Earlier this month, ESPN released its 2016 NFL QB Tier Rankings, the sports network's third-annual rankings of quarterbacks based on ratings compiled from 42 league insiders. Ryan Tannehill did not fare well.
Of the 33 quarterbacks on the list, Tannehill placed 24th, firmly in the third tier, making him a "legit starter who needs heavy run game/defense to win." Though it's hard to argue with that description of Tannehill entering his fifth season, this is also the season he can catapult himself into much better company.
Dolphins fans should expect to see a much different No. 17 on the field. Why do we expect Tannehill to be an elite quarterback this season? We're glad you asked.
5. The Quarterback Whisperer
You need to grasp the sort of genius that Adam Gase brings to the table. We are talking about a man who helped lead a Tim Tebow-quarterbacked offense to a playoff win. Tim Tebow plays baseball now! Tebow, of course, "plays baseball now" the same way your son does: in a batting cage. This is also the same coach who turned the notoriously erratic Jay Culter into a top-ten quarterback who completed 64 percent of his passes last season. The guy obviously has the Midas touch when it comes to quarterbacks. Gase also was at the forefront of leading the first Peyton Manning Broncos team to the first 600-plus-point season in NFL history, while Manning threw for the most touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) ever.
Are you sold on Gase's track record with quarterbacks yet? Expect more of the same improved results from Tannehill this season under Gase.
4. The Weapons
Ryan Tannehill will never be the sort of quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Tannehill will always need some talent around him. Luckily, GM Mike Tannenbaum has done an excellent job of quietly putting together a group of skilled players who should perfectly complement Tannehill.
What's comforting about the group of playmakers the Dolphins have put together is they all do something different. DeVante Parker is poised to be the deep-threat, defense-ass-puckering wideout the team hasn't had since it traded Brandon Marshall for a pack of cigarettes. Jarvis Landry is already Pro Bowl material and this year might be the best number two wideout in the game. New wideouts Jakeem Grant (speed, deep threat) and Leonte Caroo (possession wideout) do completely different things well. Kenny Stills brings a bit of everything and at any moment can cut a defense up with a deep route. Jordan Cameron is the sort of athletic tight end who should fare well in Gase's spread-it-around offense.
If the Dolphins can get anything out of Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi in the backfield, they could have a young, fun, and versatile offense. Tannehill has plenty of options thanks to a very diverse Dolphins offense.
3. The Money
Before last season, the Dolphins signed Tannehill to a deal worth $96 million, including $45 million in guaranteed money — so his future is secure. At the time, Tannenbaum said the Dolphins "believe in Ryan as our quarterback for the long term."
Whatever happens to Tannehill from here on out, he's stashing enough money in the bank to last him, his son Steel, and his son (insert type of metal here) for the rest of their lives — and that sort of peace of mind matters. It didn't make a difference last year because the entire team was a dumpster fire floating on a trash-filled tsunami. This season — under a new coach who doesn't hate him — Tannehill will finally be able to relax and play the sport. It's hard to believe, but Tannehill just turned 28 years old.
2. The Protection
Tannehill was sacked 45 times in 2015 and 184 times over his four-year career, the most in the NFL over that time. Thankfully, the Dolphins assessed that situation this offseason. The Dolphins selected Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil with the 13th pick of the NFL draft, with plans of plugging him in at left guard until current left tackle Branden Albert's playing days at Miami are through. The addition of what some observers projected as the top pick in this year's draft at a place of need was a major coup for the Dolphins, even as Tunsil currently struggles to learn a new position.
The Dolphins will now trot out an offensive line that includes four first-round picks, so there can be no more excuses as to why they can't keep Tannehill upright. It's been proven — both by team record and by individual stats — that Tannehill is a completely different QB when protected. This season, the Dolphins should provide him ample time to find the weapons Tannenbaum has provided him.
1. The Freedom
It seems unbelievable, but the Dolphins' quarterback for years hasn't had the freedom to check out obviously doomed plays. That all changes this season. Tannehill told the the Palm Beach Post earlier this month that he's excited to have that ability.
“We have a big toolbox,” Tannehill said following Tuesday’s practice. “Coach Gase allows me to get up there and equips me with plays that we can change at the line and get into a good look. It’s a great feeling to have and it’s going to help us throughout the year.”
When Gase spoke about Tannehill's progress with the new audible plays, he said that so far Tannehill has been able to get the team into winning plays.
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“I’ve thrown a couple of things at him that have been tough, and he’s really gotten us out of a few bad plays and some of these blitz situations,” Gase said.
So file this change under "no shit." This year when the defense is playing a punt-block-looking defense, the Dolphins might not run it directly into the teeth of the other team — that will inevitably equal more positive plays that will result in more positive drives.
In 2016, Tannehill will finally become the quarterback Miami Dolphins fans have been hoping for.