TANNEHILL VERSUS THE WORLD: THE IN-DEPTH COMPARISON TANNEHILL’S CRITICS DON’T WANT YOU TO READ

rk CoRecently, an online article featuring a comparison between Ryan Tannehill and two other QBs from the 2012 draft was brought to my attention by a friend, and, well, to put it bluntly, I was not impressed. The piece was exceedingly short and the limited number of statistics presented left me wondering if they had been cherry picked to support a preconceived point of view. As such, my initial reaction was to ignore the article, continue on with my day, and not give it a second thought.

However, after a short while, I began to wonder. What would a truly in-depth comparison between quarterbacks should look like, and….how, exactly, would Tannehill fare? Upon realizing the massive amount of work that would go into such a piece, and how much I already had on my plate, I again decided to put it out of my mind. Nevertheless, eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and as you can plainly see, I decided to conduct just such a comparison myself.

Now, for the sake of transparency, I feel it important to make the following clear. When I began my research into this subject, I genuinely had no idea what the specific results of this comparison would be. I do, however, admit to some general expectations. I imagined the facts would reveal that Tannehill is a talented quarterback with top ten potential who, as it happens, is judged too harshly by his critics. Regardless, I was determined to conduct a data driven comparison, as well as to reveal the outcome even if the results were not in line with my predictions.

In order to produce the most complete and impartial results possible, I designed the study to take place over 6 stages.

  1. Comparing Tannehill to quarterbacks with similar experience based on traditional statistics.
  2. Zero in on the 2016 performances of that same group of QBs in order to determine their career trajectories. This part of the study would be conducted using the analysis provided by Cian Fahey in his Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue 2017.
  3. Expand the comparison to all the quarterbacks drafted between 2008 and 2016, again relying on Fahey’s research.
  4. Compare Tannehill to the upper echelon of veteran QBs using both traditional statistics and Fahey’s study.
  5. Review the circumstances of Tannehill’s career to put the statistical results of our survey into perspective.
  6. A final look at both Tannehill’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as a look at Tannehill’s place in Dolphins’ history.

Of course, no study, however complex, can cover every aspect of a QB’s performance. As such, I limited the application of Fahey’s research to the six most definitive categories of a quarterback’s performance, as the remaining measures he employed, while insightful, struck me as subcategories of the same information. So, with those parameters in mind, let us begin our in-depth comparison of Ryan Tannehill to the other quarterbacks in the NFL.

PHASE ONE – TANNEHILL’S GENERATION

Narrowing The Field

In order to create an accurate comparison by which Tannehill’s place among NFL QBs can be best be determined, it is important to proceed gradually, and with the goal of creating as equal a playing field as possible. Thus, at this first stage, I only looked at quarterbacks drafted between 2010 and 2014. That give us an initial 5-year window of signal callers with a similar level of experience, 61 other draft picks in all, to pit against Tannehill.

Furthermore, while our survey will later expand to encompass all the QBs currently in the league, I initially reduced our pool even further by eliminating all the passers drafted after the 4th round during the years in question. This is because none of the 5th through 7th rounders drafted during those years have had any significant impact in the NFL.

Career Totals For The 33 QBs Drafted In The First 4 Rounds Between 2010-2014

Year Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TD INT Rat
B. Bortles 2014 1003 1706 58.8 11241 6.6 69 51 79.6
J. Manziel 2014 147 258 57.0 1675 6.5 7 7 74.4
Bridgewater 2014 551 849 64.9 6150 7.2 28 21 87.0
D.Carr 2014 1055 1732 60.9 11194 6.5 81 31 87.9
J. Garoppolo 2014 63 94 67.0 690 7.3 5 0 106.2
L. Thomas 2014 1 9 11.1 81 9.0 1 0 101.6
T. Savage 2014 56 92 60.9 588 6.4 0 1 74.9
T. Wilson 2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
L. Jones 2013 85 141 60.3 1071 7.6 7 6 82.8
R. Nassib 2013 9 10 90.0 128 12.8 1 0 152.1
M. Barkley 2013 159 266 59.8 1911 7.2 8 18 63.7
G. Smith 2013 501 866 57.9 5962 6.9 28 36 72.4
M. Glennon 2013 374 630 59.4 4100 6.5 30 15 84.6
E.J. Manuel 2013 319 547 58.3 3502 6.4 19 15 77.5
R. Wilson 2012 1476 2281 64.7 18193 8.0 127 45 99.6
R. Tannehill 2012 1653 2637 62.7 18455 7.0 106 66 86.5
A. Luck 2012 1570 2651 59.2 19078 7.2 132 68 87.3
R. Griffin III 2012 766 1210 63.3 8983 7.4 42 26 88.4
B. Osweiler 2012 488 815 59.9 5083 6.2 26 22 77.4
K. Cousins 2012 1025 1556 65.9 12113 7.8 72 42 93.6
N. Foles 2012 776 1285 60.4 9215 7.2 56 27 88.1
B. Weeden 2012 559 965 57.9 6462 6.7 31 30 76.0
A. Dalton 2011 1920 3060 62.7 22214 7.3 142 81 89.1
C. Ponder 2011 632 1057 59.8 6658 6.3 38 36 75.9
B. Gabbert 2011 686 1226 56.0 7351 6.0 38 37 71.5
Kaepernick 2011 1011 1692 59.8 12271 7.3 72 30 88.9
C. Newton 2011 1710 2928 58.4 21772 7.4 136 78 85.1
R. Mallett 2011 181 329 55.0 1779 5.4 7 10 64.9
S. Bradford 2010 1773 2844 62.3 18667 6.6 98 57 84.5
T. Tebow 2010 173 361 47.9 2422 6.7 17 9 75.3
J. Clausen 2010 255 472 54.0 2520 5.3 7 14 61.9
C. McCoy 2010 508 842 60.3 5586 6.6 26 23 78.9
M. Kafka 2010 11 16 68.8 107 6.7 0 2 47.7

Fortunately, for our purposes, there is very little gray area here. The thirteen quarterbacks in bold have unquestionably proven themselves a cut above the others, with the definitive word being “proven”. Sure, some young QBs, like Jimmy Garoppolo, have shown promise, but anyone suggesting two NFL starts over three seasons guarantees long term NFL success is simply embarrassing themselves by exposing their lack of knowledge about the game of football or its long history. The most recent case of this type of gross over-projection was Matt Flynn who, for a time, became a hot free agent commodity based solely on the strength of one strong performance in relief of Aaron Rodgers. Yet, instead of the superstardom many rushed to predict, Flynn has been a backup on 5 different teams in the 4 years that followed, and did not play at all in 2016.

Now, while the chart above clearly distinguishes 13 QBs, it does little to separate those same 13 from one another. This is due to the fact that they have not all played the same number of years. Thus, to clarify things further, we need to reduce their career totals into single-season averages, a strategy we will be using throughout this survey.

13 Best Performing QBs

The chart below shows average annual passing statistics for each of the QBs listed.

Years Starts Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TD INT Rat
Blake Bortles 3 15 334 569 58.8 3747 6.6 23 17 79.6
T. Bridgewater 3 9.3 184 283 64.9 2050 7.2 9.3 7 87.0
Derek Carr 3 15.7 352 577 60.9 3731 6.5 27 10 87.9
Russell Wilson 5 16 295 456 64.7 3637 8.0 25 9 99.6
Ryan Tannehill 5 15.4 331 527 62.7 3691 7.0 21 13 86.5
Andrew Luck 5 14 314 530 59.2 3816 7.2 26 14 87.3
R. Griffin III 5 8 153 242 63.3 1797 7.4 8 5 88.4
Kirk Cousins 5 8.2 205 311 65.9 2423 7.8 14 8 93.6
Nick Foles 5 7.2 155 257 60.4 1843 7.2 11 5 88.1
Andy Dalton 6 15.5 320 510 62.7 3702 7.3 24 14 89.1
C. Kaepernick 6 9.7 169 282 59.8 2045 7.3 12 5 88.9
Cam Newton 6 15.3 285 488 58.4 3628 7.4 23 13 85.1
Sam Bradford 7 11.1 253 406 62.3 2667 6.6 14 8 84.5

The chart below shows average annual rushing statistics for each of the QBs listed.

