next throw demonstrates good velocity and accuracy when forced to deliver the ball in an off-balanced position while under pressure. The play is a 1st and 10 pass for a 16-yard completion to his slot receiver Ryan Swopes. A&M is in a 11-personnel, 2×1 receiver formation with the twin receivers set to the far side of the field with 7:21 in the first quarter against a 3-3-5 OU defensive look.
Tannehill does a fine job of extending the ball to his RB on a play action roll to the right.
As Tannehill begins his boot, the OU DE gets a clean release into the backfield is in hot pursuit. Tannehill, who is also among the most prolific receivers in A&M history, has the wheels to outrun the edge rusher.
Tannehill makes a quick pump fake to draw the DB in the right flat towards the RB and then throws a pass that leads his WR Swope inside the numbers at the A&M 33.
The placement is just over the receiver’s head, but well ahead of the DB.
Swope makes a strong catch, but it’s also an accurate throw and a very good one on the move. Tannehill makes this throw off his back foot with a defender tight to him and makes 27-yard throw on the move look like a “toss.” This is a sign of good arm strength and accuracy even when he can’t exhibit technically good form. This is why Jay Cutler was an excellent prospect from the standpoint of skills and physical talent.
Poise, Athleticism, and Accuracy on the Move
On 3rd and 9 with 1:53 in the half from a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel shotgun set Tannehill delivers a 79-yard touchdown pass that speaks a lot about his skills as a future NFL quarterback. The Aggies come to the line in this formation versus an OU 3-3-5 with both linebackers in the middle showing what could be a double A-Gap blitz.
Only one LB hangs around the line at snap and he actually stops at the line and monitors the QB, which reveals he’s spying Tannehill.
The fact that OU’s athletic defense is using a spy on Tannehill indicates the respect it has for the quarterback’s athleticism. Spies aren’t just limited to the likes of Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, or Mike Vick. But more than any quarterback in this class – Andrew Luck (a close second) included – Tannehill has a great feel for the pocket in terms of when to hang, when to slide away from pressure, and when to run.
As the RDE collapses the RT inside and his bull rush draws near, Tannehill slides left with ease while still looking down field.
The fact that Tannehill is athletic enough for a team to use a spy but has enough poise to take but a single step/hitch forward makes him more dangerous than most quarterbacks with big-play running ability because they lack the patience and awareness to keep the eyes down field and slide to an open area and only use the run as the last resort. When Tannehill doesn’t see anything open at the sideline this is the point where he breaks the pocket. As he moves left, Tannehill continues to keep his eyes down field.
After he squares his shoulders in the left flat about five yards behind the line of scrimmage, Tannehill delivers the ball 30 yards down field while moving to his left and hits his slot man crossing five yards behind the defense.
He hits the WR in stride while Swope is streaking up the left flat at the 50 and he’s gone.
This pass may not lead the WR as well as it could have, but with five yards of separation, Tannehill’s ability to throw the ball with this kind of improvised timing from 30 yards and moving to his left is impressive – especially with the way he bought time to defeat a defense that dropped seven men into coverage and used an eighth player to spy on him.
In the second half, Tannehill completes a 17-yard pass on a bootleg left on 1st and 10 with 4:05 in the third quarter from a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel pistol. Once again, it’s a good throw on a nine-yard cross while moving left. He hits the receiver in stride just ahead of the trailing defender making a diving attempt to undercut the pass. The WR caught the ball in stride an gained another eight. This is good timing and anticipation on the move. Making plays to his left isn’t an uncommon sight and that’s a skill that GMs and coaches will value and opposing coordinators and players will fear.
Don’t Be a Hero
The two-minute drill is about saving time and not making the most of every down. One of the more difficult concepts for athletic quarterbacks to grasp is that a gun for an arm and jet propulsion for acceleration does not mean that it is always wise to go for the big play in every situation. While there are times I have seen Tannehill try too hard to make a play and make reckless throws, Tannehill’s final throw of the half is indication that has acquired some situational football knowledge.
Tannehill avoids pressure, breaks the pocket, and throws the ball away on 3rd and 4 with 0:32 left in the half from a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel shotgun set with 0:32 left. OU blitzes five from its 3-3-5 look.
The LB and DB overload the left side, but the line picks it up. The DE on the near side has Tannehill in his sights with a good jump at the snap, but the QB climbs the pocket.
Tannehill also repeatedly demonstrates the discipline and hand size to pump fake or bring the ball down after beginning a release. Ben Roethlisberger (and Brett Favre) is great at this skill. In this instance below, Tannehill brings the ball down and causes the DT to leap skyward.
Tannehill escapes to his right and throws the ball away with 0:21 left. He probably should have run the ball, but with the room he had. However, in a two-minute drill he’s taught to conserve time and not take a sack. The pocket presence under pressure was good.
Pin-point Ball Placement
Here’s a play from the second half where Tannehill makes a throw that nearly 70 percent of the starting tight ends in the NFL will catch. It’s a well-placed pass over coverage and just inside the end line that should have been a touchdown. The play occurs on 2nd and 11 with 2:20 in the third quarter from a 1×1 receiver, 12 personnel pistol.
Tannehill executes a good play fake to the RB with ball extension to the stomach and then pulls. He drops a few steps and delivers a seam route that covers about 35 yards from release to the reception point.
The ball had to be placed over the LB trailing tight in coverage so it was just a little high for the TE, but still lands on his outstretch hand.
Although he fails to corral the ball, Tannehill’s placement gives the TE a chance to make a play in bounds. Another strong throw. In fact, A&M receivers dropped eight passes in this game – most of them easier than this throw.
Last year, Cam Newton was considered a project because he only had one year of Division-I experience in a spread offense. Ryan Tannehill has a year and a half experience as a Division-I quarterback in a pro-style offense and two more as a receiver. I think he has as much understanding of a pro-style passing game as almost any college prospect in this draft. And in this statistically poor first half, Tannehill demonstrated skills with a high degree of difficulty against defenses that weren’t as vanilla as many teams play on Saturday afternoons.
Counting on any rookie quarterback to play like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton is asking too much from an NFL rookie. However, Tannehill belongs in the top half of this draft and he’s not the project some people think.
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