If achieving success in the NFL could be boiled down to one all-important factor, it would be the play of a team’s quarterback. When looking around the league at the NFL teams that have enjoyed frequent trips to the postseason over the years, you would be hard pressed to find one that didn’t have a capable signal caller passing the football. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson are just a few examples of premier quarterbacks who have carried their teams to the playoffs time and time again. Teams who are struggling to achieve those same results are constantly asking which quarterback in the draft or free agency can be their Brady or Rodgers. Dolphins fans are frequently asking a similar question about our own quarterback situation: is Ryan Tannehill capable of being a franchise quarterback who can lead our team to success?
There is no denying that Tannehill has been one of the most hotly debated quarterbacks of the past five years. While some are convinced that he just doesn’t have what it takes to be a true difference maker when it counts, I believe otherwise. Tannehill has shown that he has the skill set, leadership, and football IQ to make the difficult throws and win games for his team.
That’s not to say Tannehill is perfect. He is by no means a top tier quarterback yet. He has certainly shown flaws by taking too many sacks on first and second downs and by expressing a penchant for favoring intermediate throws, but the development that he showed under Adam Gase proves to me, and should prove to all Dolphins fans, that the best is yet to come for the sixth-year signal caller.
Last season, Tannehill went to work correcting some of his most agitating faults. He was sacked a career low 29 times, 16 less than in his 2015 campaign. He was also tied for 5th in completions of 40+ yards and 3rd in completion percentage of passes traveling over 20 yards, proving that in Gase’s offense, Tannehill is not afraid to take shots down the field. Most telling is that in 2016, Ryan Tannehill set career highs in both total completion percentage (67.1%) and quarterback rating (93.5). To put those numbers in perspective, Tom Brady completed 67.4% of his passes, and Matthew Stafford posted a 93.3 quarterback rating in one of his best seasons to date. The only thing that derailed Tannehill’s career year was an unfortunate injury, and one that he reportedly is almost fully recovered from.
On top of his significant improvements over the last year, the bevy of weapons that Tannehill has going into the 2017 season should lead us to believe that there is every reason for him to continue to get better. With Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, Jay Ajayi, and the receiver trio of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker all in place for the upcoming season, Dolphins fans should be excited to see what their quarterback, and the offense he commands, has in store. In fact, we need to look no further than last season’s Super Bowl to see a perfect example of how a quarterback can develop over their career, especially when they have other offensive playmakers at their disposal. At age 31, Matt Ryan proved last year that a quarterback can “make the leap” no matter how many seasons they’ve played.
It is also vital to remember what it means to have a franchise quarterback in the NFL. A franchise quarterback does not have to be a future Hall-of-Famer. They need to be capable of leading a team to success by playing well in big games, avoiding mistakes, and being a team leader.
Tannehill checks all of those boxes. Last season, he had three game winning drives and three fourth quarter comebacks. He also threw only twelve interceptions on the season. Most notably, his teammates were clearly devastated when Tannehill, their team leader, was lost for the season to an ACL and MCL injury, and many expressed how badly they were hoping to have him back for a playoff run. While that did not happen, Tannehill did not sit around sulking about his inability to take the field. He was by coach Gase’s side on almost every play, helping to call the offense and contributing to the game as much as possible. Tannehill’s leadership has also stretched into the offseason, as he called numerous of the Dolphins’ 2017 draft picks to welcome them to the team and offer advice. Tannehill does not have to set records (although he’s already set a few and will set many more), he just needs to be a proficient passer who can rise up when it matters most.
Ryan Tannehill may never wear a gold jacket like Brett Favre or Joe Montana, and he may never reach top-five quarterback status, but the skills and leadership that he’s displayed and the fact that he’s proven he can lead Miami to the playoffs indicate that he can, without a doubt, be a franchise quarterback.