Car Yds Avg TD
Blake Bortles 55 363 6.6 1.7
Terry Bridgewater 30 134 4.4 1.3
Derek Carr 34 100 3.0 0
Russell Wilson 97 538 5.6 2.6
Ryan Tannehill 43 213 4.9 1.2
Andrew Luck 57 288 5.0 2.8
Robert Griffin III 55 334 6.1 2
Kirk Cousins 15 40 2.7 1.8
Nick Foles 21 69 3.3 1
Andy Dalton 51 158 3.1 3
Colin Kaepernick 63 383 6.1 2.2
Cam Newton 115 594 5.2 8
Sam Bradford 20 48 2.4 0.3

Among the most important characteristics of a top tier quarterback are consistency, durability and an upward arch that clearly delineates improvement. Thus, after reviewing this data, we can objectively eliminate the following five QBs from contention based on their average games played per season and/or lack of stability as a starter:

Terry Bridgewater – While the Vikings QB has shown flashes, he is, however, somewhat of a moot point given the career threatening injury he suffered last season. To put it simply, there is no guarantee he will ever play again.

Robert Griffin III – After a spectacular rookie campaign, the often-injured RG III has faded badly, alienating coaches and teammates alike on his way towards the cellar of the league.

Nick Foles – One terrific season is simply not enough to keep Foles in the running. The past three seasons have seen him struggle to cling to mediocrity.

Colin Kaepernick – Kaepernick is the poorest pocket passer of the bunch, and the most inconsistent as well. Teams have seen enough, and the controversial QB’s chances of remaining an NFL starter shrivel by the day.

Kirk Cousins – This will be the most controversial elimination, and yet, as we shall explore in greater detail later in this article, Cousins numbers are somewhat deceiving. While he produced the 15th most prolific season, in terms of passing yards, in NFL history last year, it took him until his 4th season to become a full-time starter. He has only two complete seasons under his belt and, as such, has yet to establish himself as consistent a performer as those moving on to the next round.

The bottom line is, in spite of whatever promise a QB may show, if they are not on the field, be it due to injury or an inability to establish themselves as a starter, they do not help their team in a significant way. Thus, any QB who has averaged less than double digit games per season is automatically out of the running at this point, having failed to build up the necessary capital at this stage of our comparison.

We will also be eliminating one additional QB, Blake Bortles, at this stage.

Blake Bortles – While he has proven durable, Bortles’ stock is plummeting rapidly. He has one of the finest receiving corps in the NFL, yet his completion percentage is the 2nd lowest among the 13 we sampled. More worrisome still is his touchdown to interception ratio. 17 INTs per season is simply too high to be considered among the best of his generation. Lastly, that penchant for poor decision making is one of the reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to win more than 5 games in a single season under his leadership. 11 victories in 3 years is an abysmal record by any standard, and neither that, nor key statistics show signs of improvement. Bortles may yet surprise us all, but for the moment, he is simply not in the class of those moving on.

7 Top QBs By Game

Now, to distinguish the production levels of the remaining quarterbacks even further, let us break down their performances to an average game. Only, in our survey, the average game is not based on the number of games each actually played, but rather, on a full 16 game season. This, again, is due to the logic that a QB is of no value to a team if he is sitting on the bench, for whatever reason, and that is a component that shall remain a constant throughout our evaluation.

Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TDs INTs Sacks Rating Car Yds Avg TDs
D. Carr 22 36 60.9 233 6.5 1.7 0.6 1.47 87.9 2.1 6 3.0 0.0
R. Wilson 18 29 64.7 227 8.0 1.6 0.6 2.56 99.6 6.1 34 5.6 0.2
R. Tannehill 21 33 62.7 231 7.0 1.3 0.8 2.66 86.5 2.7 13 4.9 0.1
A. Luck 20 33 59.2 239 7.2 1.6 0.9 1.95 87.3 3.6 18 5.0 0.2
A. Dalton 20 32 62.7 231 7.3 1.5 0.9 1.88 89.1 3.2 10 3.1 0.2
C. Newton 18 31 58.4 227 7.4 1.4 0.8 2.30 85.1 7.2 37 5.2 0.5
S. Bradford 16 25 62.3 167 6.6 0.9 0.5 1.65 84.5 1.3 3 2.4 0.0

After reviewing the numbers above, it seems logical to create a points system, from 7 to 1, to weigh success in each category. This will allow us to whittle the field down even further. Because the job of a quarterback is primarily that of a passer, all rushing statistics have been compiled into a single score in the chart below. After all, even the most gifted runners among our group rely far more on their arms. For instance, Cam Newton runs a mere 18% of the time, while Russell Wilson runs on just 17% of his plays under center. By comparison, Tannehill, a far more typical pocket passer, runs less than 8% of the time.

Ranking Overall Effectiveness

Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TDs INTs Rush  

Total

 

Rank
D. Carr 7 7 3 6 1 7 T-6 2  

39

 

2
R. Wilson 3 2 7 3 7 6 T-6 6  

40

 

1
Tannehill 6 T-6 T-6 T-5 2 2 4 4  

35

 

4
A. Luck T-5 T-6 2 7 3 7 T-2 5  

37

 

3
A. Dalton T-5 4 T-6 T-5 4 5 T-2 3  

34

 

5
C. Newton 3 3 1 3 5 4 4 7  

30

 

6
Bradford 1 1 4 1 1 1 7 1  

17

 

7

With Sam Bradford falling so short of the rest of the pack, 13 points below his nearest competitor, the time has come to eliminate him as well.

Next, since many of Tannehill’s critics point to his won-loss record as a sign of his shortcomings as a quarterback, I have included winning percentage as a final category by which to measure the finalists.

Final Rankings

W-L Record W-L PCT Add. Points Total Final Rank
R. Wilson 56-23-1 70.0 6 46 1
A. Luck 43-27-0 61.4 5 42 2
D. Carr 22-25-0 45.8 1 40 3
A. Dalton 56-35-2 60.2 4 38 4
R. Tannehill 37-40-0 48.1 2 37 5
C. Newton 51-40-1 55.4 3 33 6

Conclusion #1

With this last measure in place, Tannehill ends this portion of our survey in 5th place among the 62 QBs drafted within the 5-year span between 2010 to 2014. While Russell Wilson is the unquestioned top performer at this stage, Tannehill’s ranking is impressive nonetheless, particularly considering the difference between the Dolphins signal caller and the three men directly ahead of him on our scale, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr and Andrew Luck, is miniscule. Close enough, in fact, that he may well overtake them by the time we run this comparison again at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

Yet, as we shall address in Phase Five, perhaps the most impressive facet of Tannehill’s story is the fact that he has overcome significantly more professional obstacles than his contemporaries on his way to the top, and has done so despite just 19 college starts under his belt. That tenacity should give Miami fans hope that their quarterback may eventually compete with Russell Wilson to decide who really is the best of the bunch. Equally as important, it should give even his harshest critics pause, for only a fool would deny him the respect he has so doggedly earned.

PHASE TWO – THE DEEPER TRUTH

What Have You Done For Me Lately

So, is Tannehill really showing the kind of upward arc that may eventually land him atop this list of his contemporaries, or will he hover around 5th place for the remainder of his career? Well, in order to test those possibilities, we need to take a closer look at the performances of each of the quarterbacks in question during the 2016 season. As such, we will be turning our attention to Cian Fahey’s Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalog 2017.

Much has been made of Fahey’s study, and rightly so. Anyone who has read my Dolphins articles in the past is well aware of my penchant for delving beyond the typical stat line…….to the deeper realities most fail to see. Well, Fahey’s analysis follows that same formula, and the truth it reveals is shocking. At least for Tannehill’s critics, that is.

The uniqueness of Fahey’s study is that it statistically factors in things beyond the quarterback’s control. This allows us to better assess a player’s individual performance on his merits alone. For instance, takes into account blown routes by receivers and missed blocking assignments by lineman. This, in turn, provides us the truest picture possible of a QBs play.

It should be noted that Fahey’s analysis included several other categories which I chose not to include here. Their exclusion was based on simple logic. Many were just further breakdowns of the categories I included but more situationally based, such as measurements involving play action or screens. A few others did not eliminate the play of teammates as effectively as the six used here, such as yards after the catch, which is greatly dependent on receiver performance. So, essentially, I chose the six purest and most sweeping of his evaluations.

Now, with that in mind, let us examine the six categories Fahey analyzed that most definitively outline a QB’s ability and performance in order to see what they reveal about the 2016 play of our six finalists:

  • Interceptable Passes
  • Non QB Interceptions
  • Unavoidable Sacks
  • General Accuracy
  • Deep Pass Accuracy
  • Adjusted Completion Percentage

As we did in the first phase of our survey, in order to determine which of these QBs is currently at the top of the heap, we will assign points in each category, then, tally a final result.

Interceptable Passes

This category measures a quarterback’s vision and judgment by determining the percentage of passes thrown that were at risk of being intercepted. Tannehill ranked 2nd among our finalists, and 13th overall among the entire NFL in this category.

