With the preseason halfway over, there are still many questions surrounding the Miami Dolphins. Rivers McCown from Football Outsiders joined us for an in-depth interview, where he answered a wide array of questions.
When asked about why the national media is so low on the Dolphins, especially when they managed six wins with Jay Cutler/Matt Moore and a season full of distractions, McCown said that it’s because one can’t reliably predict star performance from anybody on the current roster. However, he did say that there may be some players who could get on that level this year, including Ryan Tannehill.
“Ryan Tannehill has his supporters who believe it will just take time with Adam Gase to take the next step in his development.”
But is McCown one of them? I pressed him further regarding his overall thoughts of Tannehill and where he would rank in this year’s crop of NFL quarterbacks, McCown said he believes that Tannehill is ultimately more of a steady quarterback than one with upside.
“In the right offense, in a scenario with a bad defense where he has to throw a lot, I think he has pre-jitters Matt Schaub statistical ability. But as far as where he ranks on a list of quarterbacks, that depends on whether you value upside or stability in a signal-caller,” McCown said. “Personally, I value upside more. I would rather start with a Deshaun Watson or even a Baker Mayfield than a Tannehill. But depending on which of the young quarterbacks flame out or get hurt, I think Tannehill will finish the season somewhere in the 12-20 range as a passer. I expect a statistical season closer to what Gase did in the second half of 2016 with him.”
In order to prove McCown wrong and his supporters right, Tannehill will need help from his skill players, including rookie tight end Mike Gesicki. McCown believes that Gesicki will have the chance to shine just based on Miami’s offensive system alone, but does caution against too much optimism.
“Julius Thomas had the fourth-most targets on the roster, Jarvis Landry had the most. Those targets need to be re-distributed somewhere, and I don’t think Albert Wilson is catching 100 balls this season,” McCown said. “I think Gesicki is a really safe pick as a receiver, and I’m not worried about him going Jace Amaro on the NFL. But yes, we should have some caution about his short-term success. I would expect more involvement than actual carrying of the offense in his rookie season.”
Some may point to Tannehill’s supporting cast and mention the lack of height and power that his receivers have. However, McCown says that Dolphins fans shouldn’t worry too much about it.
“There are many ways to keep a player from getting jammed and having to fight off press coverage if the offense is creative enough. I think the receiving corps in general relies a lot on Parker though, because each player behind him is going to have problems filling an elevated role on the depth chart.”
On the defensive side of the ball, McCown is bullish on the secondary, especially around Minkah Fitzpatrick and yes, Cordrea Tankersley. McCown even went so far as to compare the Tankersley /Xavien Howard combo to one several years ago under former head coach Joe Philbin.
“I think Minkah Fitzpatrick gives them some explosive plays they didn’t have before. I’m very high on Cordea Tankersley and think he and Xavien Howard could one day be on the level of a Vontae Davis/Sean Smith pairing,” said McCown. “While Reshad Jones is getting older, we haven’t seen a true dropoff from him yet, so I’m not going to project that. I think the nickel corners are solid enough, perhaps even above-average depending on how much you believe in Bobby McCain’s 2017 season.
McCown did warn that nickel cornerback stats tend to be remarkably up-and-down on a year-to-year basis and also said he is concerned about the loss of Ndamukong Suh.
“Losing Ndamukong Suh makes me a little worried that the secondary will actually be empirically good (in results, not process), because pass rush is a big statistical key. But I think of this is as Miami’s deepest group at the moment.”
At the end of the day, McCown said all of this adds up to the Dolphins not being looked upon favorably this season by the national media. If the Dolphins want that to change, they’re going to need to win games and have guys step into the spotlight.
“The AFC East has been in a rut with regards to storylines for almost an entire generation, and you don’t win over national media without a player who really shines at a position they focus on. Miami’s best skill position player since 2008 is probably Chad Pennington? Maybe Brandon Marshall, Jarvis Landry, or Ronnie Brown? Cameron Wake has been amazing, but came out of nowhere, so he had no build-up momentum. That’s a tough combination for the respect-hungry crowd.”
The NFL plays the games for a reason, and in just a few weeks, we’ll see if this year’s Dolphins are like the teams of the past or if a new chapter will be written as they look to make their way back to the playoffs.
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Matthew Cannata is the host of the award winning podcast, Phinsider Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @CannataNFL