2012 NFL Draft: Ryan Tannehill to Be Miami Dolphins' No. 8 Pick?

Robert HoffmanCorrespondent IApril 25, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ryan Tannehill to Be Miami Dolphins' No. 8 Pick?

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    Well, we're just a few hours away from the offseason's biggest day for NFL fans: the first round of the NFL draft.

    With one day to go, I have just one more scouting report to do on a potential player that could be the Miami Dolphins' No. 8 pick.

    To read any of my previous scouting reports, look at North Carolina defensive end/tackle Quinton Coples, Stanford guard David DeCastro, Notre Dame wide receiver Malcolm Floyd and Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

    Of course, Miami Dolphins fans know what is coming next: the most hyped possibility for the team's selection for literally months now, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Draft gurus such as Mike Mayock and Todd McShay have firmly locked onto Tannehill as Miami's pick with their latest mock drafts.

    But what kind of player is Tannehill? And what are the chances the "experts" are right?

    Let's take a look.

Athletic Ability

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    Tannehill has outstanding athletic ability that translates well to the football field. In other words, he is not just an athlete who happens to play quarterback. The fact that he played wide receiver for the Aggies before moving to quarterback is only part of the equation.  

    Take a look at Ryan Tannehill's 65-yard touchdown jaunt on a designed run against Oklahoma State at 0:30 of this tape. Not only does he get around the defender at the line of scrimmage, he easily outruns the secondary on his way to the endzone.

    More importantly, Tannehill is at his most comfortable when throwing on the run. I know it sounds strange, but Tannehill never met a designed rollout that he didn't like. Not only does he throw with velocity, but the ball is on target nearly every time.

    Coincidentally, an unheralded part of his game is his ability to stick in the pocket and deliver the ball. Tannehill will actually takes some unnecessary sacks because he will stick in the pocket a little longer than he should on occasion. 

    Conversely, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Northwestern, Tannehill demonstrated that he can complete the pass in the face of pressure while in the pocket, whether he has to stand in or take a step or two away from a rusher. He made decisive throws on the game-clinching drive whether he either rifled the ball or lofted it with touch.

    Tannehill negates some of his 6'4" height by delivering the ball with a three-quarter delivery at times. Translation: Tall quarterbacks should not get balls knocked down by lineup who don't even jump at the line of scrimmage. This has happened to the Aggie quarterback.

    Tannehill has an extremely strong arm and throws with a tight spiral. I would like to see him put more touch on his rare downhill throws, but he projects to be a very accurate West Coast quarterback in this regard.

    Grade: 6.9 (on a scale of 1.0 to 7.0 with 1 being unacceptable and 7.0 being elite)

Competitiveness

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    There isn't much you can criticize about Tannehill's competitiveness.

    Perhaps the one warranted criticism is that Tannehill doesn't have a track record of delivering in the clutch. In 2011, the Aggies did blow four double-digit second-half leads. However, that criticism might be unfair, as A&M defeated Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska with Tannehill as the starter in 2010. In fact, the record of A&M's opponents while Tannehill was under center in 2010 was 40-22.

    In fairness, Tannehill's team had to deal with injuries to some of their best players, an impending move to the SEC and the firing of Mike Sherman, Miami's new offensive coordinator, during the 2011 season.

    This is not to make excuses for Tannehill, because he did throw interceptions in clutch moments (15 total this year against 29 touchdowns) and it's a fair question to consider whether the pressure of the NFL will get to him in those key situations.

    His other competition components are outstanding. Tannehill did not complain when he was switched to receiver when he lost the quarterback competition as a redshirt freshman and sophomore in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. In fact, he became an outstanding receiver, with 101 receptions and nine touchdowns in those two campaigns.

    Other quarterbacks would have transferred and Tannehill didn't. He also didn't just chuck the ball all over the yard when he finally got his shot at being Texas A&M's quarterback. He saw the benefit of a strong running game and also appeared more than comfortable in throwing shorter routes such as bubble screens and other patterns in a controlled passing game.