Pass Attempts Interceptable Passes Attempts Per Interceptable Pass Interceptable Pass Rate Points
Andrew Luck 545 17 32.06 3.12 6
Ryan Tannehill 389 15 25.93 3.86 5
Russell Wilson 606 24 25.25 3.96 4
Derek Carr 560 24 23.33 4.29 3
Andy Dalton 563 26 21.65 4.62 2
CamNewton 510 27 18.89 5.29 1

Non QB Interceptions

This category allows us to measure the percentage of interceptions that a quarterback is at fault for throwing. As Fahey points out, this chart is particularly important to Tannehill because it verifies that half of his interceptions were due to blown assignments by his teammates, a point Adam Gase repeatedly made in defense of his quarterback. In fact, Tannehill ranked 1st overall in the league in this category, with just 50% of his interceptions actually being attributable to him.

Interceptions Non QB Interceptions Percentage Points
Ryan Tannehill 12 6 50.00 6
Russell Wilson 13 3 23.08 5
Cam Newton 14 3 21.43 4
Andrew Luck 13 2 15.38 3
Andy Dalton 8 1 12.50 2
Derek Carr 6 0 0.00 1

Avoidable Sacks

This category evaluates how often a quarterback is to blame for being sacked. While Tannehill’s critics have often cited his pocket presence as a weakness, Fahey’s analysis reveals exactly the opposite. Here again, Tannehill ranked 1st in the NFL with just one of his 27 sacks being attributable to him.

Sacks Avoidable Sacks Unavoidable Sacks Percentage of Avoidable Sacks Points
R. Tannehill 27 1 26 3.70 6
Andrew Luck 41 4 37 9.76 5
Cam Newton 35 6 29 17.14 4
Russell Wilson 46 8 38 17.39 3
Andy Dalton 40 12 28 30.00 2
Derek Carr 15 6 9 40.00 1

Overall Accuracy

This category should not be confused with completion percentage, which measures the ratio of successful passes. Instead, this category tracks the percentage of catchable passes, or better said, passes that were on target. In other words, it does not penalize the QB for things beyond their control, such as dropped passes. As Fahey explains, this measure identifies and takes into account the inefficiencies surrounding a quarterback. Tannehill, again, scored well in this category, finishing 4th overall in the NFL.

Attempts Accurate Inaccurate Percentage Points
Ryan Tannehill 353 281 72 79.60 6
Andrew Luck 491 388 103 79.02 5
Russell Wilson 539 402 137 74.58 4
Andy Dalton 503 363 140 72.17 3
Cam Newton 441 314 127 71.20 2
Derek Carr 530 376 154 70.94 1

 Deep Pass Accuracy

This category measures a quarterback’s accuracy on passes of 21 yards or more. Tannehill’s critics have repeatedly accused him of being a poor deep ball passer. Yet, this argument grows fainter with each bomb to Kenny Stills or DeVante Parker. Fahey’s numbers only further confirm what I have previously argued over numerous articles. The deep pass issues Tannehill faced early in his career were due, primarily, to subpar receivers and vanilla offenses that were absent play action, motion, or any other type of offensive subterfuge, as well as a very porous offensive line that did not allow him the time necessary to go long. While Tannehill does not throw deep often, as the numbers below show, when he does, he is extremely effective. In fact, he ranks 3rd in the league in this category.

  Accuracy Percentage 21+ Yards Points
Andrew Luck

62.50

6
Ryan Tannehill

55.56

5
Russell Wilson

51.43

4
Cam Newton

49.18

3
Derek Carr

44.68

2
Andy Dalton

38.30

1

Adjusted Completion Percentage

This category measures, not just passes that were completed, but those that should have been completed. In other words, it, like the accuracy categories, takes into account the failings of other offensive players. Tannehill graded out extremely high here as well, finishing 4th overall in the league.

Adjusted Completion Percentage Points
Ryan Tannehill 72.94 6
Andrew Luck 71.56 5
Derek Carr 67.86 4
Russell Wilson 66.83 3
Andy Dalton 64.83 2
Cam Newton 62.35 1

Overall Performance

Describing Tannehill’s overall performance as “impressive” in Fahey’s evaluation would be a gross understatement, particularly when measured against the other five finalists in our survey, where the Dolphins quarterback finished 1st in four of the six categories, and 2nd in the other two. More astonishing still, when including every QB in the league, Tannehill still finished 1st in two categories, 3rd in one, 4th in two others, and 13th in one. In other words, hardly the work of an average NFL quarterback.

Overall Points
Ryan Tannehill 34
Andrew Luck 30
Russell Wilson 23
Cam Newton 15
Andy Dalton 12
Derek Carr 12

As stated earlier, the difference between these results and those from the first phase of our survey are due to what Adam Gase repeatedly pointed out during the 2016 season, particularly early in the year, when the Dolphins were playing poorly and still trying to learn a new offense. Gase insisted that only the Dolphins coaching staff knew how plays were supposed to develop, and as such, he laid the blame for many of the mistakes that were being attributed to Tannehill in real time on other players who repeatedly missed assignments. Fahey, thanks to his hours of film study, was able to identify those factors, not just in Tannehill’s case, but for each NFL QB.

Essentially, while Tannehill was heavily penalized on traditional stat sheets early in the 2016 season, the reality is, at the time, he was the only Dolphin who had mastered Gase’s playbook and knew how plays were supposed to develop under the new scheme. We shall see further proof of this in Phase Six of our survey.

Quantity Versus Quality

Before we conclude this portion of our survey, let us bring Kirk Cousins back into the conversation because, while the Redskins quarterback put up stellar numbers in 2016, the best season of his career, he too was out-jousted by Tannehill in five of the six Fahey categories we reviewed. As such, when we combine those results with straight up traditional statistics, they reveal an interesting contrast between the Redskins QB and Tannehill. To put it simply, Cousins’ performance, which was built on a whopping 606 pass attempts, is an excellent example of success through quantity. While Tannehill’s performance, which came with a mere 389 pass attempts, is a prime example of success more heavily reliant on quality.

That is not intended as a knock on Cousins. Far from it. He, like Tannehill, is finally getting the chance to show what he can truly do in the NFL, and his numbers are impressive. However, when all factors are made equal, as we can see in the chart below, he, for the moment, at least, still falls well short of the Dolphins QB.

Category Tannehill’s

Overall NFL Rank

Cousins’

Overall NFL Rank

Interceptable Passes 13 10
Non QB Interceptions 1 20
General Accuracy 4 20
Deep Pass Accuracy 3 16
Adjusted Completion Percentage 4 18
Unavoidable Sacks 1 20
Final Average Ranking 4 17

Conclusion #2

When we dig a bit deeper than traditional stats and examine the play of quarterbacks independently of their teammates’ performances, Ryan Tannehill isn’t merely confirmed as one of the elite QBs of his generation, but as one of the finest signal callers in the entire NFL. That must surely come as a stunning surprise to the Texan’s critics, but it is time they learn that player evaluations, regardless of the results, are not conducted by yelling at the TV screen while chugging beer at the local sports bar. Evaluations are done through hundreds of hours of observation and film study, as Fahey, NFL coaches, and dare I say…..I do.

Furthermore, the ultimate value of Fahey’s study rests in the fact that it debunks the myth that Tannehill, or any quarterback, for that matter, can singlehandedly elevate a team to greatness, as many Dolphins fans seemed to insist should have been the case during the Joe Philbin era. The truth is, regardless of whomever is under center, football remains a team sport, and as such, neither a franchise’s success or failure should ever bypass the coach and land solely on the shoulders of a QB. There is, of course, no question that a good quarterback can make a team better. However, no single player can make champions out of a poorly organized and uninspired team, and, as we shall in Phase Five of our investigation, this has never been truer than in Tannehill’s, where Philbin’s extremely poor coaching worked against him in almost every facet of the game.

PHASE THREE – THE BEST OF THE REST

Expanding The Argument

At this third stage of our analysis we will be adding the top performing quarterbacks drafted during the 2015-2016 and 2008-2009 seasons. Due to the fact that their experience levels are so different, with some having had significantly more time to develop, while others’ body of work is not yet large enough to be deemed representative of their talent or consistency, rather than looking at their overall career statistics, we will again be using Fahey’s categories to measure their performance last season. So, with that in mind, let us take a look at the marquee names from those drafts.

