Commentary

Timing is key for Ryan Tannehill

Doubters abound, but he's entering NFL at best time ever for young QBs

Originally Published: April 17, 2012
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

All the Ryan Tannehill haters need to relax, take a deep breath and step away from their Twitter accounts. It doesn't matter if you think the former Texas A&M quarterback is overrated or on the verge of being overdrafted. It only matters that he's entering the NFL at the best time ever for young signal-callers. That circumstance alone means the odds favor him enjoying some measure of success in the league.

As much as we try to predict a quarterback's potential at this time of year -- and no position generates more scrutiny in the NFL draft -- the truth is that times have changed dramatically. Specifically, teams have gotten much smarter about the process of selecting quarterbacks. They generally have better ideas of what they're looking for, how players might fit into their systems and how long they should take before putting QBs under center. That doesn't mean teams still don't make mistakes. It's just that they put much better thought into what they're buying and how to make things work.

In Tannehill's case, there is no question about his physical skills. He has size, arm strength and mobility and so much athleticism that he spent the first two years of his college career playing wide receiver … and doing it well. In today's NFL that means he could be an offensive coordinator's dream.

"In our business, when you're evaluating players, obviously, you're evaluating what they're doing," Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "But you're also trying to evaluate what they're capable of doing moving forward. The upside with [Tannehill] is tremendous. And something everybody is going to take into account.''

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Troy Taormina/US PresswireRyan Tannehill, a former wide receiver, started only 19 games at quarterback for Texas A&M.
The doubts about Tannehill come down to one main issue: experience. He started only 19 games at quarterback for A&M and he didn't look his best against some of his biggest opponents. The worst-case scenario, in the eyes of some critics, is that he's another Akili Smith, a one-year college wonder who impressed so many NFL scouts that Cincinnati selected him third overall in the 1999 draft. It's an easy comparison to make and one that is wildly off base.

All you have to do is look at the past four NFL drafts to realize that teams have gotten infinitely better at picking first-round quarterbacks. Of the 11 players taken since 2008, 10 have at least solid futures with the teams that selected them (Denver traded Tim Tebow, a 2010 first-round pick, to the Jets earlier this offseason). Three of those quarterbacks have reached the Pro Bowl (Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Cam Newton) and a fourth (Detroit's Matthew Stafford) should've gone last season after throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. Even two players who have faced immense criticism during their brief careers -- Baltimore's Joe Flacco and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez -- have helped their respective teams reach two AFC Championship Games.

Last season was even more impressive when thinking about the possibilities for young quarterbacks in the NFL. Carolina's Newton produced arguably the greatest rookie season ever for a quarterback after the Panthers drafted him first overall. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs in a year nobody saw them winning more than a handful of games. Sure, these players are likely to struggle at some point -- as Sam Bradford, Freeman and Sanchez did in 2010 -- but all quarterbacks will have their ups and downs. Just ask Eli Manning.

What the Panthers did with Newton is something that should happen with whoever selects Tannehill. The coaches played to Newton's strengths. They built an offense around him instead of jamming him into some time-tested system. Newton deserves credit for doing all the necessary preparation, but his first season could've been far more frustrating if his coaches hadn't opened their minds to his possibilities.

The way Denver handled Tebow last season is just as important to remember. The Broncos scuttled their entire offense to run a spread option offense on the fly and get the most of their clearly limited quarterback. For all the media scrutiny that came with Tebow helping the Broncos win the AFC West, a vital teachable moment was lost: Denver got every last bit of ability out of him last season. That's exactly what coaches are supposed to do.

Tannehill should hope that his next team has enough foresight to learn from these approaches. There's no reason why they shouldn't. The changes in the rookie pay scale mean the financial pressure of taking a quarterback high -- and getting him on the field fast -- isn't nearly as harsh as it once was. Offensive coordinators also have the luxury of being more creative because defenses have been hamstrung by rule changes and costly punishments for excessive violence. If there has ever been a better time to think outside of the box in regards to young NFL quarterbacks, it's hard to recall it.

Those are things that people must realize in regards to Tannehill, along with his potential for landing in a comfortable situation. There's already a pretty good chance that he'll wind up in Miami, where he'll have an offensive coordinator who served as his college head coach (Mike Sherman). He might not get past Cleveland, if it keeps the fourth pick, which means he'll be employed by a franchise run by man who knows a few things about quarterbacks (Browns president Mike Holmgren). In other words, Tannehill isn't likely to be thrown to the wolves.

Even if a team trades up to get the No. 3 pick held by Minnesota -- a move that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay touted on Twitter when he called Tannehill the "hidden gem" of this draft -- it would be smart to bet on Tannehill's future going in the right direction. If his next team doesn't have a coach who knows him or has a history of developing young quarterbacks, it will at least have access to a blueprint for how to do so. There's more evidence out there than ever before. There's also this reality: If Tebow could find a way to help his team win, Tannehill will be just fine.