Ryan Tannehill is back after missing the last nineteen regular season games with a torn ACL, and while the national media is down on him and the Miami Dolphins, the organization has high hopes for this season. The Dolphins won six games last year with the corpse of Jay Cutler at quarterback, and I am excited about what they will do with a returning Tannehill and the best offense around him that he’s had up to this point.
Tannehill has always been underrated and underappreciated, despite being at times an average quarterback. While he has been inconsistent at times, he has been a top twenty fantasy quarterback since 2013. He’s also been ranked 11, 18, and 19 twice since Pro Football Focus began ranked quarterbacks in 2013. Through their first four seasons, there are only two quarterbacks in NFL history to have more passing yards than Tannehill: Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. He has posted these numbers despite his offensive allowing the most sacks in the league between 2012 -16 (213 sacks). The talent around him has been shallow at times, and his number one receiver for his first three seasons was Brian Hartline. He also had to change offensive systems several times before Adam Gase was hired as the head coach in 2016, which is not easy for any quarterback. This will be his second year playing in Gase’s offense and his third year in it overall. With comfort comes consistency. The additions that the Miami Dolphins made this offseason play directly into the style of the offense the Dolphins want to run and the strengths of Tannehill.
Although the Dolphins offensive line was ranked the 29th offensive line overall in 2017 by Pro Football Focus, they were ranked 6th overall in pass-blocking efficiency in 2017 (81.7) (https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-ranking-all-32-offensive-lines-from-the-2017-nfl-season). This offseason, they have absolutely improved the unit as a whole. They released oft-injured Mike Pouncey replaced him with Daniel Kilgore. In 2017, Kilgore was the 23rd ranked center, while Pouncey was the 27th. They signed Josh Sitton to be their left guard, who was the 4th ranked guard by PFF in 2017 and has posted an 85.0-plus grade each of the last nine years. 2016 first round pick Laremy Tunsil returns for his second year as the starting left tackle. He had an up and down year in 2017 when he moved back to the position he played in college after playing his rookie season at left guard. Experience and playing next to Josh Sitton should help him take the next step. After moving around the line last year, Jesse Davis has locked down the starting right guard spot. The six weeks he played right guard in 2017, his pressure rate allowed ranked 13th of 36 qualifying right guards over that same period. Ja'wuan James will still hold down the right side of the line from his tackle spot. He was graded as the Dolphins best offensive lineman last year (80.0), and should continue to improve. As previously mentioned, nobody had been sacked as much as Ryan Tannehill from 2012-2016. Cian Fahey from Pre Snap Reads broke down the “avoidable” and “unavoidable” sacks for 2016, and Tannehill led the league with only one avoidable sack. He also had 26 unavoidable sacks. Sacks given up by the offensive line should decrease in 2018.
Not only has his offensive line improved, but the weapons around him have become faster, more versatile, and deeper. Jarvis Landry was traded to Cleveland, and the Dolphins signed Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. They have Kenny Stills who can both stretch the field on the outside or play in the slot. Jakeem Grant and Devante Parker will play on the outside opposite Stills. Jakeem Grant flashed at the end of last season, and the Dolphins hope that Parker finally lives up to his first round draft pick status. They drafted tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe. Gesicki and Smythe should provide years of productivity at the position, but they are different types of tight ends. Gesicki is an athletic freak who can make eye popping catches but is not a strong blocker. Smythe is primarily a blocker but can catch, although he will never be a primary target in the passing game. History has shown us that rookie tight ends are not to be relied on, but in dynasty leagues Gesicki is a good pick up for the future.
In 2015 and 2016, the starting running back was Jay Ajayi. While being a good runner, he left a lot to be desired in the passing game (27 catches in 2015 and 14 for the Dolphins in 2016). In 2018, Kenyan Drake will start. He didn’t start until week 13 in 2017, and ended with 32 catches. They added Kalen Ballage, who despite being 6’3 and 230 pounds, is more athletic than one would expect and caught 82 passes in college. The Dolphins also signed Frank Gore, who has 443 receptions in his twelve years in the league.
The Dolphins added a significant amount of speed, depth and versatility and this will be significant for Tannehill. The average 40 yard time between Stills, Grant, Wilson, and Parker is 4.41 seconds. Jarvis Landry’s was 4.77 seconds. According to PFF, in 2016 Tannehill had the third highest passer rating in the league when throwing in 2.5 seconds or less (109.1). Attempts 2.6 seconds or more caused that ranking to drop to 27th (72.0). He also had the 4th highest rating and 4th highest accuracy on no pressure snaps. When facing the blitz, Tannehill led the league in yards gained per attempt in 2016 (9.6 yards) and had the fifth highest passer rating (105.6). This year, he will have longer in the pocket and receivers who will get open faster.
In the first half of 2016, Adam Gase was still finding his footing as a first time head coach and the players were getting used to his system. The Dolphins started the year 1-5, while things suddenly seemed to click in a Week 6 versus the Steelers. Starting with this game and over the next seven before Tannehill’s season was ended with a torn ACL the Dolphins were 7-1 and on their way to securing a playoff spot. During these eight games Tannehill had thrown 161/233 for a 69% completion rating for 1,743 yards, 14 touchdowns, 4 interception. In the sole loss during this run the Ravens basically crushed the Dolphins in all aspects of the game. Tannehill threw 3 interceptions and posted a 63.1 passer rating. With the exception of this game he was making a case for being among the elite quarterbacks. In addition, in 2016 Tannehill had the second highest red zone passer rating since PFF started grading this in 2006 (120.5). He posted the third highest passer rating when throwing from a clean pocket (116.6). He also ranked second among all quarterbacks in highest big time throw percentage (5.8%).Per PFF “In its simplest terms, a big-time throw is on the highest end of both difficulty and value. While the value is easy to see statistically, the difficulty has more to do with passes that have a lower completion percentage the further the ball is thrown down the field. Therefore, the big-time throw is best described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.”
There are qualities that quarterbacks must possess that are not measurable by statistics. Some of these are leadership, confidence, and attitude. A swagger, if you will. By all accounts, Tannehill has possessed these in the past, but he exuded these in a more quiet form. A lead by example kind of leadership. This offseason, reports have stated that when Suh and Landry were jettisoned, the Dolphins brass pulled Tannehill aside and told him that this was his team. They told him that he needed to be more vocal, that he had to take more ownership, and he looks to have done this. The Dolphins public relations and social media department have had Tannehill wired up during OTAs and training camp. They’ve been posting videos on Twitter and Facebook showing him telling guys where he wants them and how, lining the offense back up after they failed to execute a play to the standard he wanted to see it executed. After sitting out 19 games he seems to be hungrier and seems to have more of an edge than he ever has, and this could propel him to the next level.
Going into 2018, the potential of Ryan Tannehill and this offense is exciting. He showed the quarterback he can be during the second half of 2016, and the statistics that he posted during those eight games are his floor. 2018 will be his second year playing in Gase’s offense and third overall after acting as an offensive assistant on the sideline in 2017. The weapons around him and the depth of those positions have been improved, as has his offensive line. This offense will be very versatile and could be extremely dangerous. As his numbers showed the second half of 2016, Tannehill can be a top ten quarterback and I think that he absolutely will be in 2018, and he will finally earn everybody's respect.