The 2016 QB Class

Jared Goff – Goff was cursed with one of the worst offenses in football. Beyond that, it is difficult to place a great deal of confidence in a young man who, until recently, did not know that the sun rises in the East

Carson Wentz – Has shown plenty of potential, but, thus far, he has fallen well short of spectacular.

Dak Prescott – Tremendous rookie season. Nevertheless, one season does not a career make. If you doubt this, simply consider that Nick Foles had an even more spectacular showing in 2013, but has never again approached that level of play. Beyond that, he debuted under the absolute best of circumstances. He played behind the NFL’s best offensive line, and was aided by, Ezekiel Elliott, the leading rusher in the league.

The 2015 QB Class

Jameis Winston – Has shown lots of promise, but interceptions have been an issue. In two seasons he has totaled an impressive 50 touchdowns, but he has also tossed 33 interceptions. Beyond that he has managed 7.4 yards per attempt and a 59.6 completion percentage, leading to an 85.2 passer rating on the way to a 15-17 record.

Marcus Mariota – Has played well, amassing 45 TDs against just 19 INTs, a 61.6 completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt, for a 93.8 passer rating. Even so, he has missed 5 games while tallying a lowly 11-16 record.

The 2009 QB Class

Matthew Stafford – Has made the post season on multiple occasions, but has yet to win a single playoff game and a 51-58 overall record. Furthermore, he has averaged 23 TDs per season. 7.1 yards per attempt, a 61.5 completion percentage, and an 86.8 passer rating.

Mark Sanchez – Reached the AFC Championship game his first two seasons and managed a respectable 3-2 playoff record, but it has all been downhill from there. His 73.9 passer rating is due to a yearly average of 12 TDs, a 56.7 completion percentage, and 6.7 yards per attempt. If that weren’t bad enough, there was, of course, the infamous butt fumble. A play that will live in Youtube infamy!

The 2008 QB Class

Matt Ryan – Reached the Super Bowl in 2016. Has made the playoffs 5 times and built up a 3-5 post season record. He has averaged 27 TDs per season, along with 7.4 yards per attempt, a 64.9 completion percentage, and a 93.6 passer rating

Joe Flacco – Won the Super Bowl in 2012. Made the playoffs 6 times, including each of his first 5 years in the league. Has a 10-5 record in the post season. Has averaged just 20 TDs, 6.9 yards per pass attempt, a 61.5 completion percentage, and an 84.5 passer rating.

Surprise Surprise

To the surprise of many, according to Fahey, Tannehill’s performance in 2016 humbles the top quarterbacks in this group as well, those drafted from 2008-2009 and 2015-2016.

  • He topped Joe Flacco, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota by a score of 6-0 in the Fahey categories we tracked.
  • He also topped Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott by a 5-1 tally.
  • Mark Sanchez, the last of the quarterbacks mentioned above, did not even qualify for Fahey’s evaluation because of a lack of playing time.

Conclusion #3

This is short and sweet. Fahey’s findings suggest that Tannehill is currently playing as well as any quarterback drafted since 2008, and impressive feat considering that covers 108 QBs. Even better, a 2nd year in Adam Gase’s offense should help him up his game. Thus, there is every reason to believe Tannehill will only continue to improve.

PHASE FOUR – TAKING ON THE VETERANS

Youth Versus Experience

In order to determine how Tannehill measures up against the very best veterans in the league, we need to condense their careers down to single-season averages. This is, of course, because the career totals of the veteran in question are based on, in some cases, up to 17 years of experience, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible. Single season averages, on the other hand, provide a far more accurate basis for comparison.

Single Season Averages Of Top Veteran QBs versus Tannehill

Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TDs INTs Sacks Rating
Aaron Rodgers 253 388 65.1 3069 7.9 25 6 28 104.4
Tom Brady 308 484 63.8 3622 7.5 27 9 25 97.2
Drew Brees 365 547 66.6 4131 7.5 29 14 22 96.3
Philip Rivers 293 455 64.4 3525 7.7 24 12 28 94.7
Roethlisberger 293 456 64.1 3601 7.9 23 12 35 94.1
Matt Ryan 365 563 64.9 4189 7.4 27 13 28 93.6
Carson Palmer 270 431 62.5 3162 7.3 20 13 23 88.0
Ryan Tannehill 330 527 62.7 3691 7.0 21 13 43 86.5
Alex Smith 211 342 61.7 2321 6.8 13 8 29 85.3
Joe Flacco 324 527 61.5 3627 6.9 20 13 32 84.5
Eli Manning 313 525 59.7 3709 7.1 25 17 25 83.7

Now, before we can conclude that this ranking is the best Tannehill can aspire to achieve, we must understand the intrinsic flaw in the comparison above. While this chart provides a better means of analysis, it is still not a truly equal comparison because it fails to account for the notion that quarterbacks improve with experience. Thus, in order to examine this possibility, and get an even more accurate gauge of how Tannehill will eventually measure up to the veteran elites, we need to review them all based on where they were after 5 years in the league.

Were They Always This Good?

As the chart below shows, while the QBs in question were good after just five years in the league, most were not nearly as good as they are now. More importantly, Tannehill’s performance at this stage of his career is very much in line with the others.

First Five Year Averages Of Veteran QBs Versus Tannehill

Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TDs INTs Sacks Rating
Aaron Rodgers 145 227 63.9 1740 7.7 12 4 19 97.5
Matt Ryan 331 527 62.8 3791 7.2 25 12 23 90.7
Philip Rivers 178 286 62.2 2139 7.5 16 9 15 90.6
Carson Palmer 261 407 64.1 2980 7.3 21 13 19 89.9
Ben Roethlisberger 238 381 62.5 2995 7.9 20 14 38 89.1
Tom Brady 249 404 61.6 2785 6.9 19 10 26 87.5
Ryan Tannehill 330 527 62.7 3691 7.0 21 13 43 86.5
Joe Flacco 301 498 60.4 3527 7.1 20 9 35 84.5
Drew Brees 225 362 62.2 2470 6.8 16 11 18 84.3
Eli Manning 255 457 55.8 2925 6.4 20 15 24 76.1
Alex Smith 132 234 56.4 1406 6.0 8 9 21 69.5

Before we move on, there is one crucial figure in the charts above that we must take into consideration, because it is a major clue as to why Tannehill has not yet reached his full potential. Tannehill has been sacked an average of 43 times per season. The remaining quarterbacks on this list have been sacked an average of 24 times per season. That is an astonishing 44% less than the Dolphins signal caller. In other words, as we shall affirm in Phase Five, the Dolphins’ QB began his career under far more adverse circumstances than the rest of the quarterbacks on this list.

Beyond that, we cannot completely discount the running aspect of a quarterback’s game, as they are sometimes called upon to save a bad situation by using their legs. As such, let us take a look at how Tannehill compares to the veteran QBs at each of their five-year marks.

Att Yards Avg TDs
Aaron Rodgers 125 570 4.6 4
Matt Ryan 202 500 2.5 5
Philip Rivers 113 160 1.4 1
Carson Palmer 108 173 1.6 2
Ben Roethlisberger 188 616 3.3 10
Tom Brady 163 244 1.5 2
Ryan Tannehill 216 1065 4.9 6
Joe Flacco 201 430 2.1 7
Drew Brees 135 366 2.7 4
Eli Manning 109 215 2.0 3
Alex Smith 111 390 3.5 2

As we can clearly see, Tannehill is dominant in this area, rushing for 42% more total yards and averaging 1.6 more yards per carry than his nearest competitor. Now, armed with this information, let us convert these statistics into points, as we did when measuring Tannehill against his contemporaries.

Att Yards Avg TDs Total
Ryan Tannehill 11 11 11 9 42
Ben Roethlisberger 8 10 8 11 37
Matt Ryan 10 8 6 8 32
Aaron Rodgers 5 9 10 7 T-31
Joe Flacco 9 7 5 10 T-31
Drew Brees 6 5 7 7 25
Alex Smith 3 6 9 4 22
Tom Brady 7 4 2 4 17
Eli Manning 2 3 4 5 14
Carson Palmer 1 2 3 4 10
Philip Rivers 4 1 1 1 7

Factor all the components together, again, reducing the rushing aspect into a single category, and something astonishing happens. Ryan Tannehill rises to 2nd place in our rankings.

So, how is this possible? Well, the answer is simple. Whereas traditional statistics measure efficiency, this points system takes into account both efficiency and volume of work. Some QBs, such as Rodgers, Rivers and Palmer did well in the efficiency category, put did not produce nearly as much as Tannehill during their first 5 years. In some cases this was due to injuries. In others, it was due to an inability to crack the starting lineup. Either way, Tannehill, who has been a starter since the opening game of his rookie season, has far outpaced most of the others, finishing 2nd to the overall winner, Matt Ryan, in both passing yards and TDs. Furthermore, as witnessed in the charts above, he is far and away the best runner of the bunch.

