Matt Waldman is the author of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, a testament to his obsession with film analysis, now available for download. Examples of his work can be found at his blog. He is helping The Fifth Down rank skill position players before the draft:
3. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Tannehill has the least experience in the college game of all my top-five quarterbacks, but he might have the best overall feel for the game. Tannehill walked onto the A&M roster as a quarterback. He accepted a switch to wide receiver despite the fact that he lost a competition to Jerrod Johnson and Stephen McGee.
During these years as a receiver, Tannehill managed over 100 receptions and was arguably the most reliable and versatile receiver on the roster. He displayed sure hands, the ability to stretch the seam and good skill after the catch. Despite his success at a new position, Tannehill still attended quarterback meetings because he told Coach Mike Sherman that he still thought he was the best quarterback on the roster.
When the teamís star quarterback, Johnson, had off-season shoulder surgery and struggled to regain his throwing form during a disastrous start to the 2010 season, Sherman replaced him with Tannehill and the junior quarterback reeled off enough victories for Texas A&M to make a bowl game.
The fact that Tannehill has only a season and a half of starts at quarterback in his college career has elicited skepticism from media and fans that he is a raw prospect. I prefer to call him a more refined prospect than most realize, but inexperienced relative to the others quarterbacks in this class. Besides, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had fewer starts than Tannehill and the biggest reason he has not developed is the turmoil in New York, not his lack of starts at U.S.C.
Tannehill has enough arm strength and accuracy to develop into an upper echelon pro passer. He can deliver the ball over the top or with a three-quarter motion. He is capable of generating good velocity and pinpoint accuracy with his throws.
His three-quarter and side-arm deliveries make it easier for him to throw the ball on the move and from off-balance positions and still generate velocity. This makes him a dangerous passer when the pocket breaks down. Tannehill is simply a very natural thrower of the football.
He is capable of delivering the ball with good anticipation and timing. In the pocket, Tannehill will go through multiple reads and throw the ball with good form and footwork with 3-, 5- and 7-step drops as well as hitches. Iíve seen him make strong passes with terrific accuracy in tight coverage on the deep out from the opposite hash as his second or third progression on a play. He throws comebacks in tight coverage with pinpoint placement, and Iíve seen him get the ball to areas where only the receiver can make the play on 25-yard seam routes or crossers while rolling to his left. In other words, he frequently displays pinpoint accuracy and has shown no fear targeting players who are covered by college standards but open by N.F.L. standards.
Tannehill is adept at play fakes and looking off the safety. He also uses an assorted number of ball fakes that include pump fakes and shoulder fakes to set up throws. He has a pump fake where he shifts his entire body as if heís stepping through a release, and it frequently fools the opposing defense and the TV cameras.
What stands out with Tannehill is his pocket presence. He senses pressure and does a good job of sliding away from it both from the outside or up the middle. While heís eluding pressure, Tannehill keeps his eyes downfield and body square to the line of scrimmage to deliver the ball after resetting his feet. He does the same when heís on the move.
The same things that made Tannehill a productive receiver for the Aggies is what shows up when he is forced to break the pocket: speed, vision and toughness. Although he runs a pro-style offense, the Aggies occasionally used him on spread option plays as a runner and he demonstrated the ability to hit a hole and outrun defenders in the secondary for big gains.
Tannehill has controlled aggression with most of his attempts but can get impulsive and reckless when he feels pressure in the pocket, and heíll try to squeeze sideline throws that are ill-advised because defenders are hanging off him. He has to learn to throw the ball away or take the sack in situations where his team can punt.
While he can throw the ball over 40 yards with good velocity, I didnít see the deepest range with his arm, and from what I have seen, he lacks that rare arm that a player like Griffin or Matthew Stafford owns.
I believe Tannehill is actually one of the safest prospects in this class of quarterbacks despite his inexperience, because all of the things he already does well are tough to teach. The fact that he came to this program to play quarterback and never outwardly faltered in his belief that he was the best on the roster is a telling indicator of his confidence and thatís a good indication that heíll handle the trials that lie ahead for him in the N.F.L. with poise, determination and a strong work ethic.
Itís why I wouldnít be surprised if he ends up with a career as good or better than those of the top prospects I have ranked ahead of him, and I donít think heís a reach as a top-10 player in this draft. If I were to rank him within the scope of last yearís class, Iíd place only Cam Newton ahead of him. Mike Sherman describes Tannehill as a player who is a lot like Andy Dalton, but with a better arm.