The 2018 NFL season will be, by all accounts, a career-defining one for Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Long one of the most enigmatic and controversial players in franchise history, seemingly no one is neutral or on the fence about Ryan. Just about every Dolphins fan is a firm believer in one of two schools of thought; that he’s either the best QB Miami has had since Dan Marino and that he remains the best choice to try and lead the team out of the NFL’s purgatory and into the promised land, or that he’s a seventh year, soon-to-be-thirty player who has a sub .500 career record, has never won a game in Buffalo or New England in a combined nine tries and will have gone nearly two full calendar years without playing in a meaningful NFL game when opening day rolls around in September.
I’ve been critical of Tannehill in the past, but that has been more a byproduct of Miami having set, and extended, NFL records for avoiding defensive players in the first round of the draft and using high picks on wideouts than anything Ryan has or hasn’t done as the team’s starting QB. I know people are tired of hearing about this, but let’s face it: repeatedly going all out in the draft and in free agency to stock and restock your offense with receivers screams, ‘project QB’ much more than it does, ‘franchise QB’. But that’s what made Tannehill such an appealing prospect six seasons ago, in the days leading up to the 2012 draft, that he had such amazing athletic tools. Everyone knew that Ryan was a project as an NFL starting QB, but they also knew that if he ever put it all together he would be a formidable opponent to have to face on Sundays. Quick, name another quarterback who can match Tanny’s arm strength. Joe Flacco? At one time, Flacco probably had the strongest arm in the league, but that was circa 2010-2014. Ben Roethlisberger? He’s now a veritable walking M.A.S.H. unit and was reportedly mulling retirement at the end of last season. Eli Manning? Nope. Aaron Rodgers? Drew Brees? Not many guys, in any era, could throw a football harder or farther than Ryan Tannehill.
There has been a lot of talk about the Dolphins possibly selecting a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft, but I just don’t see it happening. For one thing, all four of the top QBs coming out this year will almost certainly be gone before the eleventh pick and Miami simply has too many other needs. I’m a disciple of the old Al Davis philosophy, back when the Raiders were one of the most feared teams in all of sports. Their approach to team building was blissfully simple: stack the roster with studs from top to bottom, and make sure that the skill position players are fast and the linemen huge. Then, when you have virtually every other spot on the roster locked down, hand the keys to the offense to a capable guy who can get the job done for you. Think this approach is outdated in today’s game? The Broncos won a title with a washed up Peyton Manning using this formula just a couple of years ago. The perception that Ryan Tannehill is, or will become, a franchise quarterback no longer exists, but the reality that he could, under the right circumstances, lead this team deep into the playoffs remains. In my view, these are both very good things; since so many fans and press pundits have written him off, he likely won’t feel nearly as much pressure to carry the team on his back as he did earlier in his career. With nearly two full years to let his body recover from the frightful beating he took during his first five seasons in the league, and plenty of time to learn the nuances of the offense, he could return with a vengeance this season. In dating parlance, he may not be ‘Mr. Right’ but he is ‘Mr. Right Now’.