Comp % Yards Avg TDs INTs Rushing Total
Matt Ryan 9 11 7 11 5 9 52
Ryan Tannehill 8 10 5 T-10 4 11 48
Ben Roethlisberger 7 8 11 T-8 2 10 46
Joe Flacco 3 9 6 T-8 T-10 7 T-43
Aaron Rodgers 10 2 10 2 11 8 T-43
Carson Palmer 11 7 8 T-10 4 2 42
Philip Rivers T-6 3 9 4 T-10 1 33
Tom Brady 4 5 4 5 7 4 T-29
Drew Brees T-6 4 3 4 6 6 T-29
Eli Manning 1 6 2 8 1 3 21
Alex Smith 2 1 1 1 10 5 20

What Can We Expect moving Forward?

In order to get a better gauge of the kind of improvement we can expect to see from Tannehill in coming years, we need to first break down the improvement we have seen from his predecessors. To do that, I first determined the differential between each of their current passer ratings versus their passer ratings after just five years in the league. I then took those differentials and divided them by the number of additional years each had played beyond their initial five seasons. That gave me an annual improvement rate for each of the signal callers.

Current Passer Rating Passer Rating 1st 5 Years Differential Annual Improv.
Aaron Rodgers 104.4 97.5 + 6.9 + 0.98
Tom Brady 97.2 87.5 + 9.7 + 0.80
Drew Brees 96.3 84.3 + 12.0 + 1.09
Philip Rivers 94.7 90.6 + 4.1 + 0.51
Ben Roethlisberger 94.1 89.1 + 5.0 + 0.62
Matt Ryan 93.6 90.7 + 2.9 + 0.72
Carson Palmer 88.0 89.9 – 1.9 – 0.21
Alex Smith 85.3 69.5 + 15.8 + 2.26
Joe Flacco 84.5 87.8 – 3.3 – 0.82
Eli Manning 83.7 76.1 + 7.6 + 0.95

From these numbers we can determine that these 10 veteran quarterbacks have shown an average of 0.69% annual improvement. While there is no way to guarantee that this will be the case with Tannehill, if, for arguments sake, we apply that average to the Dolphins signal caller, his QB rating would be 90.0 after 10 years in the league. That same formula predicts his quarterback rating will be a 93.5 over the next 5 years.

Nevertheless, as we shall see, there is a very good chance that Tannehill’s upward arch may well be better than that. To examine this possibility, let us again use Fahey’s 6 categories to compare Tannehill’s performance in 2016 to those of the current crop of QB elder statesmen.

  • Tannehill finished an even 3-3 versus Rodgers, arguably the most talented quarterback in the NFL.
  • He was 4-2 against Brees, the most improved QB among the elites.
  • He came out on top of Brady, the most experience QB in our entire survey, as well as Smith and Ryan by a measure of 5-1.
  • He finished 6-0 versus Roethlisberger, Rivers, Palmer, Manning and Flacco.

While these results suggest a very positive outlook for Tannehill, there is an even more significant reason to believe he will be a constant among the leagues’ top ten QBs in coming years. After all, three years from now, it is almost a certainty that most of these veteran quarterbacks will have hung up their jerseys. Only Ryan, Flacco and Rodgers stand a realistic chance of remaining viable QBs entering the 2020 season, when Miami will be the host city for the Super Bowl.

The Question Of Championships

The mention of the Super Bowl brings up an important issue of playoff success. While it is not accounted for in our comparison, as our main goal is to measure the quality of a quarterback’s individual play, and not the success of a franchise, it, nonetheless, bears mentioning that five of the quarterbacks we have looked at in this survey won the Super Bowl within their first 5 years. Tom Brady won 3, Ben Roethlisberger won 2, while Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson each won 1. Brady, Roethlisberger and Manning each went on to win additional Super Bowls, while Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees each captured a championship later in their careers.

It is also important to make mention of the fact that there have only been 3 other QBs to win the Super Bowl since the 2000 season. Future hall of famer, Peyton Manning, who won 2, along with Trent Dilfer, and the equally forgettable, Brad Johnson, who each won 1. Dilfer had a 70.2 career passer rating, while Johnson retired with an 82.5 rating. The inclusion of Dilfer and Johnson on the list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks is important because it leaves no doubt that winning a championship does not necessarily equate into a superstar QB.

Thus, while championships are an important measure of success, they are not the be all end all when it comes to rating QB talent. If you doubt this, remember that hall of famers Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, and, of course, Dan Marino, all played during the Super Bowl era, yet never won a championship. Nevertheless, and I dare say anyone in their right mind would hesitate to argue that Dilfer and Johnson are even remotely in their league.

As for the notion that Ryan Tannehill is not good enough to lead the Dolphins to a championship, there is little reason to give it any credence. He has already displayed more than enough talent to do so. As the chart below highlights, he has a higher career passer rating than 22 of the 31 QBs who have won a Super Bowl. Tannehill’s critics will, no doubt, argue that passer rating is not a particularly accurate measure in this case because the game has changed drastically since the dawn of the Super Bowl era. Well, there is certainly no doubt the sport has evolved, but the formula used to calculate a QB’s efficiency has remained unchanged since 1973. Moreover, the league statisticians then went back and applied it to the careers of quarterbacks who played before that date. Thus, it has been the best and only constant measure throughout the modern era of the game.

Tannehill’s Career Passer Rating Versus Super Bowl Winning Quarterbacks

Years Rating
Aaron Rodgers 12 104.1
Russell Wilson 5 99.6
Tom Brady 17 97.2
Steve Young 13 96.8
Peyton Manning 17 96.5
Drew Brees 16 96.3
Ben Roethlisberger 13 94.1
Kurt Warner 12 93.7
Joe Montana 15 92.3
Ryan Tannehill 5 86.5
Brett Favre 16 86.0
Joe Flacco 9 84.5
Eli Manning 13 83.7
Roger Staubach 11 83.4
Len Dawson 19 82.6
Brad Johnson 15 82.5
Troy Aikman 12 81.6
Bart Starr 16 80.5
Jeff Hostetler 15 80.5
John Elway 16 79.9
Mark Rypien 12 78.9
Phil Simms 14 78.5
Johnny Unitas 17 78.2
Jim McMahon 15 78.2
Joe Theismann 12 77.4
Bob Griese 14 77.1
Ken Stabler 15 75.3
Terry Bradshaw 14 70.9
Trent Dilfer 14 70.2
Doug Williams 9 69.4
Jim Plunkett 16 67.5
Joe Namath 13 65.5

Conclusion #4

As we have seen to this point in our comparison, based on traditional statistical guidelines, Tannehill stands among the very best quarterbacks of his generation. Furthermore, when using the six most definitive categories of Cian Fahey’s Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue 2017, Tannehill’s 2016 effort bests every quarterback in the league with the exception of Aaron Rodgers, with whom he tied.

If that weren’t proof enough of his ascension, consider that over the last three seasons Tannehill is 1 of only 8 quarterbacks (Brees, Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Stafford, and Wilson) to have averaged a 64% completion ratio or higher, thrown for 70 TDs or more, averaged over 7.0 yards per pass, and tallied a 90.0 or higher quarterback rating. Beyond that, he had an impressive 119.7 passer rating inside the red zone in 2016, and was ranked 5th in the NFL against the blitz with a 105.6 passer rating.

Thus, if we look past the traditional stat sheet, which fails to take into account the Dolphins’ early season adjustment period, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue, with any credibility, at least, that Tannehill is not already among the NFL’s better QBs, or that he lacks the potential to get exponentially better.

PHASE FIVE – CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL

So Why The Drastic Difference Between Perception And Reality?

So, if every statistical measure we have studied indicates that Tannehill is a top tier NFL quarterback, how can it be that a significant portion of the Dolphins’ fan base still perceive him to be an average or below average QB? Well, the answer to that question is simple. Coaching!

Yet, before we delve too deeply into Tannehill’s career on this front, it would be beneficial, for the sake of comparison, to first examine the coaching situations Tannehill’s elite contemporaries, the other five finalists from our initial survey, have enjoyed.

