It's a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be the first two quarterbacks to come off the board on draft day following their spectacular pro-day performances a week ago. The workouts confirmed scouts' opinions on each prospect and secured their spots with the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins.
However, there are other teams near the top of the board still in need of a franchise quarterback, which has sent the stock of Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill soaring across the league. The consensus third-rated quarterback has been pegged as a potential fit in Cleveland and Miami, but questions persist about whether he is truly a top-10 talent.
While some view Tannehill as an athletic quarterback in the mold of Tony Romo, others see an unpolished passer with a game that is not quite ready for primetime. After taking some time to study his game tape in advance of his highly anticipated pro day Thursday in College Station, here are the three questions I believe evaluators must resolve before pulling the trigger on Tannehill as a top-10 pick:
1. Is Tannehill an elite talent?
Scouts are taught to look for special qualities in every prospect that will help them become successful at the next level. These traits are often dubbed "blue qualities," and top-10 picks typically possess two or three elite characteristics. Andrew Luck (accuracy, pocket presence and awareness, football IQ) and Robert Griffin III (athleticism, arm strength, leadership ability) have these blue qualities. Tannehill, in my opinion, only has one.
Tannehill certainly is a blue-chip athlete. He was one of the Aggies' top receiving threats during his first two seasons in College Station, and those skills are on display when he has the ball in his hands. He is nimble and elusive in the pocket and also shows above average speed in the open field. His ability to operate as a dual-threat playmaker on the edge makes him an outstanding fit in movement-based passing games.
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When breaking down other key components of Tannehill's game, I would rank his arm strength near elite level, but not quite there. And his accuracy and touch, particularly on deep throws, only receive above-average marks. While some of those traits can be improved through diligent training and repetition, Tannehill doesn't necessarily possess a skill set that will allow him to become a dominant player immediately.
Now, that doesn't mean that Tannehill can't become an effective starter early in his career (Matt Ryan has had success in Atlanta without having elite arm strength or athleticism), but he must be exceptional in other areas and have the right supporting cast to thrive. Given those unique circumstances, it is hard to view Tannehill as a top-10 talent at first glance.
2. Will his limited game experience prevent him from becoming an instant success as a pro?
Studies have shown that a young quarterback's success can be tied to his game experience as a collegian. In fact, Bill Parcells reportedly used a formula that required a quarterback prospect to have three-plus years of starting experience, 23-plus wins and a college degree to garner serious consideration. Others have employed similar formulas with 30-plus collegiate starts as a baseline. The common denominator in all of these philosophies is to acquire quarterbacks who enter the league prepared mentally and physically from extensive game experience.
Tannehill, however, falls short on those benchmarks, and thus, evaluators could question his readiness for the pro game. He enters the league with only 20 career starts, compiling a 13-7 record in those games. Although the record is not disappointing, the tale of the tape suggests he still needs to work on the finer aspects of the position. From developing a better sense of how to orchestrate the game at the line of scrimmage to showing improved awareness of defensive fronts and coverage, Tannehill needs more training and repetitions.
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While some would counter by referencing the immediate impact of Cam Newton as a rookie starter despite his limited collegiate résumé, I would point out that Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith also had similar collegiate starting experience to Tannehill.
That's why scouts must carefully scrutinize Tannehill's workout at his pro day to assess where he is in his development and how quickly he can grasp the complexities of the pro game. He must demonstrate sound mechanics from a footwork standpoint, while also displaying arm strength, accuracy and touch. If he can put on spectacular showing to complement the occasional flashes of brilliance that show up on game tape, a team might be convinced to ignore the limited résumé and gamble on Tannehill's upside and potential.
3. Does he possesses the "it" factor to take his team to another level?
When evaluating top talent, scouts want to see how players perform in big games. The idea is to see how well a prospect fares against pro-caliber talent in a pressurized environment that mirrors the weekly battles in the NFL.
In studying Tannehill's senior season, it is apparent that he struggled in the Aggies' biggest games. In a five-game breakdown against the top-tier teams on his schedule (Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas), Tannehill only completed 54.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. More importantly, his team lost all five games. Tannehill didn't make enough plays from the pocket to help his team take those competitive battles. Whether it was a critical interception or a poor throw on a pivotal third down, Tannehill appeared to come up short when it mattered most.
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Given those failures, scouts should strongly consider whether Tannehill has the "it" factor needed to be a franchise quarterback. Although this remains an unquantifiable trait, the ability to lead a team to victory despite difficult circumstances separates the elite from the also-rans at the position.
Without a signature win or a memorable moment to indicate Tannehill has the goods to be a clutch performer with the game on the line, I have a hard time considering Tannehill to be a top-10 talent. The Browns or Dolphins might eventually disagree with my opinion, but it is difficult to find a game tape that rebuffs that assessment.