A few days ago, ESPN released their rankings of the NFL starting quarterbacks, and immediately, the questions, bias complaints, and debate began. Is Tom Brady really the top quarterback in the league, tied with Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees with a 1.04 average ranking? Should Andrew Luck really be the fifth and final member of the "Tier 1" quarterbacks?
ESPN's Mike Sando compiled the rankings by asking 26 "league insiders" to grade all 32 starting quarterbacks (or projected starters in some cases where position battles could occur). He asked general managers, former-GMs, pro personnel evaluators, offensive and defensive coordinators, head coaches, position coaches, and top executives to make up the "insiders" group, with each member giving the quarterbacks a grade of 1 (best) to five (worst). Their grades were then averaged to order the list.
For fans of the Miami Dolphins, the obvious sticking point is quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was ranked 23rd, one of the last two quarterbacks in the "Tier 3" level. His 3.32 average rating put him behind Sam Bradford (3.12), Carson Palmer (3.12), Robert Griffin III (3.00), Andy Dalton (3.00), Alex Smith (2.96), Jay Cutler (2.62), and Cam Newton (2.58) in the tier.
Just behind Tannehill are Josh McCown (3.52 and last 3rd Tier player), Matt Schaub (3.58), Chad Henne (4.15), EJ Manuel (4.24), Matt Cassel (4.27), Brian Hoyer (4.28), Ryan Fitzpatrick (4.35), Jake Locker (4.42), and Geno Smith (4.48).
When the rankings were first released, there were lots of Dolphins fans irate that Tannehill would be so low. It is, however, a pretty fair ranking, I believe. Tannehill is 15-17 in his career, with a 79.1 passer rating. He has just six more touchdowns to interceptions (36-30), and a career 59.4 completion percentage. Over the same time period, Palmer is 14-17, with an 84.6 passer rating. He threw 46 touchdowns with 36 interceptions, and had a 62.2 completion percentage. Palmer also threw for over 1,000 more yards than Tannehill, breaking 4,000 yards each season while Tannehill's career high is 3,913 yards. And that's just one spot ahead of Tannehill.
Tannehill's performance thus far in his career does not warrant a jump up these rankings. If you add in potential, absolutely, the Dolphins' young signal caller could be up in the top half of the league. To some degree, Tannehill's potential did help his rankings, as Sando explains the 23rd position for the 2012 first round pick:
A pro personnel director put Tannehill in the second tier, but a defensive coordinator whose team faced the Dolphins was not convinced.
Either way, Tannehill needs better blocking. "To me, he is a manager of the game, a guy where if everything is right, he is OK," the defensive coordinator said. "We didn't fear him. I don't think he has the strongest arm, the best release. When you ask me about guys, I think about how I have to game plan against them. Am I afraid of them?"
One pro personnel evaluator placed Tannehill in the second tier, predicting good things for the third-year pro behind an upgraded line and within an uptempo offense.
No one really knows how to read Tannehill yet. Defensive coordinators are not having to gameplan for Tannehill yet, and rightfully so. Personnel people, however, routinely see what Tannehill should be, if the Dolphins can protect him better and give him time to find the right receiver.
The wide range of grades for Tannehill is because of the potential he has. Tannehill has the size, the talent, the arm strength, the intelligence, and the athleticism to be a great quarterback in the NFL. As he enters his third year in the league, he has to put it all together, behind a revamped offensive line that will, hopefully, protect him better this year as compared to last season. If Tannehill can start performing to the level that had Miami draft him eighth overall in 2012, the Dolphins will find success and Tannehill will quickly climb this list.