The Next Steps: Ryan Tannehill Has Become Much More Than The Rookie Quarterback

November 1st, 2012

Ryan Tannehill

It’s been a bumpy ride having a rookie quarterback take the reins week one, but the road seems to be continuing upwards faster than most could have imagined. While the rookie certainly has been exceeding expectations this year, he’s maybe gone further than that.

He’s made the Dolphins a playoff contender.

But can he keep that going for the second half of the schedule, when teams are far more focused on getting on track for the playoffs and anxious to exploit a rookie? I say yes. Tannehill certainly can. And more.

MDD Lead Editor: Eric Galko

Tannehill, coming off a 30-9 victory over the Jets last week where he played in a limited role thanks to hyperextending his left knee in the game. Despite the injury, the team continued on its path, thrusted the team to a winning record and battling for the top spot in the AFC East without their rookie quarterback. But with Tannehill practicing on Wednesday (limited, however), his road, maintaining its bumpiness, looks in focus once again.

But the question is, can the team win with a rookie quarterback, still learning the NFL game as he goes? Developing a rookie takes time, no doubt. But that time isn’t measured in weeks played or snaps taken necessarily. It’s measured in the steps, the development, taken by the quarterback as he learns to adjust in the NFL game. Some quarterbacks take years to make these strides (Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees to name a few). But some, like I presume Tannehill has and will continue to do, take wider steps.

His long striding development on this road of stairs to NFL quarterback-dom has been a joy to watch. He’s already faced the 4th, 5th, and 6th best pass defense in the NFL thus far. He threw for 431 yards against a Cardinals defense that has allowed under 200 yards on average this year.

He struggled in his first start with three interceptions, but throwing for 219 yards against the Houston Texans defense that has tortured quarterbacks this year is impressive.

He struggled mightily against the Jets the first time he played, but still managed to keep the game close in an overtime loss. In his last three starts, he’s averaged over 280 yards passing and a 66% completion percentage, and impressive total for a rookie quarterback with only two legitimate receiver targets.

He’s taken the bruises and struggles in stride this season. He’s faced the three best pass defenses he’ll face all year. Call it battle tested if you want, but Tannehill emerged out of that wreckage that was the Dolphins early season offense and blasting by media for their dim 2012 season prognosis. He’s taken the step from rookie, lost quarterback to having a purpose as a leader of the offense.

He’s made the Dolphins a playoff contender.

The next steps? Being the distinguishing factor for his team’s wins. Dominating the game with his arm and vision. Striking fear into opposing defenses by the thought that he’ll be leading their enemies offense.

And he couldn’t ask for a better slate of games in the next three weeks to unleash this new emergence from his rookie cocoon. Let’s assume that Tannehill, who I’d expect to play this weekend vs. fellow rookie Andrew Luck, is cleared to play and gets the start.

The Colts this weekend have allowed a 13:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio this year and opposing quarterbacks have had a 103.4 quarterback rating against them. Tannehill picks them apart despite the injury, plays efficient football, and frustrates the Colts defense for a victory in a close victory.

Tannehill and the Dolphins return home to play the 29th ranked pass defense in the Tennessee Titans who have allowed 282 yards per game through the air and have had just 11 sacks in 8 games. Tannehill stays upright, throws for 300 plus in a blowout victory as his consistency and fluidity in the offense leaves the Titans clueless how to rebound with their own offense.

The following week, the Dolphins travel to Buffalo to play the 22nd ranked pass defense. The team is allowing 7.6 yards per attempt, and Tannehill uses his 110.4 quarterback rating when throwing to the middle of the field to control the 1st down markers in a big divisional victory that puts the Dolphins just 2 more wins away from clinching a playoff spot.

These ambitious, optimistic projections for the Dolphins next three game may not be entirely accurate by mid-November. But based on his progression as a quarterback, these are closer to realism than a Dan Marino Dolphins illusion.

Step by step, Tannehill will need to carry this team on his shoulders to a surprising playoff berth. Step by step, Tannehill will take this team to new heights that weren’t close to expected in the pre-season. He’s unique. He’s going to be a great quarterback. But most importantly in the short term and most exciting for the long term.

He’s made the Dolphins a playoff contender.

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