Life comes full circle.
Back in February, 2017, I was a little known college kid (and tortured Cleveland Browns fan) trying to pursue some kind of career in journalism. It was a little after Super Bowl LI, so I used that time to make several threads on several players. Little did I know that one particular thread would catch fire and give me a boost in exposure.
It was a thread I did on none other than Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Dolphins fans were overwhelmingly positive about the thread, and as a result, my following sky rocketed. I credit Dolphins fans for helping kickstart my career, as due to my increased exposure I eventually landed several jobs with fellow SB Nation site Music City Miracles, Vikings blog Purple PTSD, 49ers blog 49ers Hub, and video analysis site Dynasty Trade Calculator.
That brings me to today. Recently I was hired by The Phinsider to cover the Dolphins for the 2018 season, and I couldn’t be happier to do it. So to give my gratitude to the fan base that helped increase my notoriety, I’ve written my first Phinsider piece on the guy that started it all for me, Ryan Tannehill, returning in action for the first time since 2016.
Since 2012, Ryan Tannehill has been the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, and he’s one of the game’s most polarizing players at the position. Through his first five seasons, Tannehill has completed 62.5% of his passes for 18,455 yards, 106 touchdowns, 66 interceptions, and an 86.5 passer rating. With this type of production, it’s not a surprise that many football fans are low on him, and he’s even garnered mixed opinions in Miami.
There’s reason to be skeptical about Tannehill’s return. He’s 30 years old and is returning from two knee injuries, one of which kept him out for the entire 2017 season. Simply getting back on the field from that is a massive achievement, playing the way you have prior to the injuries is even more so.
Of course, many people see Tannehill as a mediocre, middle-of-the-pack quarterback that isn’t good enough to make the Dolphins a playoff competitor. Some have gone to listing him as a bottom tier player at the position.
So what’s the reasoning? Let’s take a look at two specific viewpoints that go against Tannehill’s reputation.
1. The quarterback class of 2012
Aside from the stats, consider the draft class Tannehill came from; The quarterback class from the 2012 NFL Draft featured big names like Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. That’s a lofty list of significant quarterbacks, and anyone who isn’t as good as Wilson or Luck doesn’t get talked about as much.
2. Comparisons to Dan Marino
We hear this one a lot. The NFL’s fan base has expected Tannehill to be on the level of a Hall of Fame quarterback like Dan Marino, a rare, generational talent whose level few quarterbacks have even reached. Despite never winning a Super Bowl, Marino’s greatness is recognized because how he raised the bar for quarterback play in the 80s’ and 90s’, so Tannehill being below Marino is seen as a disappointment.
No, Ryan Tannehill is not as good as Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck. No, he is not near the quality of a guy like Dan Marino either. But you know what? He’s a good, sometimes really good, quarterback in his own right, one of the most misunderstood ones at that.
While Tannehill has never had the lofty stats of some of his peers, he’s rarely been in adequate environments for quarterback play. He’s played behind some of the worst offensive lines in the league, had the pleasure of being coached by Joe Philbin in his first four seasons, and his receiving corps haven’t exactly been as good as many people believe (more on that later, though).
When guys like Luck and Wilson are able to put up monster stats in similar situations, it’s no surprise that the blame for the Dolphins’ mediocrity gets passed onto Tannehill. When healthy, Luck has been a top five quarterback, and Wilson of course is in that area. But just because Tannehill is not on that level doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of good or great quarterback play.
In fact, I see Tannehill as a bright spot for a team that has been middle-of-the-pack. He’s been provided with flawed supporting casts, and yet he’s been able to make those offenses look competent. So with that in mind, I’m going to illustrate why I view Ryan Tannehill as a very good, underrated quarterback below.
The most severely undervalued strength of Ryan Tannehill’s game is his accuracy as a downfield passer. He’s generally an accurate quarterback, but it’s especially true on the more vertical throws. In the 2016-17 Deep Ball Project, Tannehill had the fourth highest accuracy on throws of 16+ air yards and was 2nd on throws of 20+. When Adam Gase came in, he didn’t fix Tannehill (like many people assumed he did with Jay Cutler in 2015) as much as give him a more clearly defined offense that allowed him to throw with precision in the intermediate and vertical fields.
No play better highlights Tannehill’s downfield accuracy than the 39-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills against the Chargers in week 10 of the 2016 season. The placement of this pass is impossible; Tannehill, as he’s about to get drilled, places the ball in a spot where Stills can comfortably get it while the defensive back guarding Stills can only look and watch.
It’s one of the best throws I’ve ever seen.
Despite his reputation, Tannehill has one of the more exciting skill sets at quarterback. Before his last two knee injuries, he was a very mobile passer with fluid pocket movement and rare ability to throw accurately rolling out of the pocket.