  • Andy Dalton – His head coach, Marvin Lewis, has been with him for his entire 6-year pro career. Lewis has 14 years of NFL head coaching experience.
  • Russell Wilson – Pete Carroll, who has 11 years of NFL head coaching experience, has been Wilson’s coach during his entire 5-year pro career.
  • Derek Carr – Jack Del Rio has been Carr’s head coach during his 3 years in the NFL, and he has 11 years of NFL head coaching experience.
  • Cam Newton – Ron Rivera, who became an NFL head coach during Newton’s rookie season, has been his head coach throughout the QB’s 6-year career.
  • Andrew Luck – Chuck Pagano, who became an NFL head coach during Luck’s rookie season, has been his head coach throughout the QB’s 5-year career.

Thus, as we can see, Tannehill’s contemporary rivals have all had the luxury of a single head coach throughout the entirety of their careers, and as such, have enjoyed tremendous consistency within their organizations and offensive schemes, key factors in the development of young QB. Tannehill, in turn, has now had three head coaches, Joe Philbin, Dan Campbell and Adam Gase, and four offensive coordinators, Mike Sherman, Bill Lazor, Zac Taylor and Clyde Christensen, during his 5-year NFL career. Furthermore, as we shall see, beyond a basic lack of consistency, he suffered through years of outright chaos that went well beyond the norm.

That said, there is no denying that Tannehill’s latest coach, Adam Gase, is a cut above his predecessors, and as such, it is little wonder why Tannehill enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2016.

The Difference A Good Coach Can Make

To better understand just what kind of a positive effect a good coach can have on Tannehill’s career moving forward, let us travel back some 47 years through Dolphins history to the very dawn of the team’s golden age. Heading into 1970, Don Shula’s first season with the team, Bob Griese had performed abysmally, with a record of 10-20-2, and 50 interceptions to just 46 touchdowns…results well below Tannehill’s numbers to this point. Yet, under the guidance of Shula, Griese immediately turned his career around, amassing two Super Bowls wins and a record of 92-56-3 on his way to the hall of fame.

Moreover, it is equally impossible to overstate the impact Shula had on Dan Marino’s early career, particularly given the head coaching legend’s willingness to completely change the team’s offense to fit his quarterback’s strengths. In fact, those who argue that Tannehill will never approach Marino’s level of play, fail to consider that the hall-of-fame superstar was ushered into the NFL by a head coach who had already amassed a record of 221-76-6, 12 playoff appearances and 10 divisional titles. In Shula’s two decades as a head coach prior to the arrival of Marino, he had been to 5 Super Bowls, winning two championships, and had captained the only perfect season in the history of the game. To put that into perspective, consider that Shula already coached 303 games in the NFL prior to working with Marino, while Joe Philbin, Dan Campbell, and even Adam Gase, had served as head coaches in exactly 0 games before being hired to direct Tannehill.

The takeaway from all of this is simple. Good quarterbacks, no matter how talented, need good coaches to succeed. Fortunately for Tannehill, he finally has that in Gase. Nevertheless, the struggles Tannehill faced prior to Gase have, beyond any shadow of a doubt, limited his opportunities to be successful, and as such, it is important to address them. This is particularly true because it is an aspect of his career that Tannehill’s critics stubbornly, and dare I say, ignorantly, overlook.

Drowning Dolphin

Instead of a coaching genius to help jump start his career, Tannehill was saddled with Joe Philbin, a rigid control freak that led from a perspective of fear and insecurity. Worst still, as was revealed after Philbin’s firing, the ineffective coach worked overtime behind the scenes to deflect attention from his own shortcomings by blaming his young QB for Miami’s every woe. If that weren’t bad enough, Philbin proved woefully inadequate when it came to connecting with his players in general, which led to the constant state of aforementioned chaos

The coach’s awkwardness was first visible in the now infamous scene from HBO’s Hard Knocks, when Philbin cut Chad Ochocinco following the veteran receiver’s involvement in a domestic violence incident. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, that incident was merely a sign of things to come.

Miami Dolphins Lowlights During The Joe Philbin Era

  • 2012 – Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson is cut as a result of a domestic dispute.
  • 2013 – The Ritchie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal becomes a national disgrace.
  • 2014 – Dion Jordan is suspended for 6 games due to violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
  • 2014 – Head coach Joe Philbin and defensive lineman Jason Odrick share a heated exchange on the sidelines during the 4th of a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
  • 2014 – Tensions again flare when it is reported that receiver Mike Wallace refused to play in the second half of the season finale, a loss to the Jets. Wallace refutes the reports, claiming he was actually benched by Philbin’s staff.
  • 2015 – Dion Jordan is suspended for the season following additional violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
  • 2015 – Head coach Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are fired at varying points throughout the season.

Thus, over the next three-and-a-half years, rather than focusing on assisting Tannehill, Philbin spent a disproportionate amount of his time trying to put out a seemingly endless series of dumpster fires that were, for the most part, a side effect of his own lack of leadership. As a result, Philbin placed the youngster’s fortunes in the hands of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.  An awful decision given that Sherman was the same coach who initially sold Tannehill short at Texas A&M and moved him to wide receiver.

Not surprisingly, Sherman failed Tannehill again as a pro, saddling him with an offensive scheme so utterly predictable that it rarely placed receivers in motion. To put the staggering depth of Sherman’s ineptness into perspective, consider that after being fired by Miami, he went on to coach at Nauset Regional High School in Massachusetts, leading the school’s team to a 1-10 record in 2015, and a 3-8 record in 2016. (Take a moment, if need be, to absorb the depth of that fall, and in doing so, consider how pro teams and college programs must have viewed Sherman after his time with Tannehill to bring this kind of demotion about)

Tannehill’s next offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, was equally bad, continuing Sherman’s conservative approach by not permitting his QB to audible at the line of scrimmage, or even to alter blocking assignments. This, naturally, left Tannehill completely vulnerable to blitzes, no matter how obvious, along with every other disadvantageous situation possible. As a result, Tannehill was sacked for a safety in three consecutive games, a feat not seen in the NFL in decades. Not surprisingly, Lazor was fired in little over a season. Dan Campbell, Miami’s next head coach, and Zac Taylor, his OC, were gone even sooner.

Run Ryan Run……For Your Life!

Let’s make this simple. The fact that Ryan Tannehill is even in the discussion of the best QBs of his generation is a minor miracle considering the beating he absorbed during his first 4 years in the league. From 2012 to 2015, he was sacked a league leading 184 times. During that same span, the Dolphins gave up a sack every 12.2 pass attempts. To put just how bad that was in perspective, over that same span, Andrew Luck’s Colts, who were also credited with one of the worst lines in the league, gave up a sack just every 17.9 pass attempts.

Pass Attempts Sacks Pass Attempts Per Sack
Miami 2016 477 30 15.9
Miami 2015 588 45 13.0
Miami 2014 595 46 12.9
Miami 2013 594 58 10.2
Miami 2012 504 37 13.6

This is important to note because, the fact that Tannehill began his career behind the NFL’s poorest offensive lines made his early development considerably rougher than that of his fellow high-profile draftees.

2012 Time to throw NFL Rank
Russell Wilson 3.14 seconds 1st
Robert Griffin III 3.04 seconds 4th
Andrew Luck 2.86 seconds 6th
Ryan Tannehill 2.57 seconds 30th

Things only got worse for the youngster in 2013, when he was sacked 58 times. The most, by far, of any quarterback in the NFL, or in Dolphins history, for that matter.

2013 Number of Times Sacked NFL Rank
Ryan Tannehill 58 1st
Joe Flacco 48 2nd

Still, it wasn’t just the Dolphins porous offensive line that was to blame for that relentless onslaught. Philbin’s overly conservative and highly predictable offensive schemes forced the athletic Tannehill to remain almost exclusively a pocket QB, or better said, a sitting duck, as defenses pinned back their ears and went after him with little concern of giving up big plays.

2013 Ryan Tannehill
Drop Backs in the Pocket 81.0%
Designed Rollouts 4.2%
Play Action 14.8%

Yet, In spite of all the disadvantages and chaos Tannehill endured under Philbin, he has somehow managed a slightly better than .500 record against the other notable QBs we have reviewed, and that is a very optimistic sign moving forward with Gase at the helm.

