Value is the name of the game when it comes to the NFL draft, with (good) teams often focusing in on getting the most out of their picks at what they deem to be the best spot. However, when it comes to the quarterback position, all that usually flies out the window for NFL organizations. Quarterback is the one position that can change the fortunes of a franchise with a single throw, and that’s why it’s often an overvalued position by NFL teams in the draft.
That’s the case with Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a wide receiver who made the transition to quarterback recently and is currently skyrocketing up draft boards.
The former Aggie’s height and weight is the first thing that must be established, because if he has issues seeing the field, he’s unlikely to make the required plays that win games. That’s not an issue for Tannehill when it comes to his stature, because at the NFL Combine he checked in at 6′ 4″ and 221 pounds.
Mechanics are one of the most interesting characteristics of a quarterback, because it’s an area that’s often over-analyzed. People want the ideal mechanics of a passer, but that’s simply not possible because ideal mechanics don’t exist. Tannehill doesn’t always bring his elbow up at or over his shoulder, but he gets the ball out quickly and is able to find his targets.
There are times when he appears to get lazy in his follow through by hooking his arm, and consequently he short-arms some throws. This is particularly visible on his deep throws which sometimes fall short of his target despite his arm strength.
At first glance, Tannehill’s footwork appears to be solid, and that’s mainly because of the scheme he operated out of with the Aggies. Tannehill executes a significant amount of three- and five-step drops from under center, and he shows the proper fundamentals. He can take a standard five-step drop, for example, and a quick five-step drop. However, evaluating footwork doesn’t stop here because the process of a throw is one that uses several muscles and joints, not simply the arm.
Tannehill has a significant issue with the lack of hip rotation on his throws. When he looks to throw the ball, he doesn’t transfer his weight to his front foot consistently because he doesn’t rotate his hips, and he’s then throwing with just his arm. Throwing this way can get a quarterback in significant trouble, especially at the professional level because windows are tighter and defenders are faster.
An example of a quarterback with this issue is Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick had success in the early portion of the 2011 regular season, but according to many he then went on to have issues with “decision making skills.” While this is partly true, it wasn’t the root cause of his issues, and instead it was his lack of hip rotation that showed up on throws to the seam and the far sideline.
The top priority for a quarterback is accuracy, which comes in two forms: natural accuracy, and ball placement accuracy. If the natural accuracy is present, the quarterback has a fighting chance. However, if it’s absent in his game, it is unlikely that he will ever live up to his billing because it’s an inherent characteristic, and possibly a fatal flaw.
Tannehill shows the ability to throw an accurate ball. While he doesn’t have elite accuracy, he has good natural accuracy. He shows an understanding of ball placement, although it’s not consistent much like the rest of his game, and he shows the ability to place his throws properly, such as a back shoulder fade.
Arm strength can be an overrated aspect of quarterback evaluations, but it’s also an important one. Deep shots executed by quarterbacks can sometimes be high-arching passes that sail a bit, but that can’t be the case with a 22-yard Dig or Deep Out — throws that must be made in the NFL.
Tannehill is able to make both, especially the latter because of his velocity. One way to measure his ability is by identifying the field position of the offense and where the ball is placed. For example, a Deep Out thrown from the far hash mark to the opposite numbers.
Touch & anticipation
The touch and anticipation of a quarterback is a vital skill to his success at the next level, and it’s something that’s questionable with Tannehill. Is he able to make touch passes in the middle of the field? What about anticipating a receiver running across the middle of the field and throw it to a spot where the receiver can run to and catch the ball?
These are two important questions that must be answered, and Tannehill doesn’t pass the test here. He’s not a natural passer and he doesn’t look like a thrower, which shows when he’s attempting to throw a touch pass. He tends to not get enough air under the ball, and one of the reasons for this is because of his aforementioned hooking of the arm.
Further, Tannehill doesn’t read his receivers well, and this can sometimes be seen in his five-step drop backs when he has to get the ball out on his fifth step without a hitch step that brings him through the interior of the pocket. He will second guess himself at times or simply wait until he gets a clear picture of the intended target running open. There have been quarterbacks in the past that have been successful without great anticipatory skills, but they didn’t reach elite status.
If there’s one aspect of the Texas A&M product’s game that I like, it’s his pocket presence. He shows subtle movement in the pocket and can feel the back-side pressure applied from pass rushers. When he feels this pressure, he will step up into the pocket while keeping his eyes down the field, or make a slight side-step that enables him to stay alive.
While the evaluation of back-side pressure is important, it’s not the only type of pressure that needs to be identified. The other type of pressure is through the interior, where the quarterback is usually the most comfortable and it’s another area where I feel Tannehill does well. He will stare down interior pressure and still deliver the pass despite a defender closing in on him. He will also stay within the pocket and take a beating, but he’ll still keep his eyes down the field and look for his target.
Mobility & throwing on the run
Perhaps his greatest strength, Tannehill’s mobility stands out when watching the tape as his quick feet enable him to weave through the chaotic pressure of the trenches and escape would-be tacklers at the second and third levels of the field. He shows good straight-line speed and is able to consistently pick up yards with his feet if he’s forced to leave the pocket.
Also, one of the most significant plays in football is the play action, or as some coaches called it, “waggle.” The waggle concept allows the offense to attack the defense through the constraint of a fake hand-off, and a mobile quarterback only brings greater success to it. Tannehill has no issues with his mobility, but he will have some issues throwing on the run because he is lacking in fundamentals.
At times, he will throw off the wrong foot or won’t rotate his hips, which would square him up and allow him to make an accurate throw, utilizing all of his natural talent.
Scheme is always a critical factor in evaluating every position, but none more than the quarterback position. The scheme in which Tannehill operated in is one that was beneficial to the transition he’ll have to make to the next level because it utilized several pro-style offensive principles. It asked him to make multiple reads while dropping back, and make checks at the line of scrimmage based off of his pre-snap keys. He learned to go through his first, second, and third read before finding the check down, something he was often able to do.
The value of quarterbacks is greater than ever in the eyes of NFL personnel men, but it’s important to not over-value players simply because they play a position that’s an integral part of your success.
Tannehill’s skills still must be evaluated in isolation, and he doesn’t hold great value in the first round. The reason for this is because he doesn’t play with quality fundamentals, and he’s a long-term project player.
His true value is in the second to third round, although I expect him to be drafted in the first round due to the demand at the position.