Why Ryan Tannehill is a First-Round Prospect

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman says Ryan Tannehill is a lot like Andy Dalton, but with a better arm. Some evaluators think Tannehill will get a GM fired. I’m on Sherman’s side of the fence.

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.

Fuller is the near side WR to the outside and he runs a 12-yard out against a defense with two-down linemen and what appears to be three linebackers and six defensive backs.

Tannehill drops from the shotgun, looks to the right (strong) side, and then scans back to the left.

Tannehill looks off the coverage to give his deep out a fighting chance to work against single coverage without help over top.

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 has a clean pocket, but compared to that of Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins or even Robert Griffin III, Tannehill’s mechanics are better than than those players in clean pockets.

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.

The ball has already left Tannehill’s hand just as his receiver Fuller begins is break. This is good timing.

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.

This play is a designed bootleg to the right hash.

Tannehill does a fine job of extending the ball to his RB on a play action roll to the right.

Tannehill consistently sells his play fakes and it’s small, fundamental details like these that make the A&M QB a good prospect for any offensive scheme in the NFL.

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.

"Projects" don’t usually have refined mechanics, good ball fakes, and good timing. Tannehill may have more to see on a football field than some FBS starters, but he has fewer issues to address in his game.

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.

Tannehill begins his release with a DE bearing down a yard away.

The placement is just over the receiver’s head, but well ahead of the DB.

This is not a perfect throw, but for an off-balanced throw on the run it looks strikingly similar in placement to Joe Montana’s throw to Dwight Clark. The pass travels 27 yards from release point to reception with good touch and enough velocity to lead his receiver into a positive play.

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.

OU tries to confuse this future "NFL project" by showing a six-man blitz before dropping seven into coverage and using a spy. What what "the project" does in the coming frames.

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 LB (circled in yellow) spying in Tannehill hangs back and allows a lineman to come to him so he can stay clear of the pocket and work off a defender if he needs to pursue the QB breaking the pocket.

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.

Tanneill has looked down the middle and now turns to his left, but he feels the bull rush coming and the next frame demonstrates he has good timing and footwork to slide away and climb the pocket to an open area while keeping his eyes down field.

As the RDE collapses the RT inside and his bull rush draws near, Tannehill slides left with ease while still looking down field.

When it comes to maneuvering the pocket under pressure, sometimes less is more. One hitch to slide left completely alters the landscape from the previous frame. Dan Marino was a master at it.

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.

Tannehill draws the secondary up field to the flat as he breaks the pocket with the threat of the run, but he continues to look down field for an open receiver and his body is at the ready to deliver the ball.

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.

Tannehill opens his body to deliver the ball on the move to his left 30 yards down field to his receiver Swopes, who is crossing behind the defense drawn towards the QB breaking the pocket.

He hits the WR in stride while Swope is streaking up the left flat at the 50 and he’s gone.

Slot receiver Ryan Swope breaks behind the defense and turns back his shoulders to catch the pass before outrunning the defense the remaining 50 yards.

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.

Oklahoma shows six possible defenders blitzing, but drops two while bringing five.

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’s feel the for the pocket is consistent throughout this analysis as well as the other game I analyzed against Oklahoma State.
Again, less is more. Tannehill’s single hitch step eliminates the edge rusher’s angle long enough to consider a down field option.

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.

As Tannehill brings the ball down, the DT is moving skyward. This is going to give him time to break to the right flat.

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.

Tannehill escapes to the right flat and throws the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.

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 in a 12 personnel pistol versus a 4-3 with two safeties deep.

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.

Play fake…
Drop, set, and hitch…
Steps into throw and delivers with good form.

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.

Leads the receiver past the LB in tight coverage.

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.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.

21 responses to “Why Ryan Tannehill is a First-Round Prospect”

  1. From what I have read most scouts have Ryan Tannehill highly rated and most pundits/ fans don’t fancy him.

    Now if I was a GM who would I take advice from?

  2. We love our football! Fun reading. Thanks. By the way, any wideout opportunities for a 6′ 2″, 220, slow, slightly deranged 57 year old Giants fan? Average to good hands.

    • You might have to compete with a 42 year -old, 5’11”, 210-pound, slow, but sticky-fingered Josh Reed type. 🙂

      Glad you enjoy the post. A lot more to check out here if you’d like.

