Ryan Tannehill: Ultimate litmus test of a QB is season three


The Miami Dolphins did not see the 2013 NFL season end the way they wanted to, but there is promise in terms of their quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They say the ultimate litmus test of a quarterback and whether he is ready to take the next step is the production in the 3rd season.

Tannehill will be entering his 3rd season with a different offensive coordinator. He has only known Mike Sherman’s offense since he transitioned from wide receiver to quarterback in college at Texas A&M. The Miami signal caller made a nice jump from his rookie to sophomore season, but failed down the stretch to deliver his team into the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at what Tannehill has done so far in his young career and what other “franchise quarterbacks” have done their first three seasons. The exponential growth is seen in every one of them.

Ryan Tannehill

2012:    TD: 12     INT: 13  COMP %: 58.3    Yards: 3,294

2013:     TD: 24    INT: 17  COMP%: 60.4     Yards: 3,913

Tannehill clearly was asked to do more this season and the increase in production was apparent. He doubled his touchdown output, increased his completion percentage to the important 60% number. If it wasn’t for Ryan’s disastrous finish to the season in weeks 16 and 17, he could have thrown for more than 4,000 yards and less than 15 interceptions.

Take in affect that he was sacked 58 times and under pressure the majority of the season, you would think his numbers can only go up with improved offensive line play.

Philip Rivers

2006:     TD: 22    INT: 9    COMP%: 61.7     Yards: 3,388

2007:     TD: 21    INT: 15  COMP%: 60.2     Yards: 3,152

2008:     TD: 34    INT: 11 COMP%: 65.3     Yards: 4,009 – PLAYOFFS

Philip Rivers is one of the league’s best signal callers and is in the playoffs again this year. He is one of the rare QBs who had early success in his NFL career. He sat behind Drew Brees his first two seasons in the league, but after a Brees injury he took over and hasn’t looked back as the leader of the franchise.

Actually, he statistically regressed from year 1 to year 2, but in year 3 he had one of his best seasons of his very fine career. A more than 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and over 65% completions, Rivers came into his own in year 3, leading his team to the playoffs and winning a playoff game as well.


Andy Dalton

2011:     TD: 20    INT: 13  COMP%: 58.1     Yards: 3,398

2012:     TD: 27    INT: 16  COMP%: 62.3     Yards: 3,669

2013:     TD: 33    INT: 20  COMP%: 61.9     Yards: 4,293 – PLAYOFFS

The 3rd year quarterback out of Texas Christian University took his biggest step this year and delivered a career high 33 touchdowns. This was good enough for the 3rd highest total in the league. He also eclipsed the 4,000 yard threshold and led the Bengals to the AFC North crown.

This is actually Dalton’s 3rd time in the playoffs, as he has made it every year he’s been in the league. The downside to Dalton is that he’s 0-3 in the playoffs and faltered yet again recently at home to the Chargers and the aforementioned Philip Rivers. (Oh by the way, Ryan Tannehill is 2-0 vs. Dalton in his career)


Cam Newton

2011:     TD: 21(14R) INT: 17 COMP%: 60.0 Yards: 4,051

2012:     TD: 19(8R)   INT: 12 COMP%: 57.7 Yards: 3,869

2013:     TD: 24(6R)  INT: 13 COMP%: 61.7 Yards: 3,379 – PLAYOFFS

Cam Newton is an interesting 3rd-year quarterback. He busted on to the scene and set all sorts of rookie records. Specifically his 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011 – an NFL record for a quarterback – and he quickly became must-see television. But his mind-blowing statistics didn’t lead to wins as he was 13-19 through his first two seasons as an NFL quarterback. This year, his 3rd season, has been by far his best.

Cam had his career-low in terms of rushing touchdowns, but threw for a career high with 24. The most notable improvement in Cam’s game was his efficiency on 3rd down and the new ability to win games late in the fourth quarter. Cam owns comeback victories over Miami, New England and San Francisco this season and is doing it with limited weapons at receiver. He, like Tannehill, did not play much quarterback at the Division 1 level, as he left Auburn after one historical season. Newton is coming into his own.

