'The NFL Beat': Brees, Tannehill, and More
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By Alex Dunlap, 5:32PM, Sat. Mar. 31, 2012
Many of you, my loyal readers, may know that I played alongside Drew Brees in high school at Austin-Westlake. We were state champions and I was an all-district defensive end; solely because I went to every one of Drew's film sessions and whiteboard meetings, even the ones that didn't involve my position group.
As a quiet observer, I began to understand the quarterback's read off of my outside hip and how to use that read against him. I began to understand why audibles were being called against our front when holes were consistently developing in certain gaps, and how to adjust my positioning and responsibility to allow the inside linebacker to come as a free hitter and explode their genius little idea. Basically, I learned how to dissect a rudimentary defense from someone who saw the field like a giant chess board. As I moved into the NFL media, learning advanced schemes and understanding the philosophical reasoning for disguised packages was a breeze given this foundation. He's the reason I am getting to do what I am doing today. I've never told Drew that, and I doubt he knows it.
Prior to our 1996 state championship season, Drew called a players-only meeting. He told the team of young, bored high school students that if we wanted to win a championship, we needed to make some promises to each other. There would be no drinking alcohol or being seen at parties where alcohol was served. There would be no missed practices (even if you were absent from school that day) unless you called your position coach with a damn good explanation. There would be no hanging out in the air-conditioned training room during practice if you were injured. You were still a part of the team and needed to be present at practice and install, supporting teammates. Finally, there would be no drinking soda. If anyone was seen participating in these acts, Drew said he would "handle punishment personally". This was a 17 year old.
Guess what? No one ever found out what he meant by that because nobody broke the rules. We went on to an undefeated 16-0 season, winning the Texas 5A state championship. What a quarterback. I sometimes wonder how much of this intangible value to a team you are born with, and how much is learned through years and years of "growing into" the position and developing confidence through each level of competition. I wonder if it's aggregate. Which brings us to the present.
On Thursday, I took in the personal pro day of former Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill in College Station. He missed A&M's regularly scheduled pro day with the same broken foot that prevented him from participating in either the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine. This occasion marked the first time that Tannehill would throw in front of NFL coaches, scouts, GMs, and yours truly.
Tannehill started college as a wide reciever. It should tell you something about his level of athleticisim that he would be effective in that role as a receiver in a major power conference. It should also tell the semi-educated fan something about his real-time understanding of the route tree as well as his anticipation of eventual recieving target positioning. A collegiately trained receiver knows the exact spot where he wants the ball on any given route (especially hot reads) down to a matter of inches, and there is no doubt that Tannehill knows that spot. The question is: can he get it there?
Tannehill started 19 games at QB for A&M, finishing the 2011 season with a near 61% completion percentage. He is a physical specimen, and looks the part. I taped every throw from his pro day. Go check it out and see for yourself. The fact is, though, it won't matter what you think. Twenty-two teams were on hand for the workout. Pete Carroll, a guy who just spent $10 million (guaranteed) on ex-Packer QB backup Matt Flynn was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed right up front, definitely the first person I noticed walking in. The Dolphins (who sit at pick eight) were there in full force, everyone from GM to head coach to scouts. Well, all except current Dolphins OC and former Texas A&M HC Mike Sherman. I'm not sure how much he would enjoy visiting Aggieland right now, plus he was Ryan's coach in college and has the complete book on him already.
I spoke with Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland after the practice. His staff took Tannehill to dinner with subsequent whiteboard meeting on the visit in much the same way the Redksins took Robert Griffin III out the evening before his absolute monster pro day last week. Ireland was pleased with the workout, as were Browns OC Brad Childress and QBs Coach Mark Whipple. Ryan said he had private workouts this week in College Station scheduled with the Chiefs, the Browns, and (surprisingly) the Eagles. (With the loss of elite OT Jason Peters to to Achilles surgery today, they might as well cancel the workout now, though. They will be taking a tackle with their first pick, taking them out of the Tannehill sweepstakes.)
I do see the upside and potential here. Most importantly, I see what the current economics of the league dictate. One elite QB on your roster. Think about the league's highest-paid positions on average. The quarterback. The left tackle (who protects the QBs blind side) and the defensive end (who is paid to take out the opposing QB.) It is cliche to say, but we are in the midst of an NFL era where success is largely based upon this singular, seminal piece at the QB position. The last so-so QBs to win Super Bowls were Brad Johnson or maybe Trent Dilfer, and that's getting pretty far back there in time. With the new rookie wage scale, gone are the days where positional groupings are virtually guaranteed huge base contracts after the highest paid one gets signed, and everyone else's agent uses that monstrous sum as benchmark for setting their client's compensation.
The attributes I like about Tannehill's game are his mobility in the pocket, his athleticism, and his overall upside given these factors. I like his strong 3/4 delivery as well as his accuracy and zip on hitch routes and in the screen and intermediate passing games. I love his size and the height he gets on the ball. I like how he is consistent with setting his back foot on his drop. It shows that he may soon be able to "drive the ball through" to some currently troublesome spots for him with proper development.
I do not like his accuracy or arm strength on out routes past 18-20 yards, even on the short-side hash marks. His pro day did nothing to alleviate this concern for me. He was leading recievers out of bounds on these throws and putting way too much air under it. That can be a dangerous, dangerous throw in the NFL and even in college as A&M fans saw last year. It is a pick 6 waiting to happen. He made bad decisions and ill-advised throws in games that helped blow four double-digit halftime leads for the Aggies in 2011 with these sorts of mistakes. I admire that, in the last five to sic games of his college career, he started attempting to look off DBs and go with a second read. It shows he is trying. If you put on the film, though, you will see that he regularly gets smeared when going to an advanced read because he rarely ever does so in the pocket.
Ryan Tannehill is a Top 10 pick. He might even go Top 4. But I want to stress one thing. It is not because he is on a level anywhere near Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin. Nowhere near. He will go in the Top 10 beause this league is in a QB frenzy right now and if there is a 20-25% chance you could have a franchise QB on your hands, that is enough to make a move as far as QB – needy teams' front offices are concerned. Its a calculated risk. Aaron Rodgers showed us the value of bringing in a QB to develop for the future, and it is much cheaper to make a reality nowadays.
Many called Tannehill's pro day nothing short of masterful. ESPN's Todd McShay went as far as saying that Ryan Tannehill was only a notch below RG3 as a prospect. With that, I am speechless, so I will bow out with this one last thought:
In the 2012 NFL Draft, there are three players who change your franchise the minute they are drafted. They are Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Trent Richardson. The Browns will have the first pick that is not virtually set in stone at No. 4. Luck and Griffin will be gone as well as USC OT Matt Kalil as Minnesota has an obvious, glaring need at the position. As my Rosterwatch Radio co-captain Byron says: "If Holmgren and the Browns don't take Trent Richardson, somebody needs to harpoon the walrus."
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]