Tannehill’s Head-To-Head Record Versus Current Notable QBs

Opponent Record
Philip Rivers 3-1
Tom Brady 3-5
Ben Roethlisberger 2-0
Carson Palmer 2-0
Sam Bradford 2-0
Andy Dalton 2-1
Derek Carr 1-0
Matt Ryan 1-0
Kirk Cousins 1-0
Terry Bridgewater 1-0
Russell Wilson 1-1
Marcus Mariota 1-1
Colin Kaepernick 1-1
Andrew Luck 1-2
Joe Flacco 1-3
Cam Newton 0-1
Aaron Rodgers 0-1
Matthew Stafford 0-1
Eli Manning 0-1
Drew Brees 0-1
Alex Smith 0-1
TOTAL 23-21

Fortunately, unlike Tannehill’s critics, Adam Gase understands all of the disadvantages the young quarterback has been forced to endure, and as such, has already implemented numerous changes to finally give his QB a decent chance to live up to his full potential. Chief among them, an improved offensive line and a more complex and balanced offensive attack that features more looks, play action, motion and designed rollouts than Tannehill has ever enjoyed before, as well as the option of calling audibles at the line. To measure how effective Gase’s passing scheme has already proven to be, compare the Dolphins performance in 2016 to previous seasons, especially 2012, when the pass to run ratio was nearly identical.

Dolphins Pass To Run Ratio

Year Pass Yards TDs Run Yards TDs Total TDs
2012 53.0% 3182 13 47.0% 1802 15 28
2013 63.0% 3567 24 37.0% 1440 8 32
2014 60.0% 3729 27 40.0% 1872 12 39
2015 63.0% 3811 24 37.0% 1496 11 35
2016 54.0% 3500 27 46.0% 1824 14 41

Exactly as I predicted prior to the 2016 season, rather than forge an offense that is overly reliant on the pass, as Philbin had done, Gase brought balance back to Miami’s attack, and as a result, produced more with less. In the process, he has helped Tannehill become more efficient and allowed him to play his game by rolling out of the pocket and throw on the run, where he is at his deadliest.

Can Gase Really Make A Difference?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes”. How do we know that? Because of his record, plain and simple.

  • In 2011, Gase made Tim Tebow into something no one else could, a playoff winning quarterback. He did so by playing to the former Heisman Trophy winner’s mobility, while masking his ineptitude as a passer. To put that achievement into perspective, consider that Tebow has not made an NFL roster since 2012 and finished his career with a completion percentage of 47.9.
  • Prior to working with Gase, Peyton Manning hadn’t managed a 100+ passer rating since 2006. Yet, under the guidance of the man who would become Miami’s head coach, his QB ratings shot up to 105.8, 115.1 and 101.5 respectively from 2012 through 2014.To fully understand the significance of the Gase effect, simply consider that Manning’s passer rating jumped 13.9 points during their first year under Gase, a stunning increase that helped the aging star land the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Subsequently, his rating fell 33.6 points after Gase moved on to Chicago. Furthermore, it is important to note that Manning managed six 100+ rated seasons during his eighteen years in the NFL, and the three under Gase came near the end of his career, when the QB’s physical abilities were in obvious decline. More impressive still, in 2013, Gase’s first year as offensive coordinator, Manning won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, breaking both the NFL’s single-season records for passing touchdowns and passing yards, and the Broncos, as a team, set NFL records with 606 points and 76 TDs.
  • In 2015, Gase lifted Chicago’s Jay Cutler to a 92.3 passer rating, the highest of his career. Furthermore, under Gase, Cutler learned how to protect the ball, lowering his interceptions from a league high 18 in 2014, to just 11 that season. Gase further orchestrated Cutler’s stunning metamorphosis by stamping out the quarterback’s famed volatility, improving his throwing technique, and most important of all, elevating his comfort level in the pocket.
  • The Gase effect is already being felt In Miami. In his first season as head coach, Tannehill achieved career bests in passer rating (93.5), completion percentage (67.1), average yards (7.7) TD ratio (4.9), most wins (8), and fewest sacks (27).

Conclusion #5

That last point makes one thing clear. After just a single season with Gase, there is ample evidence to support what I and others have argued all along. The problem with Tannehill prior to Gase’s arrival was not a lack of talent, but rather, poor coaching that never afforded him the opportunity to be consistently successful or, much less, grow into the very best version of himself possible.

Philbin never permitted Tannehill to seize control of the Dolphins’ offense. Moreover, the indecisive head coach could not be bothered to fill the vacuum that absence created with some leadership of his own. He was, instead, focused on handcuffing Tannehill and using him as a scapegoat for all his coaching failures. Worst still, as we saw earlier, Tannehill didn’t just have his hands tied within a dreadfully bland offense, he was offered little to no protection by his offensive line, becoming the most sacked quarterback in the NFL (184) through the first 4 years of his career.

Gase, on the other hand, has made it possible for Tannehill to play his style of game by opening up the offense and allowing him to make changes at the line of scrimmage. Moreover, he has placed no restrictions on Tannehill as far as rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run, where, as previously mentioned, the young QB is at his best. Furthermore, he has taken bold steps to bolster the team’s offensive line to better protect his talented passer.

To that last point, we can see, in the chart below, the significant improvement Tannehill showed once Gase cut starters Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner after the 5th game of the season, a game which saw the two linemen blow one blocking assignment after another, leading to a brutal day for Tannehill.

Tannehill’s 2016 Performance Before And After Thomas And Turner Were Cut

Att Comp Pct Yards Avg TD INT Sack Rate
First 5 games 156 100 64.1 1272 8.15 6 7 17 83.6
Last 8 games 233 161 69.1 1723 7.39 13 5 12 100.1

With Turner and Thomas on the roster, Tannehill was sacked an average of 3.4 times a game. That average plummeted to just 1.5 times a game after their departure. That is a staggering drop of 56%. That move to shore up the offensive line also played a big role in Tannehill’s passer rating, which rose a whopping 16.5 points after that. Thus, as mentioned in Phase Two of our survey, Tannehill’s performance, especially early in the season, was heavily tainted by the underperformance of some of his teammates.

Yet, in spite of all we have seen perhaps the most important change Gase has brought to Tannehill’s game is the knowledge that his coach backs him. Thus, while the common mantra among Dolphins fans has become “In Gase We Trust”, it would seem Gase has developed a mantra of his own………….“In Tannehill I Trust”. As significant as that sounds at face value, it carries even more weight than most realize. After all, this isn’t just any coach endorsing Tannehill. This is Adam Gase, the man who orchestrated the most prolific offense in NFL history by squeezing every last drop of talent out of Peyton Manning. Thus, it is safe to assume he is a little better at recognizing talent than your typical Monday morning quarterback whose greatest contribution to the sport are Facebook rants from the relative safety of his mother’s basement.

PHASE SIX – FINAL OBSERVATIONS

Let’s be clear about this. The evidence of Tannehill’s talent has been there all along, and it has been nearly as evident as the numerous obstacles that have held him back. One of the most obvious examples of this were the persistent claims that the young QB could not throw the deep pass.

To understand just how misguided those assertions have been, simply consider the chart below, paying special attention to the startling difference that suddenly occurred following the 2014 season, yet, prior to Gase’s arrival.

Tannehill’s Annual Passer Rating on Very Deep Throws Prior To 2016

Pass Length 2012 Rating 2013 Rating 2014 Rating 2015 Rating
31-40 yds 73.2 36.3 30.3 109.7
41+ 39.6 72.2 73.4 127.1
 

Receivers

Brian Hartline

Davone Bess

Mike Wallace

Brian Hartline

Rishard Matthews

Mike Wallace

Brian Hartline

Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry

DeVante Parker

Kenny Stills

The difference is due, of course, to the exit of Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, along with the arrival of Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.

For all his claims of being a devastating deep threat, Mike Wallace was, in fact, a poor route runner who rarely made any attempt to fight for passes that didn’t land squarely in his hands. If you doubt this to be true, simply consider that Tannehill was only able to complete a mere 23% of his deep passes to Wallace during the 2014 season. Furthermore, Wallace was a cancer in the locker room. Brian Hartline, on the other hand, was a consummate team player, but lacked the speed or athleticism to be a deep threat.

More to the point, Tannehill proved that, when given a more capable route runner, like Kenny Stills, and an athletic marvel willing to go up and fight for the ball, like DeVante Parker, he could not only execute a deep passing attack, but excel at it. As the numbers above show, this did not require Gase’s golden touch, just a pair of receivers capable of matching their quarterback’s talent. In fact, in 2015, prior to Gase’s arrival, Tannehill already ranked 4th (54.4%) among all NFL QBs in passing accuracy on throws of 20 yards or more.

Room For Improvement

While I have presented an overwhelming amount of data to support the notion that Tannehill is a far better quarterback than his critics allege, there are still areas of his game that require significant improvement if Miami is to build on its success from last season. Chief among these areas of concern is the fact that Tannehill has been a notoriously slow starter. This will be of particular importance in 2017 because, as we could deduce from the draft, the Dolphins’ defense is being built to play with a lead. The earlier they have a lead, the more efficiently this defense will function. Yet, if that lead fails to materialize, this is a defensive unit that could be exploited. So, as the chart below makes clear, Tannehill will need to raise his level of play early in games moving forward.

