Saturdays to Sundays--A Look at College Prospects Who Could Soon Be Miami Dolphins

Part of being a Dolphins fan is accepting the fact that Miami's front office is usually going to botch its first-round pick in the NFL Draft every spring. Some die-hard fans might think this statement is a bit harsh, so we'll let the facts do the talking here:

During Dan Marino's 17 seasons in Miami, the Dolphins hit right on just four of their first-round picks (Richmond Webb in '90, Troy Vincent in '92, O.J. McDuffie in '93, and Tim Bowens in '94). Since Marino's retirement in early 2000, the Dolphins have hit right on just three of their first-round picks (Vernon Carey in 2004, Jake Long in 2008, and Vontae Davis in 2009. Mike Pouncey also looks like a successful pick, but we'll omit him since he's still a rookie), whiffed on Drew Brees (twice actually--the first time, for a midget Wisconsin cornerback; the second time, for a one-legged Daunte Culpepper in free agency), drafted a running back over Aaron Rodgers (who's turned out to be okay), drafted the position-less Jason Allen (who, while in college, was once bulldozed by the running back we drafted over Aaron Rodgers), and selected the entire Ted Ginn family over players such as Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis.

Quite the sobering list, huh? I bring all of these facts up not to torment anyone here, but because a lot of fans on this board have stated they believe the Dolphins are currently winning themselves out of a chance to draft an elite quarterback prospect in April 2012--a draft Miami absolutely cannot afford to botch the way they have time and time again over the last 27 years.

For some, it was bad enough that the Dolphins took themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes (which turned out to be unattainable anyway), and then for Miami to put together beat-down victories over Washington, Buffalo and Oakland, well, we might as well just take our Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III tickets and flush them down the toilet (provided those two even declare). Landry Jones? Don't bother--guy has flat-out murdered his draft stock over the last six weeks.

If all of the above is true, then just what are the Dolphins supposed to do about their quarterback position? Pencil in Matt Moore as the long-term starter and continue on with their current brand of Bill Parcells-approved Jurassic Park football strategery? Well, provided the Dolphins see Matt Moore as a transitional guy under center and don't trade up for one of the aforementioned signal callers, Miami could be in a good position to draft the potential sleeper quarterback of the 2012 draft.

Ryan Tannehill, QB Texas A&M

If the world learned anything from the 2011 NFL Draft, it's this: great college quarterbacks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder were supposedly weak armed and too short to play the position, yet they are both in the midst of strong rookie campaigns. Cam Newton was branded as an oversized misfit with poor intelligence, yet he looks like the second coming of Ben Roethlisberger right now. Jake Locker has only seen limited duty, but came in for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Atlanta Falcons last month and looked promising. Meanwhile, Blaine Gabbert, the best combination of size, athleticism and arm strength of any quarterback in the 2011 draft, has been unwatchable for the toothless Jacksonville Jaguars this season. Go figure.

Just when you think you've figured out how to grade college quarterbacks, a draft class like this comes around and completely tears down every preconceived notion there is for signal callers transitioning to the NFL. However, having spent the last three months watching gobs of Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill's tape--and realizing that he is still a viewed as a second-round-worthy pick at this time--I am not so sure everyone got the memo about college quarterbacks being more than meets the eye.

Tannehill (6'4", 220) has two factors working against him right now: he's in a draft class that could be (and probably will be) chock full of head-turning quarterbacks by the time the draft declaration deadline expires in mid-January, and he's only been the Aggies' starting QB for a season and a half after ... wait for it ... spending his first two seasons in College Station as a wide receiver. Of course I'll give you a moment to soak that in. Take your time ...

And ... we're back. Now, I want to make it clear that Tannehill's move to wide receiver was a tad bit misleading. Tannehill arrived in College Station as a quarterback, and after landing the third-string spot behind Aggies signal callers Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson, the redshirt frosh was asked to switch to wideout by then-head coach Mike Sherman. Tannehill complied with the switch for the good of the team, but stated in interviews that he had his sights on taking over Texas A&M's quarterback spot at some point. "Some point" turned out to be A&M's 2010 meeting with Texas Tech--a game in which Tannehill put up an A&M-record 449 yards passing. After dicing up Oklahoma the next week, Tannehill cemented his spot as Texas A&M's No.1 gun. Since that point, Tannehill has demonstrated a strong, growing command of the Aggies' offense.

Plenty of work to be done

Despite his small body of work as a college quarterback, a lot of positives jump out with Tannehill's tape. He's got a nice, live arm and throws with impressive accuracy. He's obviously mobile enough, can roll out in either direction and throws really well on the run. He's big enough to stand in the pocket comfortably, operates out of a pro-style scheme and has developed a feel for pump fakes and off-looks during his short time as A&M's starting quarterback. His release is unique--a sort of Philip-Rivers-like motion, but with more torque coming from the shoulder. And he displays good touch on deep throws.

His tape also has some not-so-great parts, however. Tannehill is still a bit too finicky in the pocket and rushes through his progressions at times (he's gotten much better at slowing things down this season, though). His footwork in the pocket is nothing to write home about, and he's not exactly the fastest quarterback you'll ever see. And then there's his lack of true game experience under center. Tannehill lacks polish, but has the look of a bona-fide playmaker while standing in the pocket. That play-making ability is why Tannehill is an ideal prospect for a team that can sit him for a year and allow him to learn under their current starter, and with Matt Moore now serving as an official stopgap for the Dolphins, Tannehill makes plenty of sense for Miami.

Verdict

Believe it or not, but it's still too early to know just how many first- and second-round-worthy quarterbacks will be available in 2012. Nevertheless, Tannehill is too good to escape the early portion of round two, and with a strong combine/pro-day showing, can catapult right into the thick of round one, especially if Oklahoma's Landry Jones decides to return to school.

Maybe the Dolphins have won themselves out of Luck, Barkley and Griffin III (it remains to be seen), but there's no reason why they can't get outstanding production out of prospects like Tannehill, Arizona's Nick Foles or Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. Snobbier Dolphins fans will likely thumb their nose at these three prospects right off the bat, but in an offense that could use a healthy dose of aggressiveness, arm strength and accuracy at the quarterback position, Tannehill, Foles and Cousins could turn into very good pros. The point is that the Dolphins will have plenty of quarterback options in this draft. If they like one of the "big four" QBs, I think Miami has enough talent to package some picks and move up in order to take their guy. If the big four aren't available, and the Dolphins see something they really like in another prospect, they can move down (I know ... I can hear the groans on this blog already), pick a quarterback with considerably less risk (than a top 10 selection would warrant, of course) and be done with it. I am not saying this is what the Dolphins should do, but it's important to know that there is indeed life after Luck, Barkley and RG3 in this draft.

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