The pro day workout of Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill -- which took place Thursday in College Station, Texas -- was one of the most anticipated of the predraft process, given that Tannehill has continued to move up the board despite a stress fracture in his right foot that required surgery in January and prevented him from participating in the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and the Aggies' regularly scheduled pro day earlier this month.
There were 22 NFL teams represented in the crowd of onlookers, including Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland, and Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress and several personnel staffers from the team.
Tannehill's 40-yard dash was the warmup act before his throwing session, and I clocked him at 4.61 seconds on my stopwatch. About a dozen other scouts I surveyed had him anywhere between 4.59 and 4.63, and upon seeing his time Tannehill decided one attempt was enough.
While it doesn't mean much in the long run and is the first and last time he'll run for scouts, the time is at least a good indication that Tannehill has recovered fully from the foot surgery and is back at full strength. And for some perspective, that 4.61 bests the 4.67 posted by Stanford QB Andrew Luck at the combine (although Tannehill is an inch shorter and 13 pounds lighter).
Then it was on to the main attraction, and Tannehill's passing session included 65 scripted throws. I counted only three passes hat hit the ground, one that was flat-out dropped, a deep ball that Aggies WR Jeff Fuller should have tracked down but did not, and a third that Tannehill simply missed. That's pretty much what we saw in the workouts of Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III, who missed only one and two throws, respectively.
Tannehill's mechanics are much-improved, and I was impressed with his overall motion. His upper and lower body were aligned, he was much more confident and deliberate with his footwork than what I saw on tape during the season, and he did a nice job transferring his weight from front to back.
Where that's concerned, quarterback Chris Weinke -- who has been working with Tannehill since the end of the season -- said something interesting when I caught up with him following the workout. Weinke contends that there was a silver lining to Tannehill's injury, because coming back slowly allowed them to work on his motion in stages rather than trying to tweak everything at once.
Tannehill was able to concentrate only on his footwork for a time, getting his feet in sync with his upper body, then being efficient at the top of his drop, and then transferring his weight before releasing the ball. When you talk about quarterback mechanics the fewer moving parts you have -- the more aligned and in unison everything is -- the less chance there is for error. Some coaches talk about having a compact motion and being able to throw in a phone booth, and Tannehill showed that.
He has a strong arm and a strong base, and he's learning to maximize those tools. His back foot remained on the ground until he was releasing the ball, which allowed his talented arm to shine through, and Tannehill is special in that regard. The effortlessness of his motion was impressive, yet the ball exploded off his hand with velocity and plenty of RPMs, which is what allows it to cut through the wind and drive downfield.
Tannehill did a good job on speed outs, comebacks and deep outs, showing anticipation, sideline awareness and confidence in the spot he was throwing to, all of which translates to good timing on those routes. He also seemed more confident throwing over the middle during his workout than on film, albeit against air with no defenders on the field.
Finally, while Tannehill's tape shows some inconsistency on the deep ball with a tendency to misjudge the trajectory at times and put too much air under it at times and drive it too much on a line at others, he seemed to find a rhythm and comfort level in that area of the workout as well. Again, it's not even a simulated game situation, but Tannehill was accurate with the deep ball and uncorked some very impressive throws.
Add all that to the athletic ability the former wide receiver showed during his workout and on tape, and the intangibles everyone who has spent even a minute with Tannehill raves about, and it's easy to see why he's rocketing up the board. There are those who wonder how a quarterback whose team squandered four double-digit second-half leads, and whose completion percentage fell off from 65.0 as a junior to 61.6 as a senior, could rise so quickly, but the tape tells the story.
I charted every throw Tannehill made in 2011, and his decision-making was better than many give him credit for. By my count, he was victimized by 64 drops during the season, which averages out to about five per game, and that helped account for the drop in his completion percentage. The bottom line is that Tannehill is just scratching the surface of his talent, showing improvement in his mechanics and giving NFL teams plenty to be excited about.
The big picture
Tannehill has worked his way into the top 10 on my overall board, and there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the teams that could potentially select him.
The Browns, at No. 4 overall, are more or less the swing point in the first round, and what they do with their pick will play a huge role in how things trickle down the board. Cleveland is being tight-lipped about its intentions, but with Tannehill likely to be available the Browns will face a tough decision. They could be forced to choose between a potential franchise quarterback and three elite players -- Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, LSU CB Morris Claiborne, Alabama RB Trent Richardson -- who all fit positions of need.
All are realistic possibilities, but the real question becomes whether Cleveland wants to find help for current QB Colt McCoy or bring in Tannehill and allow him a year to develop. In the end, the answer could have less to do with Tannehill and how the Browns feel about some of the second-tier quarterbacks on the board.
Cleveland also picks 22nd overall, and at that point will likely have its choice from a group that includes Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Arizona's Nick Foles, all of whom belong in the top 40 picks. Should the Browns get comfortable with one of those players, they could pass on Tannehill in favor of an elite prospect and target their favorite from the second tier at No. 22, even if it is 10 or 12 picks higher than he's expected to go.
And with the Dolphins being the next logical fit for Tannehill at No. 8, another possibility -- which is more speculation than anything -- is the Browns passing on him with the fourth pick, then using that 22nd pick to make a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars to move to No. 7 and get Tannehill there. A move like that would probably mean Cleveland offering up something in the ballpark of the No. 22 pick this year paired with next year's first-rounder, or No. 22 and a combination of second-rounders from this year and next.
Finally, let's throw a little more craziness into the mix and consider the possibility that the Seahawks are also interested. After all, both the team's coach and GM were in attendance. Perhaps they were simply taking care of their due diligence in case Tannehill should fall to them at No. 12 and they have a decision to make, but they have made it known they think highly of Tannehill, and Schneider did spend eight years in Green Bay learning that you can never have enough good quarterbacks.
Yes, the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn, but he has only two career starts to his credit. Perhaps the Seahawks could move into the top seven ahead of Miami, bring in Tannehill and let him develop behind Flynn, then assess the situation. They could choose the quarterback who turns out better, and the worst-case scenario could be ending up with two good quarterbacks, one of whom could be traded for additional draft picks.
Given how quickly Tannehill is rising and his impressive potential, you have to consider all the possibilities.