  1st Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 4th Qtr Overtime
2016 84.9 88.9 106.9 92.3 95.8
2015 76.1 87.1 108.8 85.1 NA
2014 106.6 87.6 102.6 80.9 NA
2013 68.9 96.3 94.1 64.3 NA
2012 74.4 73.2 75.2 83.0 45.8
Average 82.2 86.6 97.5 81.12 70.8

Equally important will be Tannehill’s 4th quarter play, which has steadily improved over the last 3 years, but is not yet consistent enough for him to be considered anywhere near an elite crunch time QB. His performance also needs to be more consistent overall. The young Texan has traditionally performed best in the 3rd quarter, following halftime adjustments, but has rarely pulled off game winning drives of the kind that downed the Rams last season.

There is one other very important area where Tannehill still has significant room to elevate his game. The Dolphins remain in the bottom quarter of the league in 3rd down conversions. One of Gase’s goals for 2017 is to extend drives I, and he will be looking to Tannehill to make that happen.

 Tannehill Versus The Dolphins’ Legends

The Miami Dolphins have been blessed with two all-time great quarterbacks, hall of famers Dan Marino and Bob Griese. Marino was a gun-slinging wunkerkind, but far from the most efficient of quarterbacks. In fact, he is the rarest of all animals when it comes to the elite superstars in the history of the game because, the longer he played, the lower his QB rating fell. Consider that Marino had a very impressive 94.1 passer rating after his first five seasons in the league, but retired with just an 86.4 average. That is a 7.7 point decline over the next 12 years. Furthermore, he only had one campaign with a 100+ rating, and his fabled 1984 season saw him produce the highest completion percentage of his 17-year career (64.2). Tannehill has already bettered that completion ratio twice in just five years. Be that as it may, there was no denying Marino’s greatness. After all, the nine time Pro Bowler retired as the owner of just about every major NFL passing record, is widely considered the best pure passer the game has ever seen, was an unstoppable 4th quarter force, and is unquestionably among the finest QBs of all time.

Bob Griese, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly the passer Marino turned out to be, but he will forever be known as a cerebral assassin who could execute Shula’s offense to, well, perfection. He also accomplished what Marino never could. He won the Super Bowl….twice.

Fortunately for Miami, Tannehill has some of the best characteristics of both. While not the equal of Marino, he has, nonetheless, proven himself to be a talented deep passer, and, like Griese, he has shown the mental acumen to master Gase’s offense well ahead of anyone else on the Dolphins’ roster. Tannehill also possesses the ability to gash defenses with his legs, as Griese once did, only better.

Dolphins QB Comparison After 5 Seasons In The NFL

Atts Comp Comp % Yds Avg TD INT Sacks Rat Car Yards Avg TD
Marino 2494 1512 60.6 19422 7.8 168 80 67 94.1 106 6 0.05 3
Tannehill 2637 1653 62.7 18455 7.0 106 66 213 86.5 216 1065 4.9 6
Griese 1446 760 52.5 10281 7.1 77 78 87 70.8 152 660 4.3 4

Even so, the deadliest component of Tannehill’s game is when he combines his arm and legs by rolling out of the pocket and throwing deep. It was an ability profoundly underused during the Philbin era, but one Gase immediately greenlit upon his arrival in south Florida, just as I predicted he would in my 2016 preseason series, Adam Gase’s 12 Steps to Rehabilitating the Dolphins. That ability to throw on the run is something we are likely to see more of moving forward, particularly after the injury that prematurely ended Tannehill’s season last year. Designed rollouts will buy the young signal caller a couple of additional seconds of protection by making him a moving target, while, at the same time, putting him in a position to do what he does best.

In the end, it is important to recognize two important points.

The first is that Tannehill was not formed in the mold of either Griese or Marino. He is, instead, far more like Seattle’s Russell Wilson, an athletic QB at his best when moving freely in and out of the pocket. This something Joe Philbin, to his and the team’s detriment, failed to recognize. Thankfully, as previously noted, Gase has already proven to be a much better accessor of Tannehill’s game.

The second, Tannehill is already, without question, the 3rd best QB in Dolphins’ history, and quite frankly, has the untapped talent to climb even higher on that list.

Final Conclusion

We have now examined a mountain of both statistical and historical evidence that supports the notion that Ryan Tannehill is, in fact, a top notch NFL QB, and moreover, that he is only getting better. Even so, no one should walk away from this article with the false impression that Ryan Tannehill is the best quarterback in the NFL, or that he is even in the top five as of yet. However, by this point, everyone should be overly convinced of a few key points.

  1. Tannehill is a very talented QB, much more so than his detractors would have us believe.
  2. He is an athlete of tremendous intestinal fortitude who has fought his way through extremely chaotic circumstances that would have broken lesser men.
  3. He has the potential to get better as an individual…..much better, to the point that he may yet rise to the very highest echelons of NFL QBs.
  4. While there are no guarantees, Tannehill possesses the necessary skills and abilities to lead the Dolphins to what they covet most, their first Super Bowl title in 43 years. After all, far less gifted QBs have won championships.
  5. Adam Gase believes Tannehill is a franchise quarterback, so much so, that he is willing to bet his career on it, and it goes without saying………Gase knows a hell of a lot more about grooming NFL QBs than any of us ever will.

With that, I feel it appropriate to end this piece with a simple message about results for Tannehill’s critics:

  • Dolphins’ offensive coordinator Zac Taylor failed to recognize Tannehill’s potential, and as a result he is now an assistant wide receivers coach for the Rams.
  • Miami head coach Dan Campbell failed to recognize Tannehill’s potential, and as a result is now an assistant head coach and tight ends coach in New Orleans.
  • Miami head coach Joe Philbin failed to recognize Tannehill’s potential, and as a result ended up as an offensive line coach in Indianapolis.
  • Dolphins’ offensive coordinator Bill Lazor failed to recognize Tannehill’s potential, and as a result was sent back to working as a quarterback coach in Cincinnati.
  • Dolphins’ offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, once an NFL head coach, failed to recognize Tannehill’s potential, and as a result now runs a high school football program with a 4-18 record under his leadership.
  • Adam Gase, on the other hand, embraced Tannehill’s potential, and as a result he reached the playoffs as a rookie head coach.
  • Most important of all, Ryan Tannehill never gave up on himself, and as a result he led the Dolphins on a six-game winning streak that thrust them into the playoffs, and in the process, solidified his tenure as Miami’s franchise quarterback for years to come.

Thus, the lesson to be learned from those who have doubted Tannehill is simple………don’t!

 

 

 

11 Comments

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  1. TREMENDOUS deep dive into the ‘facts and figures’… Thank You for VALIDATING what those of us who have seen RT’s potential and GRIT have intuitively believed. Can’t wait till the `017 season begins … Go Fins!!! From a Fin Fan since the beginning, born and raised in SoFLa and having seen 1st hand, the Dolphins HOF QB’s, I believe we have the Potential to place 3 QB’s into the HOF and other than the GB Packers (with Starr Farve and potentially ‘Rogers’… maybe Dallas with Staubach Aikman and Prescott?… really LIKE Prescott / can’t STAND Dallas) there’s not another team with THAT potential TRIFECTA in the foreseeable future …. Wishful Thinking? maybe but in Miami we’ve DONE the Impossible (17-0) WHY NOT 3 HOF QB’s!!

  2. Awesome work and what I’ve seen and been saying for a few years now but of course some are just going to hate no matter what (even some Dolphin fans…which is just weird) Anyways again excellent work

  3. Man, I have been preaching this on forums for awhile especially his performance in weeks 6-13 after Thomas and turner were released compared to people like luck and carr. I wish you would have added “garabage” time stats. Tannehill crushes luck if you take out garbage time stats. \

  4. Really nice work sir. I have singing his praises but could never prove it to anyone what I saw…..but you put into words and backed it up. Bravo

  5. Thank you for the article this is great very nice job I tend to go down rabbit holes and this saves me the time. I been arguing with people for years how good Ryan is and how tough this man is and to take that beating and not toss Philbin under the bus keep his mouth closed and still find ways to improve is amazing in of itself . I watched the podcast and read the article several times great work. Phins up

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I agree. Thill’s ability to perform under the strain of Philbin is what has impressed me most.

  6. Impressive article. You’re very talented. I think Ryan only lacks a killer instinct and a crunch time playmaking ability, traits which are hard to filter through the stats and comparisons. I would have to agree with your premise that the best is yet to come.

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