Teams always want to give their first-round quarterback the benefit of the doubt, which is why the Miami Dolphins are still sticking with Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Tannehill threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his rookie year. In 2013, he accumulated 3,913 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He ranked 19th and 26th in those years, respectively, in ESPN’s Total QBR rating, a statistical measure that incorporates the contexts and details of those throws and what they mean for wins. His yards-per-attempt number was 7 percent below the league average in year one and 10 percent below in year two.
In other words, he has thus far been a below-average quarterback.
It doesn’t help that Andrew Luck, Nick Foles and Russell Wilson were in the same draft class. Luck has a 22-10 record as a starter and Foles came out of nowhere last season and threw for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Wilson won a Super Bowl last season with the Seahawks.
Last year, Tannehill may have had an excuse. He was sacked 58 times last season and the Dolphins’ running game averaged just 90 yards per contest (26th out of 32 teams). But even in this year’s preseason, Tannehill has struggled to score.
“I thought we moved the ball but we didn’t score points and that’s what we’re out there to do,” Tannehill said after Miami defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 25-20, earlier in the preseason. “We had the fumble on the long drive and threw the interception in the red zone. You can’t have that. You can’t be careless with the ball and turn it over. We had our chances.”
So when is it time to move in another direction on a first-round quarterback?
Obviously, it isn’t after a rough rookie campaign. If we look at the list of first-round rookie quarterbacks with at least 150 passing attempts in year one but a below-average yards per attempt (Y/A+) similar to Tannehill, we see names like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Terry Bradshaw and Phil Simms. But we also see Heath Shuler, Cade McNown, Jason Campbell and Mark Sanchez.
And if we further winnow the list to those whose second season is worse than the first in terms of yards per attempt relative to the league average, we are left with the following group:
- Heath Shuler
- Cade McNown
- Dan Pastorini
- J.P. Losman
- Phil Simms
- Mark Sanchez
- Terry Bradshaw
- Archie Manning
- Jim Plunkett
- Jim Everett
- Matt Leinart
Terry Bradshaw and Phil Simms were among the six who showed improvement in year three. Archie Manning was almost the same but the who that didn’t improve significantly didn’t fare so well in the NFL.
Cade McNown would never play in the league again. Heath Shuler was benched in his third season by the Washington Redskins, who then traded him to the New Orleans Saints for draft picks. Dan Pastorini would make the Pro Bowl in 1975, but would have an otherwise lackluster career. Mark Sanchez got progressively worse each season and now finds himself backing up Nick Foles in Philadelphia.
So this is the make-or-break year for Tannehill. If he can get closer to the league average in passing yards per attempt he could be salvageable. If not, Miami is better off seeking a solution elsewhere.