It’s fair to characterize Ryan Tannehill’s recent contract extension with the Dolphins as a commitment by the team to its young quarterback. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL environment, it’s refreshing to see a team stick with a steadily improving quarterback despite the fact that he hasn’t reached the playoffs in any of his 3 NFL seasons. This is a good move for the Dolphins.
Miami should be excited about Ryan Tannehill because he has gotten better each season. This notion is backed up statistically. His completion percentage climbed from 58.3 during his rookie season to 60.4 in 2013 to 66.4 last season. The same is true of his passing yards (3,294, 3,913, 4,015), touchdown passes (12, 24, 27), and passer rating (76.1, 81.7, 92.8). The Dolphins have also increased their scoring output each season since Tannehill took over. So what’s the reason for his improved play each year?
The aspect of Tannehill’s game where we’ve noticed the most improvement is his ability to hang in the pocket. He’s become much firmer, less reactive to pressure, and more willing to take a big hit if it means he can deliver the ball to an open receiver. Take the play below for example. From the sideline angle you can see that Tannehill had transferred his weight to his front leg despite the fact that he had defenders in his face about to drill him.
From the end zone you can see the hit he ended up taking.
Often, pressure forces a quarterback to alter his motion and this affects accuracy. Tannehill didn’t let that happen here, and the result was a completed pass. The better quarterbacks in the league are the ones that can make throws like this consistently.
Tannehill’s willingness to hang in the pocket has made him a calmer player when working through his progressions. We wrote last year that Tannehill has made significant strides working from receiver to receiver. Most importantly, his feet are quick and they follow his eyes so he’s almost always ready to throw. This combined with his strong arm and quick release has made Tannehill a much better player later in the down. His speed, ability to evade rushers and ability make throws outside the pocket has also contributed to his late-in-the-play improvment.
Tannehill’s growth over the last 3 seasons, and especially over the last year and a half, has been impressive. But there is still room for more. Despite his increase in completion percentage, Tannehill’s ball placement has to improve. He still inexplicably misses throws. Many of his completions, while good throws because they find the receiver, don’t maximize the completion. Sometimes a high or low throw makes his receiver go all out to make a catch and go to the ground when there was room to run. Other times, his throws are just a half foot or so too far behind or ahead of his receiver, again minimizing yards after the catch. With the speed they had last season in Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, and Charles Clay, the fact that the Dolphins finished in the middle of the pack in yards after the catch was a reflection of Tannehill’s erratic ball placement.
Tannehill’s ball placement also contributed to the Dolphins’ lack of big plays through the air. Miami finished with the 4th fewest pass plays of 20+ yards in the NFL last season. Much of this had to do with a lack of yards after the catch as mentioned above. Yet a lot had to do with his inaccuracy on deep balls. It was frustrating to watch him on film and see him throw deep post balls over his receiver’s head instead of leading him across the field time after time.
Aside from the negatives, the Dolphins have a young quarterback in Tannehill that they can work with. With how hard it is to find a franchise quarterback (Tannehill is the closest thing they’ve had since Dan Marino), the Dolphins have smartly hitched their wagon to a young player who has the potential to lead this team successfully for a long time. If Miami can find a way to protect him better, and if Tannehill can quickly get on the same page with his new and improved receiving corps, the Dolphins might have a shot of legitimately challenging the Patriots for the AFC East title this season.