When Barkley announced he was returning to Southern California and Jones opted to remain at Oklahoma for another season, Tannehill became the consensus third-best quarterback in the 2012 draft behind headliners Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
It's how big the gap between No. 2 and No. 3 is that is fueling one of the best pre-draft debates.
No one questions Tannehill's leadership ability, selflessness or raw talent.
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A decorated high school signal-caller, Tannehill moved to receiver when he lost the battle for the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M in 2008. Sulk? That's not in Tannehill's competitive DNA. He dedicated himself to his new craft, leading the team in receptions for two seasons.
Given the opportunity to get back under center in 2010, Tannehill began to gain the attention of NFL scouts with good underneath accuracy and a strong arm. It also didn't hurt that he was mentored by coach Mike Sherman, a veteran of the West Coast offense.
While Tannehill was a regular on the Big 12 all-academic teams and has stated an interest in becoming an orthopedic surgeon after his playing days, he's still raw as a quarterback prospect.
Tannehill broke a bone in his foot in January, causing him to sit out the Senior Bowl and the injury will prevent him from working out at the Scouting Combine next week. Scouts won't see him work out on a field at least until the Aggies' March 7 pro day.
But he's also working with noted quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke at the IMG training facility in Bradenton, Fla., to sharpen his mechanics and the finer aspects of playing the position.
It all contributes to a wide array of opinions about where Tannehill should go in the draft.
NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang is a fan of Tannehill's, but doesn't have him going in the first round of his mock draft, while fellow analyst Dane Brugler has him off the board before the end of the second hour of the April 26 festivities at No. 6 to the Washington Redskins.
So we asked our two experts to explain their opinions on Tannehill, who is NFLDraftScout.com's No. 25 overall prospect.
RANG'S TAKE: There are four primary physical characteristics NFL scouts are looking for when projecting college quarterbacks to the next level: size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility.
Tannehill could earn first-round grades from clubs in all four categories, making him the logical third quarterback to be selected. He may have a stronger arm than Luck — the presumed No. 1 overall pick — and at 6-4, 222 pounds, he's far closer to the prototype frame than the 6-2, 220-pound Griffin.
It is a fifth trait in which Tannehill rates significantly below Luck and Griffin. This makes him a high-stakes gamble for the first round. That fifth skill is anticipation, the most underrated element to forecasting quarterback success in the NFL.
The fact that Tannehill played wide receiver for the Aggies for the first 30 games of his career is a testament to his athleticism and selflessness. With only 19 career starts at quarterback, however, he is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position. While this isn't intended to suggest that Tannehill cannot improve in these areas, it does mean he's not ready as ready to contribute as his two seasons as a starter for the Aggies might imply.
Tannehill will fire passes before his receivers come out of their breaks, teasing with his developing anticipation. However, he also stares down his primary read and struggles to move on to second and third targets when the defense surprises him. Despite his height and typically an efficient, over-the-top release, Tannehill had an exorbitant number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage because pass rushers were able to read and anticipate where he'd go with the ball.
Worse, Tannehill's underdeveloped anticipatory skills showed up in critical moments against the best competition in 2011. After directing the Aggies to double-digit leads against Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Texas, Tannehill and his team floundered in the second halves of each of these games, losing all five.
It is difficult to use statistics to prove something as qualitative as anticipation and poise, but consider the dip in Tannehill's touchdown to interception ratio in the first half of these games (8-2) compared to the second half (4-6). Several factors were at play in Texas A&M's collapses, but at least some of the blame must be placed on Tannehill. He might not have lost these games for the Aggies, but he didn't showcase the ability to rally his teammates and win them.
Tannehill appeared to be in position to duplicate the Senior Bowl jump that saw hotly debated quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder emerge as first-round prospects the past two years, but he broke his foot preparing for the all-star game. The injury and subsequent surgery could keep him from working out for scouts prior to the draft, making him that much more of a gamble.
BRUGLER'S TAKE: Luck and Griffin are expected to be top-five picks, but don't be surprised when Tannehill is selected soon after — in the top half of the first round.
He had an up-and-down senior season and his inexperience showed, but Tannehill has all the physical tools with prototypical size, above-average arm strength and underappreciated athleticism. But the No. 1 reason NFL teams are so high on the former Aggie is the game comes naturally to him.
After playing receiver for the first 30 games of his career, Tannehill stepped in at quarterback and won 10 of his first 13 starts, showing steady progression down the stretch.
He displays good passing mechanics with a balanced throwing motion and quick release, squaring his shoulders and delivering a very catchable ball. Tannehill can spin tight spirals to all levels of the field and displays veteran poise and awareness, stepping up and maneuvering in the pocket to buy time and stay calm under pressure. He is extremely intelligent — on and off the field — with the competitive attitude and intangibles to hone his craft with strong preparation skills and work habits.
Tannehill also benefited playing in a pro-style offense under the offensive-minded Sherman, who was a head coach with the Green Bay Packers for six seasons (2000-05) and was recently hired by the Miami Dolphins to serve as their offensive coordinator.
Team success in the NFL can be directly linked to the play of the quarterback. This isn't breaking news, but the NFL is a passing league, evidenced by four quarterbacks drafted in the top 12 picks last year regardless of whether they warranted such a high selection.
Tannehill doesn't have the padded resume to necessarily warrant an early draft pick, but teams aren't drafting him for what he has done, but rather for what they think Tannehill can do. He flashes special potential and has the mental toughness to start early as a pro and learn on the fly.
Is Tannehill a finished product? No, far from it.
However, the raw tools are there for him to develop into a quality starter at the pro level — and maybe more. If you want a polished quarterback, Luck is your guy. If you want a quarterback with big-time upside, then take a long, hard look at Griffin. But if you want a prospect with a little bit of both, Ryan Tannehill might be the player for you.
But you'll probably need a top 20 pick to grab him.
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