NFL Draft: It’s Production vs. Potential for Tannehill, Weeden, Osweiler & More


Ryan Tannehill’s eighth overall NFL Draft slotting should have come as a surprise for so many reasons.

Pro scouts, general managers and talking heads came to the conclusion Tannehill was the third best quarterback available in the 2012 draft class. The Miami Dolphins’ selection of him on Thursday night confirmed the weeks of chatter that a player who, less than three years, was a wide receiver was a franchise quarterback.

Yet by most metrics, Tannehill was not the third best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference last fall. Sure, he ranked No. 12 in the nation with 25.2 completions per game, and passed for over 3700 yards. However, Seth Doege, Landry Jones and fellow first round pick Brandon Weeden all eclipsed those marks handily, and each did so with higher completion percentages.

Those quarterbacks who Tannehill exceeded in passing achieved in other areas that made them arguably more valuable. Robert Griffin III is the obvious example, having both won the Heisman Trophy and been selected second overall. But Missouri’s James Franklin added 15 rushing touchdowns to his 21 in the air, and completed his passes at a better clip than Tannehill. Collin Klein lacked Tannehill’s accuracy, but his bruising rushing style separated him as an invaluable asset to Kansas State’s 10-win season.

Now, there was one category in which Tannehill led the conference, but it was a dubious one. His 15 interceptions tied Oklahoma’s Jones for the league’s most. Had Paul Rhoads not benched Steele Jantz, or Charlie Weis been in Kansas a season earlier to let Jordan Webb air it out a few more times, there might be a different No. 1. Alas, there sat Tannehill.

And yet for all the reasons that Tannehill’s meteoric rise should have been a shock…it wasn’t. Quarterback assessments rarely are, anymore. Every spring, there is at least one play caller who surges seemingly inexplicably — seemingly, but not actually. The explanation is elementary.

Tannehill fit several textbook characteristics of the quick riser, and none of them involve his wife, Lauren. The A&M product’s characteristics shared with past draftees like Matt Stafford and Jake Locker are behind the leap.

First and most obvious is his prototypical NFL quarterback size, 6-foot-4 and over 220 pounds. There are exceptions like Drew Brees, but largely the basement on a pro quarterback is 6-foot-2.

Size benefits college quarterbacks, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all. Someone like Joe Hamilton, all of 5-foot-10, 190 pounds can flourish in the right collegiate environment. That same environment simply doesn’t exist anywhere in the NFL, another positive for Tannehill.

While conference counterparts Jones, Doege and to a lesser extent Weeden played in free-wheeling spreads, the NFL-tenured Mike Sherman ran a Pro Set at A&M. Much has been made of Tannehill playing receiver until recently, but ultimately that’s empty rhetoric. In some regards, Tannehill is actually ahead of other, more successful college and seasoned quarterbacks in that there is no need to learn a completely new offensive philosophy.

Locker’s ascension into top 15 territory last season was perhaps the most eyebrow raising, given his myriad struggles in 2010. Initially at Washington, Locker was called upon to freelance. There was a time when Locker was seen as a lesser Tim Tebow. Steve Sarkisian changed the philosophy, albeit gradually. Locker struggled mightily in the Pro Set, completing just 55 percent of his attempts. He was famously rough in the Holiday Bowl, not completing one pass in the first half. Taking those lumps learning the Pro Set in college benefited Locker’s pro stock more than flourishing in UW’s previous scheme.

Knowledge of the Pro Set has become of increased importance, a statement this draft is declaring loudly. In addition to Tannehill, Denver drafted Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler in Friday’s second round. Osweiler was up-and-down at ASU, prone to lapses in judgment and turnovers. In-state rival Nick Foles trumped Osweiler across the board in passing categories, yet Foles remains undrafted. Explanation: Osweiler played under NFL experienced offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone; Foles was under the tutelage of spread guru Sonny Dykes and later, spread product Robert Anae.

The 2012 Draft is a mandate on the importance of the Pro Set. Two years, it seemed NFL minds were opening more to different ways of offensively thinking. The 2010 Draft was a time to tinker with convention. No. 1 pick Sam Bradford played in a spread, and Bradford’s shown flashes of brilliance. Otherwise, that season’s deviation has not succeeded.

Jacksonville took a flyer on Blaine Gabbert and the experiment has not gone well. Colt McCoy’s struggles in Cleveland may not be the result of having run a set other than the Pro at Texas. Nevertheless, they set the movement away from a strictly Pro Set league back.

Tebow is probably the most noteworthy draft day riser in the last few years, and he was the quintessential departure from traditional offensive philosophy. Urban Meyer’s offense at Florida was conducive to Tebow using his exceptional physique and toughness to make on-the-fly plays, and Tebow left UF one of the great college QBs ever. And still, Denver selecting him in the first round went against every convention of traditional NFL offensive strategy. It hasn’t worked.

Denver made the Playoffs with Tebow quarterbacking, not because of him quarterbacking. His play has been streaky at best, abysmal at worst and detrimental in a realistic sense. For all his college success, great size, and championship will, Tebow lacks the third quality that is benefiting quarterbacks like Tannehill in this class.

Polish is much less expensive than a new toolbox. In other words, Tannehill may not have been stellar at A&M this past season, but the skills are present. They need refining, but they exist. While Tebow needed, and still needs an overhaul of how he plays, Tannehill has the foundation.

Stafford was never earth-shattering as Georgia’s quarterback. His 2008 campaign was OK: he exceeded a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (though he was picked off 10 times in an offensive that didn’t exactly uncork it too often). He completed a little over 61 percent of his pass attempts, the first time in three seasons he got into the 60s.

With the right tuning, Stafford’s become a top flight pro quarterback.

The declaration that this is how college quarterbacks are to be assessed is voluminous. Griffin is the class’s notable deviation, and should he exceed his peers, perhaps another wave of innovative thinking will prevail. In the meantime, NFL evaluation has become business as usual. Business is good for Ryan Tannehill.