32 for 32: Making Mountains Out Of Tannehills
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
Going into the 2018 season, the Miami Dolphins have a lot of unanswered questions — most notably at the quarterback position.
Entering his seventh season, Ryan Tannehill has accumulated a whopping zero playoff wins and two knee surgeries. He’s suffered criticism of all types, most recently from:
- Former teammate Jarvis Landry, who claimed the quarterback situation with the Browns was “a lot better than what [he] had in Miami.”
- Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry, who criticized Tannehill’s athleticism stating that Serena Williams would make a better quarterback
But the best synopsis of Ryan Tannehill’s current situation can be found from former Dolphins legend Mark Duper:
“We always say Ryan Tannehill has a lot of potential but there’s always something wrong with him. I still don’t know how good he is. [This] year is do or die for him. He needs to stay healthy and performs or there’s going to be trouble in paradise. Dan [Marino] likes him.”
The Dolphins have yet to determine how good their quarterback is after six seasons but haven’t drafted a quarterback in the first three rounds since they’ve drafted Tannehill. They are all in on Tannehill, who hasn’t played in an NFL game since December of 2016. The silver lining is that Tannehill’s last season was a career-best for him — with a 93.5 QB rating, 67.1 percent completion rate, and an average of 7.7 yards per attempt.
As he returns from ACL surgery, Tannehill will have a different set of tools to work with than the ones he left in 2016. The questions for the season will be if head coach Adam Gase had a plan for a more Tannehill-friendly offense when he let Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi go and if Tannehill can stay healthy enough to prove himself the franchise quarterback the front office (and fans) have waited seven years to see.
This offseason saw the departures of big names Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey, and Ndamukong Suh, which freed up money to go after Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, and Frank Gore. Though Adam Gase describes it as a “net gain,” it won’t be easy for Tannehill to replace the 100 catches and 1,000 yards Landry provided on an annual basis as the Dolphins’ greatest (and only?) offensive weapon.
Instead, Tannehill will need to quickly prove he is in good health and develop rapport with his new teammates, including rookie tight end Mike Gesicki. Returning from a six-win season, it’s easy to assume the Dolphins will be a worse team — though a trailing team is the perfect storm for Tannehill’s fantasy value.
Tannehill has averaged seven extra passes per game when the team lost. This past season Miami was second in pass percentage when trailing. Thus, the philosophy for Tannehill owners might be the same as Dolphins fans’ strategy — root for the team to lose.
Has Adam Gase Created a Ryan Tannehill Offense?
In his past two seasons as head coach of the Dolphins, Adam Gase has run one of the slowest offenses in the league. Neither season has produced 1,000 offensive plays, and he enters Year Three with seemingly the fewest amount of offensive weapons (and fantasy options) to date.
Is this part of a greater plan? A Tannehill-friendly plan? What is a Tannehill-friendly plan?
In Tannehill’s best season of his career, he averaged 230 yards passing per game — his fewest of any year prior. Meanwhile, he held his highest completion percentage (67.1%) and yards per attempt (7.7), concluding that maybe what makes Tannehill succeed is his ability to rely on a running game and more sub-par receivers than one or two go-to playmakers .
Though the departure of Landry is viewed as a loss, when looking at adjusted yards per pass attempt you see Tannehill’s efficiency has been historically higher when throwing to Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker than to Landry.
His efficiency on passes to Landry is tied with Mike Wallace, though he had significantly more attempts with Landry. In fact, Tannehill had more attempts with Landry than any other wideout and yet his efficiency on passes to his “best” receiver are tied for the lowest among the six wideouts he targeted at least 100 times.
It seems Gase is investing more in quantity than quality. After all, the Dolphins brought in Frank Gore in free agency and drafted Kalen Ballage (instead of a quarterback) all the while having Kenyan Drake as the supposed unquestioned starter at running back.
There’s an injury history with both Parker and Amendola, but combined with Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, you can expect Tannehill to be comfortable with spreading the wealth. In his 2016 season, he averaged targets to 7.5 different players per game. With options, Tannehill has the tools he needs to succeed.
As much as there are options opposite the quarterback, there are options at the quarterback position.
- David Fales was third on the Dolphins’ depth chart last year, though has thrown only 48 regular season passes in four years since the Chicago Bears drafted him in 2014 in the sixth round. Despite that, Fales has been rumored as the best shot at the No. 2 quarterback job during practice this offseason.
- Brock Osweiler signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins during free agency, though it’s not significant enough to guarantee a roster spot. He’s struggled to maintain a starting role since his one solid season with the Broncos, though his time in Denver did give him experience with Adam Gase’s system — who was the offensive coordinator at the time.
- Bryce Petty was claimed off waivers from the Jets this offseason. Why is still anyone’s guess. He was incredibly inconsistent on the Jets in the sparse playing time he had, though his 130 NFL passes exceeds David Fales’ experience.
All of these guys are sufficient backups, but none have the ability to take the starting position away from Tannehill. Rather, they serve as security blankets who will be battling for the number two and three slots with the Dolphins still all-in on Tannehill as their present and future, despite his injured past.
Is 2018 Tannehill’s Year?
Though many call his 2016 season a success, averaging 17.8 fantasy points per game, Tannehill still failed to surpass 3,000 passing yards and produced a 19:12 TD:INT ratio, leading the team to an underwhelming 8-5 season.
The good news? Just like what Dolphins fans see, there’s still potential there for improvement. With the loss of Landry, Gase has put a system in place that should position Tannehill for a breakout season — if he can stay healthy. With his past injuries, Tannehill will have to rely more on his backfield than his own individual running game (previously averaged 213 rushing yards per season).
From a fantasy perspective, Tannehill showed fantasy relevancy in his last season. He put up 22 fantasy points in standard leagues in three of his final five games and finally seemed comfortable in Gase’s offense. There were only three weeks in 2016 where Tannehill produced below average QB2 numbers and five weeks where he posted more than the average QB1.
Tannehill currently has an average ADP of 149 (QB30) in 2QB leagues — a significantly cheap value for a guaranteed starter with proven fantasy potential. There is additional upside given that he’s lost his least efficient wideout.
In standard leagues, Tannehill is still not an every-week starter. But he is a cheap pickup with significant upside and matchup-dependent opportunities for two-quarterback or superflex leagues. Barring injury, Tannehill should exceed expectations at a low risk. He will likely never become QB1 material, but he has all the pieces in place this season to finally prove his worth.
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