With Tannehill, early first round is three's company at quarterback
INDIANAPOLIS -- He was the other quarterback Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, the one without the catchy, ready-made moniker and Heisman Trophy (RG3) or the lofty track record of collegiate success, NFL pedigree and projected No. 1 pick status (Andrew Luck).
When Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill made his entrance to the media work room at the Combine, there wasn't the instant buzz or scrambling for positioning that Robert Griffin III or Luck inspired earlier in the afternoon. But make no mistake, Tannehill could cause some movement in this pre-draft scouting season, as quarterback-needy teams get more comfortable and familiar with him, and push him higher and higher on their boards.
In a league where quarterbacks rule, Tannehill is widely viewed as the third-best passing prospect in this year's draft. And despite a limited track record of collegiate experience at the position, Tannehill could wind up cracking the top 10 or 12 in the first round, becoming the first choice of all those quarterback-seeking teams that weren't fortunate enough to pick either first or second and land the top prizes of Luck and Griffin.
"I like him, and I think he's the next quarterback who goes in the first round after Luck and Griffin,'' said Greg Cosell, an analyst for NFL Films and the NFL Network. "Just look at history. All you need to do is go back one year. Last year (Florida State quarterback) Christian Ponder gets drafted 12th, and (Washington quarterback) Jake Locker went higher (No. 8) than we thought, too. Quarterbacks are always going to go higher.
"Ponder was not a guy with elite quarterback talent. I would say that Tannehill's talent level might be a little higher than Ponder's. But because he shows enough positive attributes in the film I saw, teams will see him as an ascending player in this draft.''
It's a sweet position to be in for Tannehill, the former Aggies star who only played quarterback in the final 20 games of his collegiate career, after being switched to receiver during his freshman season. Tannehill has got to be on the radar screen for teams like No. 6 Washington, No. 8 Miami and No. 12 Seattle, especially if No. 1 Indianapolis and No. 4 Cleveland look destined to be in position to nab Luck and Griffin.
"I think he deserves to be in the top 10,'' said Gil Brandt, the long-time Dallas Cowboys personnel executive and current NFL.com draft analyst. "I'm a believer in the guy. He's really smart, and I think he might be the only college football quarterback in history who has beaten Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas in the same season, which he did in 2010, when he only became the starter at midseason.''
Making Tannehill's path to the upper half of the first round even a little more unlikely is that he suffered a broken foot while doing roll-out drills in January at the IMG training complex in Bradenton, Fla. He missed the Senior Bowl because of the injury, and won't work out or run here on Sunday at the Combine. By the time his March 29 pro day at Texas A&M rolls around, he expects to be fully healed and ready to perform for NFL scouts.
Until then, Tannehill has to sell the league on his potential based on his limited game tape, his face-to-face interviews here at the Combine, and the fact that he was coached in an NFL-style offense at Texas A&M by former Aggies head coach Mike Sherman, who was recently hired as the Dolphins offensive coordinator. In addition, former Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley was Tannehill's quarterbacks coach at A&M, giving him at least a sizable working knowledge of NFL schemes and terminology.
"I'm told Tannehill has all the ingredients, is the real deal, and people will love what they see when they start to study him,'' former NFL quarterback turned ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said.
Tannehill knows the NFL's biggest question about him will be his relative lack of experience, and he's ready for that line of questioning in his one-on-one interviews with clubs at the Combine.
"I think that's definitely a legitimate question, because I did only start 20 games at quarterback,'' Tannehill said Friday. "It's a question that deservedly needs an answer. I learned a lot in those 20 games. And I didn't just play 20 games as a collegiate athlete. I was out there at receiver, and I played every other game (30 overall) in my collegiate career at receiver. I was out there seeing the speed of the game and getting a feel for the game. I only started a year and a half, but I was in quarterback meetings for four years, and had those guys (Sherman and Rossley) teaching me.''
If you think Tannehill sounds like a project for whatever team picks him, think again. NFL teams just don't make "project picks'' in the upper reaches of the first round. If they go that high, they're going to play, and soon.
"That's where I've reassessed things, because a lot of guys who I thought may be projects have now come in and played right off the bat,'' Cosell said. "Once upon a time you never thought of taking a quarterback who you didn't think had a specific prototypical skill set in the top 10 or 15. Once upon a time Christian Ponder is a third-round pick. Which doesn't mean he couldn't start in the league at some point. But you'd never think to take Christian Ponder in the first round.''
By missing out on the Senior Bowl due to his foot injury, Tannehill lost an opportunity to be in close proximity with Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan all week in Mobile, who coached one of the Senior Bowl teams and is looking for his next starting quarterback. But Sherman being in Miami has made for the easy assumption that the Dolphins have to investigate taking Tannehill, given he already knows their offense and would likely be able to play from day one. Tannehill said Friday he believes he'll be ready to start as a rookie.
"Yeah, I think so,'' he said. "It depends on the situation and whatever team ends up drafting me. I want to be a starter. It's a goal of mine. I don't just want to go make a team. I want to go play and make an impact and lead a team to the Super Bowl. I have high expectations.''
To be sure, high expectations will come with his first-round draft slot. But scouts love his blend of size (6-3, 221), arm strength, mobility and football intelligence. Tannehill is adept at making plays outside the pocket, and just needs more game experience to improve in the areas of reading defenses, and making his mechanics more consistent on a play-to-play basis.
"I really liked his pocket movement in what I've seen of him,'' Cosell said. "It's one thing I thought he did that's hard to teach. He showed kind of an innate ability to move within the pocket, which to me is a far more desirable skill than running. Some guys never have that, and others, like Tom Brady can't run a 40, but it's irrelevant because they know how to move in the pocket. Tannehill shows a natural ability to do that and I think that bodes well for him.''
Luck and Griffin are locked in at the top of the first round, but Tannehill looks like the quarterback on the move in this draft. He doesn't have the trophy or the track record, but he's got a first-round grade, and that means he has plenty in his favor.
"I want to maximize the gifts I've been given and try to elevate myself as much as I can between now and the draft,'' Tannehill said. "I'm excited about the teams that potentially could be in the quarterback hunt, and the opportunity that presents.''