  3. […] Why Ryan Tannehill is a First-Round Prospect Share this:TwitterEmailLinkedInStumbleUponRedditFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Categories, Pro Prospects and tagged 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 RSP, Matt Waldman, Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Tannehill Draft, Ryan Tannehill evaluation, Ryan Tannehill NFL Draft, Ryan Tannehill scouting report by Matt Waldman. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  4. Thanks! This is an excellent analysis. As a HUGE Miami Dolphins fan, I am desperate for them to pick a good QB in the draft. We (meaning Fin Fans) are sick of Miami skipping a chance to pick up a QB just about every year since Marino left…and yes, that has been a very long time. I haven’t even bothered to look at where Miami is on the draft list just because I fear they will continue to have their heads up their butts and not pick up someone with potential. And of course, thanks Miami for losing badly but then coming back with some wins last season that definitely didn’t give us the 1st pick. (Only good thing about that was making sure we do our other job and keep the Dirty Jersey Jets OUT of the playoffs. 🙂 You are welcome Jets fans! Lastly, glad to hear the Miami Offensive Coach was mentioned. I suppose they are not all stupid.

    • Thanks, April. I was in Miami during a few years of the Marino-Shula era, I definitely remember those days. It’s a far cry from that now. Hopefully they find their QB (and coach).

  5. As a Dolphins fan, I am obviously concerned with the direction of the franchise. Do you think Tannehill is our long term solution at qb? Or would we better served with trading the pick and targeting Ok State’s qb, while picking up another pick. I have read that scenario thrown out there. Thanks!

    • Greg,

      I think if you were to place a talent/potential tier among the quarterbacks in this draft it would visually look like this:

      Luck/Griffin-Tannehill-Wilson–(a few other QBs)—Weeden

      Tannehill isn’t as far behind Luck/Griffin as people might think. I think he’d be a long-term solution for any team. Before Mike Sherman left A&M, he used to compare Tannehill to a more athletic Andy Dalton. I think Dolphins fans would have been happy with Dalton if he did in Miami what he did last year in Cincy. Weeden to me is another Chad Henne-big, strong armed, not great under pressure.

  6. Matt, thank you for a wonderful and concise article. I too am a ‘head in the bag’ Dolphins fan and expect to see some upward momentum with the new coaching staff. Tannehill seems like a very interesting prospect, though I do not trust Jeff Ireland to make a good decision with our upcoming draft picks. I would rather they take a shot at Tannehill than trade down, what good are extra draft picks if you don’t do a good job of hitting on them anyways? Why they have signed Gerard is beyond me, as Matty Moore did a pretty good job at QB last year. That move there indicates to me that the Phins might not be thinking QB with that first round pick. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    • Ireland will do great with our upcoming draft.If we get tanny it will be because they think he has a shot to be something great. Tanny won’t be a starter this year.

  7. I love the thorough job you do with the RSP. Care to respond to the other 2 big knocks on Tannenhill – small hands (9 inches) and lack of late game success. Non-factors?

    • Sure Joe,

      Nine-inch hands aren’t small. They are still within the average for an NFL QB. Interestingly enough, he’s excellent at the pump fake. He can’t make the hard, Roethlisberger fake where he brings down the ball by palming it, but he does use a great combo of acting out a throw and using his hips and shoulders to help sell the fake in convincing fashion.

      Lack of late game success is overrated. Teams lose ballgames, not individuals – the same concept that teams win games. Tannehill has placed his team in situations to make big plays and his teammates have failed to catch balls, maintain balance running routes, run the correct routes, etc. Certainly he’s made some dumb plays from time to time, but they are often in situations where the team is down and he’s pressing to make a big play that he shouldn’t. I’ve seen the same from Cutler, Stafford, and just about every quarterback with some mobility and a decent arm. Stafford was criticized for not winning big games late, too. He’s doing pretty well so far.

      Both points are great examples of looking at things that don’t examine whether the player is good. Skills, techniques, and play by play behaviors are a better way to evaluate players. As for hand size, if the player has measurements that meet the minimum requirements then if his hands are smaller than other prospects, it’s really not a big deal. Same as if you have two QBs that can throw the ball at least 30 yards with good velocity on the move. QB-A might be able to throw it 40 yards on a line, but if he can’t manage the pocket well or read the field or throw with accuracy, what does it matter? What if he can do that, but his college offense was mostly dink and dunk concepts and he’s never had to drop from center as a collegian?

      If the player has a baseline physical skill that meets expectations then the rest is gravy – and sometimes meaningless until that player can display skills and techniques that demonstrate good quarterbacking.

      Teams win games when individual players execute together.

    • Let us not forget the game against Texas where Tannehill led a late game drive to take the lead, only to have the defense give up the win. He plays well in the 4th usually, just the defense wasn’t a big help.

  8. Matt, I love the thorough game tape analysis and well thought out presentation. Will be getting the RSP this year. Care to respond to the other big knocks on Tannhill? Specifically his small hands (9 inches) and lack of lat game success?

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