Drew Brees (SD)

2002:     TD: 17    INT: 16  COMP%: 60.8     Yards: 3,284

2003:     TD: 11    INT: 15  COMP%: 57.6     Yards: 2,108

2004:     TD: 27    INT: 7  COMP%: 65.5    Yards: 3,159 – PLAYOFFS

People may forget the struggles Brees had at the beginning of his career while in San Diego. His second year in 2003 he threw only 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, completing less than 60% of his passes and only 2,108 yards in 11 games. We’re talking about a guy who set the single season passing record in 2011, but struggled his sophomore season nearly a decade earlier. Drew bounced back in 2004 and had a 27:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, completing 65.5% of his passes and leading San Diego to the playoffs.

That’s the Drew Brees we’ve come to know: efficient, accurate, and explosive. Since his 3rd season, Drew’s career has sky rocketed, most notable with a Super Bowl victory and a Super Bowl MVP for the New Orleans Saints in 2009.

Peyton Manning

1998:     TD: 26    INT: 28  COMP%: 56.7     Yards: 3,739

1999:     TD: 26    INT: 15  COMP%: 62.1     Yards: 4,135

2000:     TD: 33    INT: 15  COMP%: 62.5     Yards: 4,413 – PLAYOFFS

Why do I have Ryan Tannehill in the same paragraph, let alone same article as Peyton Manning? Because Peyton once struggled badly too when he was a young pup in the NFL. His 26:28 TD-to-INT rookie season was obviously the worst of Peyton’s illustrious soon-to-be Hall of Fame career. But he quickly turned it around. He improved by throwing less interceptions his second go at it and led his Indianapolis Colts to a 13-3 record and then backed that up with a 33:15 season and over 4,400 yards in 2000.

After Peyton’s 3rd season his career also took off. He has won at least 10 games in every season but one after that. He too has a Super Bowl victory in 2006, where he was named Super Bowl MVP.

Ben Roethlisberger

2004:     TD: 17    INT: 11  COMP%: 66.4     Yards: 2,621

2005:     TD: 17    INT: 9    COMP%: 62.7     Yards: 2,385 – SUPER BOWL WIN

2006:     TD: 18    INT: 23  COMP%: 59.7     Yards: 3,513

2007:     TD: 32    INT: 11  COMP%: 65.3     Yards: 3,154 – PLAYOFFS   

Ben Roethlisberger is interesting in the fact that his 3rd season was actually the worst of his storied career. He went from 17:9 and a 2nd year Super Bowl championship to 18:23 disaster in 2006. Maybe Roethlisberger felt success too early in his career and became complacent? Maybe his head wasn’t in football? He later got in an ugly motorcycle accident after the 2006 season concluded, but this could all just be bad luck. Regardless, Roethlisberger is one of the rare talents the NFL has ever seen with his mix of size, strength and elusiveness in the pocket.

Ben shook off his horrendous 3rd season and bounced back with arguably his best statistical season ever. 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and a 65% completion percentage. “Big Ben” was back and so were the Steelers, as he led them to another playoff berth. A year later in 2008 he won his second Super Bowl.

Back to Tannehill

As said before, Ryan made the jump from year 1 to year 2, but his late season meltdown hurt not only his numbers, but his team. The Dolphins failed to make the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season and will try again with a new offensive coordinator in 2014.

The 6 quarterbacks and their graphics shown above are comparisons of the typical jump a franchise quarterback makes once they get comfortable with the league and opposing defenses. That comfort level typically comes in/around the 3rd season.

For guys like Brees and Manning, they used their early career struggles to adjust and improve, leading to Hall of Fame careers and historical stats. A guy like Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls and Rivers has been a perennial Pro Bowler. For Dalton and Newton, they lead the 2011 draft class and have tremendous upside to be great in this league.

This article was not written to proclaim that Ryan Tannehill will lead the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2014. This is, however, a good graphic to see the increase in production from a 3rd-year quarterback. Dolphins’ fans should expect Tannehill to improve on his touchdown output with the weapons he has around him.

The sacks (58 of them) he took can only go down, as the Dolphins will no doubt improve their porous offensive line and Ryan must learn to get the ball out. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tannehill use his feet more in a new offense next year, as he is a better athlete than people give him credit for and it typically results in positive plays when he does.

Dolphins’ fans are dying to call Ryan a “franchise quarterback.” They can use next season as the ultimate assessment to answer whether he is or not.

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