Let’s talk about potential. Let’s talk about progression and regression. Let’s talk about expectations. Let’s talk about Ryan Tannehill.
I am usually at the vanguard of the Tannehill defenders. I think he has had unrealistic expectations heaped on him and has endured unfair criticism of his reaction to the challenges of playing in the NFL. To say he is a divisive figure among Dolphins fans is an understatement, and it makes someone like me react in a very partisan manner when coming to his defense.
This season there seems to be a more calm approach for most of the talk surrounding the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. I want to take this opportunity to give you my full opinion of him, not just a reactionary defense to the microscopic view many have taken of his play. It is not a question of if I think he can be a good or great quarterback for the Dolphins, it is well established that I am on #TeamTannehill; I want to express why, and use both his attributes and his faults as support for my argument.
Ryan Tannehill is not a perfect quarterback. Then again, there is no such thing as a perfect quarterback, so we can end that idea right away.
Tannehill has flaws: his touch on short routes is sometimes not well-measured, either hanging his receiver out by having too much loft, or making an easy catch treacherous by zipping the ball too hard. Either way it makes it more difficult to turn those short passes into bigger gains.
His pre-snap decision-making is still developing. Sometimes you will see Tannehill make a quick drop and sharp throw for a nice gain, but then you are watching the replay and you see that a bigger gain was available if only Tannehill had seen it. This is the direct result of what Tannehill sees pre-snap. I am not going to ever criticize a quarterback for hitting his first read if it is open - that is why you have progressions built into the passing concepts.
Where he can improve is by deciding where to look first by doing a better job of seeing matchups that might be favorable to other receivers in the play. If the play is drawn up to go to an outside receiver, but post-shift Jarvis Landry finds himself lined up across from a linebacker, Tannehill needs to recognize that and adjust his reads to give the team a better chance to take advantage of mismatches that the scheme creates. If you were to ask me where Tannehill could make the biggest strides this season, I might put this at the top of my list.
Pocket presence is also an issue, and while Tannehill is not as bad as some might want you to believe, he is not great. As many former quarterbacks have mentioned, it is something that only time and repetition in games can bring. No player goes out the first time and has all of the instinctual facets of the game and his position engrained in his psyche, despite what some media “experts” would have you believe.
Pocket presence is a function of anticipation - the more times any person finds themselves in a situation the better able they are to anticipate the end result. If you look critically at how Tannehill progressed, even as his offensive line disintegrated around him, you will see the progress from the beginning of the year to the end. I would expect this to continue to improve in Tannehill’s second year in the same offense, with the same blocking schemes unfolding around him.
Finally, we have the deep ball. While there are opinions on both sides about the relative merit of this criticism, I think everyone can agree that it has not been a successful part of the offense as everyone would like it to be. I personally believe that there is a strong chance for a regression to the mean in this regard for Tannehill. The group of receivers he has now is superior to the talented, but poorly conceived group he had last season.
As much as I did not like the way Mike Wallace approached the game of football, I am not going to pretend he is not an exceptional receiver. But his weakest traits played directly into places where Tannehill was not exceptional. There are few instances of seeing Wallace track a ball in the air and adjust his route to the flight of the ball. There are even fewer instances of him breaking off his route in order to make a play on an underthrown ball.
These are traits that a quarterback like Tannehill must possess in order to maintain a downfield threat. These failings make it hard to go back and see if there has been any growth from Tannehill in the deep game, especially given the small sample size that Bill Lazor’s offense generated.
There you have it, my attempt at explaining the places I see the most room for growth for Ryan Tannehill in the upcoming season, and along with it, why I think he has a chance to grow in each of those areas. With just a little help from his teammates, I think there is a really good chance that you will see Tannehill achieve progress in one or more of these areas. Better blocking, with less interior pressure, will help a lot.
Receivers more adept at catching balls that, while on frame, are not perfectly placed, will give the quarterback more confidence in taking those chances with the ball. Perhaps a few more designed long balls that give Tannehill a chance to make those downfield throws in a manner other than over the top will help with the deep ball placement.
I for one have been calling for more Sluggo routes and Out-n-ups since the beginning of last season, as both of these throws allow for the quarterback to throw on more of a line, which plays into Tannehill’s best traits.
This story was written by Ryan Winters. Follow him on Twitter: @WintersNFL
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