This is a sensational play that demonstrates the quality Tannehill brings as a passer on the run. The Steelers bring a four-man rush and the center gets overwhelmed and allows pressure through the A-gap. As Tannehill pump fakes, the center inadvertently buys Tannehill time by running into him and obscuring the 1-tech from sacking him.
With this, Tannehill scrambles left and buys as much time as possible before heaving a bomb to MarQueis Gray for 53-yards. Tannehill’s arm strength on this play is ludicrous, as he’s throwing across his body running for his life.
Now, a big reason for Tannehill’s lack of pretty statistical production comes from the receiving corps he’s played with. Kenny Stills is good, but I’ve never been a big Jarvis Landry fan, which I’ve made pretty clear in the past. Landry to me, has never been a threat vertically, and while he gobbles up a lot of yards after the catch, many times he’s shown hesitation in space instead of going up gaps he’s granted, so his heavy production limited the Dolphins offense.
Ironically, he’s now on the very team I grew up rooting for: The Browns. This is what the scholars call “Karma.”
Another issue is DeVante Parker, who has not lived up to the hype since entering the league. While talented, Parker’s failures at the catch point have not only prevented him from seeing his potential, but have also left a lot of plays on the field.
This is a throw Parker has to haul in. Tannehill holds onto the ball long enough for Parker’s route to develop and delivers the ball on time. It’s high, but catchable and placed in a spot where only Parker can get it. Parker rewards Tannehill with a drop on what should have been a touchdown.
It only gets worse from here.
Nowhere did Parker show his limitations at the catch point more than this play. This is an interception strictly on the receiver, not the quarterback. Tannehill places the ball in a spot where Parker can make a play. As this is happening, the safety comes over to make a play on the ball himself. Parker has to go up and attack the ball at the risk of being hit, but instead plays this softly and allows the safety to completely overwhelm him for the interception.
This is what was so frustrating about Tannehill’s receiving corps through the first five seasons of his career, and precisely why the revamped unit he has this season is exciting. Danny Amendola is a quality slot receiver, Albert Wilson is a big upgrade over Parker, Mike Gesicki is a potential monster at tight end, and that leaves Kenny Stills in a role where he could be the #1 wide receiver after the trade of Landry.
The additions of guard Josh Sitton and center Daniel Kilgore alongside tackle Laremy Tunsil should upgrade the offensive line, and that’s good because Tannehill has been asked to do a lot under pressure. But contrary to what some Dolphins fans may think, Tannehill has been really good under duress.
Tannehill rarely flinches under pressure, at least when fully healthy. He’s understood that he’s going to take hits and needs to successfully complete passes in spite of that, and it’s a trait that’s been overlooked by casual football fans.
Here, the Patriots send a stunt on Tannehill’s blind side. Tannehill is able to spot the stunt while also spotting tight end Dion Sims going towards the left numbers. A lesser quarterback would flinch and make a desperation throw off his back foot, affecting the accuracy of the throw. But Tannehill remains poised throughout, making a subtle move to his left before delivering the throw to Sims on time.
This pressure play is even better. It’s a simple 3-step drop from Tannehill in shotgun, but the left guard lets pressure go up the B-gap.
These are the plays that tell you how truly poised a quarterback is and if they can stand in the pocket under heavy pressure and deliver accurate throws. This is what’s so undervalued about Tannehill; He can stand tall under pressure and deliver it accurately to boot. Just before he gets wrecked, he fires a beautiful pass to an open Parker.
The beauty of this play is Tannehill’s mechanics remain smooth. They don’t break down like certain quarterbacks under pressure (Joe Flacco and Derek Carr come to mind), and this tells us how disciplined of a pocket passer he really is.
The main concern for Ryan Tannehill in 2018 is if he’ll ever play at 100% again coming off two knee injuries. It’s a lot to ask for, but if he does, he’s an underrated, invaluable quarterback for the Dolphins.
A lot of people sarcastically say “This is the year Ryan Tannehill puts it together,” but they’re missing the point. Tannehill has put it together; He’s just done it behind bad supporting casts. If he’s healthy, he’s getting an improved offensive line and, to me, an improved receiving corps with a greater emphasis on speed, and a backfield with a full year of Kenyan Drake, an exciting young back. On defense, the secondary looks like it’ll be really good as well.
Considering Tannehill started out as a wide receiver at Texas A&M, that he’s been able to play as well as he has is extremely impressive. He’s a disciplined pocket passer with dangerous downfield accuracy, great arm strength, is exceptional as a roll out passer, and is overall better than most people will ever give him credit for. He’s a quality quarterback and the Dolphins should be glad to have him as the starter.
It will take a while for Tannehill to shake off the rust early on, but if/when he does, he’s arguably the most underrated quarterback in football.