One of the most debated prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft class is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The wide receiver turned quarterback has emerged as the third-rated signal-caller in the draft and looks like he will be selected in the top half of the first round on April 26.
Even though Tannehill is the consensus third-rated quarterback in the draft class, some say that he really is a second-round prospect who is being pushed into the first round of the draft because of huge demand at the quarterback position. Tannehill indicated that the criticism doesn't bother him and he hopes to go in the top 32 picks:
"I'd like to say I'll go in the first round, but that is the competitor in me. I love to compete, whether its football or checkers, I want to be the best I can be. There are always going to be people who don't believe in you the way you believe in yourself. It is my job to go out there every day and try to become the best quarterback I can, and hopefully show people on March 29th what I can do. Still, that is not the end result. The end result is playing in the NFL. That's what I'm preparing for. I'm working to come out here every day and get better. Be smooth with my feet and make the throws to be clean in my Pro Day."
Before the trade between Washington and St. Louis, some felt that Tannehill would be the sixth-overall pick for the Redskins. Recently, there has been some talk that he could go even sooner. Tannehill stated he will visit with the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2012 NFL Draft. They hold the fourth-overall pick and have a big need for a franchise quarterback.
"I know they are on the list, but I'm not sure which days I'll be up there. I don't know all the teams yet."
One team it sounded like Tannehill was planning on meeting with was the Miami Dolphins. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill's head coach at Texas A&M. The Dolphins badly need a quarterback, and Tannehill could be their selection with the eighth pick. Tannehill would show up in Miami with a good base for the offensive system.
"I'm not sure exactly if I'm going down there or if they are coming for a workout or visit or what. It would make the transition easier. I feel like coach Sherman has prepared me well to fit in any West Coast system, but he also gave me the knowledge about football that will allow me to play in any offensive system. I'm just blessed to have this opportunity to make it onto a team and hopefully compete for a starting job.
"Most teams at the Combine that I met with seemed to be running a version of the West Coast offense, which is what our offense at A&M was based off of. Just having the familiarity with it. I feel like can adapt to any system I get dropped into. I'm excited and ready to see where I'm going to be."
In 2011 as a senior, Tannehill completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Tannehill also rushed for 355 yards with four touchdowns. He led his team to win against Baylor and quarterback Robert Griffin III. Based on that, Tannehill could have some arguing that he has earned high draft pick consideration.
"I don't think you can base it on one game, but that was a great game. RG3 is a great competitor, a great player and a great athlete. Like I said, I'm a competitor and I want to compete with the best, so [Griffin and Andrew Luck] are at the top of the list right now and I'm trying to get better and compete with them."
Tannehill was unable to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine and Senior Bowl after sustaining a foot injury. He had surgery and has been rehabbing the foot at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla.
"It is feeling good. It's close to 100 percent now. I'm still trying to rehab doing some of the lateral movements, but I'm moving straight ahead and doing my drop backs, I don't feel hardly any pain. So it is feeling really good and I'm excited about it right now. I have a couple weeks left until my Pro Day, so we are getting down to crunch time. I'm excited and today was the first day going through the full routine. [Chris Weinke] had me uncomfortable early. I missed a couple throws early that I never should miss. Once I got into a rhythm and felt like how it is was going to be, it was a good day."
Both Luck and Griffin had excellent Combine workouts, and Tannehill has high goals of a similar showing at his Pro Day.
"I'm hoping to run a 4.5. I ran a 4.5 before. I haven't gotten to practice one yet, so I'm not really sure what I will run. I'm feeling explosive and feeling fast so I definitely want to run a 4.5."
Tannehill has been getting great preparation for the NFL at IMG, where tons of prospects have come to get ready for the pros. Director Trevor Moawad said Tannehill has been one of the best of the best.
"At IMG we are always talking about the total athlete, you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of the total athlete than Ryan Tannehill," said Moawad. "There is a great structure here. Chris Weinke is an exceptional coach. He's been through the process. The Combine, pro day and in the NFL. We have the same structure that is similar to what they'll see in the NFL. The training room, the weight room, mental conditioning, field practice. Ryan has had vision training and he has had some of the highest eye muscles scores that we've had and he continues to get better. He does everything you're looking for. Wherever Ryan goes he'll do great, and IMG has enhanced that with a structure for him to thrive in."
One knock on Tannehill is his lack of experience as a starter. He started 19 games at college after beginning his collegiate career catching passes. As a wideout in 2008, he caught 55 passes for 844 yards and five touchdowns. Tannehill switched to quarterback in 2010 and played well in the last half of the season as the Aggies' starter. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,638 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Tannehill explained why he started out his career at wide receiver, despite having the skill set of a first-round pick for an NFL quarterback. After all, it didn't make sense for a talented quarterback to be playing wide receiver.
"I thought the same thing. We had Stephen McGee who was a three-year starter at A&M, so coach Sherman gave him the nod. I was going to be a backup guy and they asked, 'Would you like to run a couple of routes tomorrow at practice?' So I did. I ended up having some success out there, and a couple of days later I was in the starting rotation. It was kind of crazy how things worked out. I always thought of myself as a quarterback and only a quarterback. I always went to quarterback meetings and never went to receiver meetings. Even though I wasn't playing quarterback, I was still taking quarterback reps in practice and going to their meetings."
Tannehill said he was willing to take the injury risk at receiver in order to help his team.
"I hate sitting on the sidelines. I wanted to play quarterback, but at the time the coaches believed it was my role to contribute in another way at receiver, so I was more than happy to do that."
Sherman and Weinke have given Tannehill some nice preparation for becoming an NFL quarterback:
"Yeah it is always good when you have guys who have been there and done that around you. Coach Sherman in college and Chris Weinke here who played several years in the NFL. When you are surrounded by players who have been there and been in the situation before it makes things easier on you."
At his Pro Day and on his team visits, Tannehill wants to convince teams to go for him rather than waiting to pick a second-day quarterback like Brandon Weeden, Kirk Cousins or Brock Osweiler.
"I think you say look at my body of work. I only started 19 games so I think my ceiling is extremely high. I'm nowhere near my highest point. I have the drive and determination to want to get better. It is not my goal just to play in the NFL. I want to win Super Bowls. I think I have all the physical tools: the arm strength, accuracy, I make plays on the run and I have leadership. I think I have all the intangibles. Like I said, I've only started 19 games so I think I can learn a lot and get a lot better."