(This is the first of a seven-part series previewing the NFL Draft. Today's installment: Quarterbacks.)
Ryan Tannehill is the latest example of how quarterbacks get pushed up the board in the NFL Draft.
Tannehill started at quarterback only a season and a half -- 19 games -- for Texas A&M. Yet the dearth of elite quarterbacks in the NFL could get him picked third or fourth overall when the first round is held April 26.
If Tannehill doesn't go to the Cleveland Browns at the four spot in the draft, there's a good chance he won't last past the eighth pick, owned by the Miami Dolphins. A team even could move up to No. 3 to get him.
A top-10 selection will be an amazing accomplishment, considering Tannehill spent his first 2 1/2 seasons as a productive, full-time wide receiver.
"I've been doing this since '79, and I don't think there's been anybody who has gone from another position to quarterback and been a first-round pick," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.
Tannehill will be a big focus of the draft because he's the wild card at the quarterback position. The top two quarterbacks, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III, are considered strong bets to succeed in the NFL, by draft standards. Luck is expected to be picked first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Griffin is locked into the No. 2 spot, at worst, for the Washington Redskins.
The rest of the draft class, after Tannehill, is not great. However, the Buffalo Bills probably will take a quarterback at some point, and maybe even on the second day of the three-day draft if the opportunity presents itself.
Tannehill was recruited to College Station, Texas, as a dual-threat passer with great running ability. He competed for the QB job as a redshirt freshman under new coach Mike Sherman in 2008. But after losing out in a three-way battle, Tannehill agreed to switch to receiver.
"I ended up having some success that [first] day, and about two days later, I was in the starting rotation at receiver," Tannehill told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. "It was a quick turnaround. I always thought of myself as a quarterback. So I was frustrated by it, but blessed by the opportunity to be able to play another position."
He caught 55 passes as a freshman and 46 as a sophomore. He stayed at receiver the first six games of the 2010 season, but with the Aggies' offense struggling, Sherman put him under center. In his first start, Tannehill passed for 449 yards in a 45-27 win over Texas Tech. He won his first five starts before losing in the Aggies' bowl game to Louisiana State. As a senior in 2011, he passed for 3,744 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Tannehill has ideal size (at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds), a good arm and throws well on the run. He carried a 3.6 grade-point average in biology and aims to be an orthopedic surgeon when he's done with football.
"I can see all the attributes of a [Jake] Locker in Tannehill," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, referring to last year's No. 8 overall pick. "He's a big, strong kid that can push the ball down the field. He's athletic. I like everything about him except for the fact that on tape, I think he stares his receivers down and waits for them to come up before he rips it. That's typical of a young quarterback without a lot of starts. I look at him and say, kind of like Jake Locker, he's going to take a little bit of time. It's going to take a year or so. Nineteen starts is not a lot of starts for a college quarterback."
Kiper straddles the fence on him: "With Tannehill, it's a lack of experience. The fact against Oklahoma, 50 percent completion percentage. Kansas State, 58.7. Texas 40.8, with three picks. Three picks against Oklahoma. Three picks against Oklahoma State. Against those four teams, those better teams, he struggled. Great in the red zone. Spectacular in the red zone, [completing] 64.5 percent, (with) 18 touchdowns and just one interception. You like the potential, you like the talent."
Size, a big arm and some mobility make Arizona State's Brock Osweiler an intriguing prospect. But he's a spread QB with only 15 college starts. It would be a gamble for a team to take him before the third round. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden probably would be a first-round pick if he were 23, but he turns 29 in October. He spent five years playing pro baseball before going back to college. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins went 27-12 as a starter and was team captain three years. He doesn't have a rocket arm. He would be best for a West Coast system. B.J. Coleman of Tennessee-Chattanooga has good size (6-3, 234), a strong arm and smarts. He might be worth a pick for Buffalo in the fifth round. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson passed for 109 TDs and 30 INTs over four years. There is lots to love about him. But he's only 5-11.
NEXT: Offensive line.