    Tannehill will take the big hit and is quick to congratulate his teammates on a big play.

    Grade: 6.75

Mental Alertness

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    This is my biggest concern with Tannehill and a concern that I share with a lot of scouts.

    The reality is that Tannehill has made just 19 starts, and he hasn't seen enough defensive schemes for a team to be confident that he can step in and make an immediate contribution as a starter in the NFL.

    In addition to be extremely raw reading defenses, Tannehill needs to focus more on looking off his primary or even secondary reads. This can often be a trait that determines if a quarterback makes it in the NFL or not.

    Tannehill does lock onto wide receivers, and he can't do that, especially in combination with another disturbing trend. He occasionally floats the ball on long throws to the sidelines. Good defensive backs will learn to sit on a receiver's comeback route and pick off these passes.

    Look, Tannehill can learn how to correct some of these things. He's intelligent and plans to pursue a career as a surgeon after his playing days, but football intelligence is very different than academic or other types of intelligence.

    The fact remains that he will have to cut down on his mistakes at a more advanced level of football.

    Finally, I have some concerns about the the limited passing plays that Tannehill ran at Texas A&M. The Aggies ran a tone of bubble screens and shorter patterns to take advantage of great athletes like wide receiver Ryan Swopes or Jeff Fuller and their ability to gain yards after the catch. Even if Tannehill runs a similar system in the NFL, more of the offense will be on his shoulders and he will have to complete more difficult passes down the seam and sideline, as well as in the red zone.

    One clear positive with Tannehill is that Texas A&M was extremely successful in the aforementioned red zone. The Aggies had entered the red zone 58 times and scored 40 touchdowns and 15 field goals in 2010.

    Grade: 6.4

Strength and Explosion

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    In addition to his 6'4" height, Tannehill runs a solid 225 pounds. He is extremely durable and a defender will need a clean shot or help to bring him down.

    Tannehill knows how to slide, and there is no reason to think that he can't take the pounding that is part of the NFL game.

    Like virtually any quarterback, Tannehill shouldn't make a living throwing off his back foot, but he can still make strong and accurate throws with defenders pulling at him.

    Grade: 6.9

Overall

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    Tannehill is one of the most polarizing prospects in this draft because while scouts are enamored with his obvious physical tools, his body of work as a starter at quarterback totals a season and a half.

    Tannehill can make every NFL throw, but will he still be able to when his team is down by a score or when his team needs him to keep a lead in a game's final minutes?

    It would be a huge mistake to press him into full-time duty early during his rookie year, and the best scenario might be for him to learn the game from the sidelines for a year or two.

    How many teams can afford that luxury with a first-round pick? Probably less than 10, but in a quarterback-driven league, some team will gamble on his immense physical talent regardless if they can afford to.

    Overall Grade: 6.6


    How he fits with the Dolphins: Earlier this offseason I would have never guessed that Miami would go after Tannehill, especially with the eighth overall pick in this year's draft. I firmly believe that general manager Jeff Ireland must "turn this team's ship around" this year or he is out of a job.

    I would argue and still will to an extent that Ireland can't afford to draft a player in the first round that won't contribute immediately.

    Then, the Dolphins were either frozen out or bowed out of the free-agency sweepstakes that saw other teams acquire the likes of Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn.

    The logical conclusion is that Miami is truly rebuilding, which I believe is what they should be doing as a below .500 team and one that hasn't won a playoff game in 12 seasons.

    In this scenario, Tannehill is a fit with the Dolphins. In addition, I'm firm believer in drafting a quarterback until you know you have a franchise one, even if it takes spending a high pick every single year.

    This is a passing league and offense wins championships. Critics will say, "look at the Giants and their pass-rushers." I'd answer with two words: "Eli Manning."

    I still think the Dolphins turn elsewhere for immediate help and draft a quarterback later, but whereas I would have been shocked before, now I would only be slightly surprised if Miami turned to Tannehill as their future franchise quarterback.

    Update: The Dolphins have selected Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft.