While the Indianapolis Colts have said that they will take Luck with the No. 1 overall pick, Tannehill remains a curiosity because he started only 19 games at quarterback at Texas AM. But that has not prevented his apparent ascent on some draft boards, or stopped the possibility that he could be among the first 10 players picked Thursday night.
“If it bothers you, and you don’t want to draft me because of it, then that’s your choice,” Tannehill said Wednesday. “But I am confident in my abilities; I am confident I’m going to get better. I think I’m just scratching the surface of my potential.”
Tannehill, 23, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and has said he has a career goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, seems to be mainly a product of executives’ willingness to gamble to acquire talent at such an important position, even if it is relatively unproven. That type of draft strategy is a reflection on the aerial game the N.F.L. has become.
“That shows you the difference between then and now,” said Gil Brandt, the former vice president for player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys. “Now we’re going to have three quarterbacks, maybe, in the top 10. There’s just more emphasis on passing.”
The 6-foot-4 Tannehill has good size and impressive arm strength, which he showed in his ability to both thread deep passes and to make quick first-down throws off short drops. He threw 29 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions and completed 61.6 percent of his passes as a senior, when he started 13 games.
But Tannehill did not become a starter until midway through his junior year, and he began his college career as a receiver. Compared with other top quarterback prospects like Luck, who started 38 games at Stanford, and Robert Griffin III, who started 40 at Baylor, Tannehill has relatively little seasoning at the position. He might be better suited in a situation where he could be groomed, a suggestion he dismissed. But he started more college games than Mark Sanchez, who started 16.
“Whether I’m a starter Day 1, Year 1 or Year 3, I want to go in and compete,” Tannehill said. “I want to make it tough on the organization to not play me. At the end of the day, I want to play. I think I have a lot of learning to do, but that’s what the game is for.”
Tannehill has attracted several teams, having visited with the , the and the Kansas City Chiefs. Tannehill has also worked out in front of representatives from the Miami Dolphins, who have the eighth overall pick.
If he was to be picked by Miami, Tannehill would be reunited with his former college coach, Mike Sherman, who is now offensive coordinator for the Dolphins. Miami runs the same pro-style West Coast offense as Texas AM did with Tannehill, and it has been seeking a quarterback since missing out on signing Peyton Manning this off-season.
However, for a quarterback with relatively little college experience, entering a situation in which he is expected to assume a starting role and to perform well right away would not be easy.
“I’d caution people that young guys without experience need time,” said Bill Polian, the former president of the Colts. “All the hype that surrounds the draft leads fans and some media to believe that these players are as good as they are hyped up to be.”
In 1998, in his first move as the Colts’ general manager, Polian selected Manning with the first overall pick, but that decision was made easier because Manning started each of his four years at Tennessee.
Polian said it was obviously ideal to draft a quarterback who had plenty of experience while in college.
“That said, you have to recognize that the quarterback position is the most important position,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst, “and if you have a conviction on a player who has less experience than you might like, but has all the other factors that lead you to believe he’d be a successful quarterback, you have to temper your desire for experience with the fact that you absolutely have to have a quality quarterback to win big.”
There is empirical evidence to support that. Entering last season, 19 of the 32 N.F.L. quarterbacks listed as the starters were first-round picks, and 8 of the 12 playoff teams were led into the postseason by quarterbacks selected in the first round.
It seems likely that Tannehill will be drafted in the first round, but for his part, he has tried to simply enjoy his second trip to Manhattan. He had his suit tailored when he arrived Tuesday night, and has attended draft-related functions since then, including a flag football skills event for youths at Chelsea Piers on Wednesday.
When Tannehill will be selected is one of the draft’s most interesting questions. But this much seems clear: Tannehill will become the unwitting subject in the latest case study on how quarterbacks should be drafted.
Richard Sandomir contributed reporting.