Miami Dolphins State of the Franchise: Quarterback

Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore during warmups last season

It’s time to evaluate where the Miami Dolphins stand at the league’s most important position. Grading the quarterback position can be difficult with a second-year starter under center that displayed promising signs as a rookie but still has plenty of developing to do.

Ryan Tannehill met expectations and then some as a raw first-round pick who wasn’t projected to be NFL ready until at least year two. Tannehill was thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie with limited opportunity to succeed.

He was lacking adequate experience and his receivers were pedestrian. But he battled. He was far from perfect. He made his share of rookie mistakes. But he was never overwhelmed.

The Dolphins were competitive with Tannehill at quarterback and arguably were a few plays away from being a winning team. But that was the past. Looking in the review mirror doesn’t do much good now.

What Tannehill did as a rookie and how the Dolphins played a year ago would be met with far less compliance from the fan base this season. It’s time to forge ahead for a new team with new expectations.

Let’s assess Tannehill and the rest of Miami’s signal callers.

PROJECTED STARTER

Ryan Tannehill

Barring injury, there is no question that this is Ryan Tannehill’s job and Ryan Tannehill’s team. He’s the quarterback of the future that became the present a year ahead of schedule in 2012.

Now, instead of 2013 being a transition year and Tannehill’s first season under center, the second-year quarterback is expected to flourish with an improved assortment of pass catchers.

The Dolphins wisely re-signed Matt Moore this offseason as an insurance player that is more than capable of leading the team to victories if something were to happen to Tannehill.

Some argued that the $8 million Miami spent to keep Moore around for two seasons should have been put to better use. He is a backup, after all, that likely won’t see the field if Tannehill stays healthy and plays at a high level.

To me, the big surprise was Moore’s willingness to return to Miami as a backup. He’s capable of being an NFL starter. He proved that in 2011, leading the Dolphins to six wins in the team’s final nine games.

I expected Moore to pursue a possible starting job elsewhere this offseason. But you sign a player of his caliber in a heartbeat if he’s willing to play second fiddle.

The quarterback position is just too vital to a team’s success. You don’t want to risk wasting a talented roster if QB one were to go down with an injury. And while the Dolphins have much more potential with Tannehill under center, potential to be a great offense one day, Matt Moore can do enough to win football games as long as he’s paired with a solid defense.

TALENT EVALUATION

Elites: none

Solid starters: Ryan Tannehill

League average: Matt Moore

Backup material: Pat Devlin

Camp bodies: Aaron Corp

Some Dolphins fans will undoubtedly argue that Tannehill has an elite quarterback’s makeup, therefore he is an elite quarterback. Not so fast. Tannehill did everything the Dolphins asked him to as a rookie, but we need to see more. Much more.

Others may object that a quarterback who threw more interceptions than touchdown passes last year is far from a solid starter. But this evaluation is leaning more towards projection than current snapshot.

Tannehill has a lot to prove, but we did see enough promise from the rookie in 2012 with an underwhelming receiving corps to project that he’ll be much better with upgraded weaponry this season. His arm strength is tremendous. He puts touch on passes when need be. His athletic ability is far superior to most pocket passers. Tannehill, simply put, is the complete package.

So what’s preventing him from being an elite quarterback or even a solid NFL starter? Results. We need to see consistent results before it becomes official that the Dolphins have finally found their franchise quarterback. With a year of starting experience under his belt and a better supporting cast, there’s no reason why Tannehill can’t produce consistent results in 2013. That is if he’s the quarterback we all think he is.

Unlike many teams around the league, the Dolphins wouldn’t be doomed if their starting quarterback goes down. Matt Moore has thrown 17 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in the 15 games he’s played as a Dolphin. Moore doesn’t have Tannehill’s elite physical traits. But he’s very smart and he’s a great leader. He’s more than capable, in my opinion, of leading a good football team to a winning record and possibly even the playoffs.

The Dolphins clearly like what they have in Pat Devlin as the third-team quarterback. Joe Philbin couldn’t stop praising Devlin during his first training camp as head coach. But the Dolphins recently signed Aaron Corp to provide some competition at the position, so Devlin needs to piece together another strong summer to cement his spot.

UNIT EVALUATON

Quarterback: Playoff caliber

The Dolphins have gone all in this offseason to become a winning team. But that all-in mentality really began last April when they drafted Ryan Tannehill 8th overall. It’s Tannehill who will ultimately define general manager Jeff Ireland.

Ireland, Joe Philbin, and the entire Dolphins organization have their wagons hitched to Tannehill whether they like it or not. In a league that is becoming increasingly dominated by elite quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins’ ticket to success.

He’s more than capable of leading the Dolphins to the playoffs. A few passes got away from him and his decisions weren’t always as definitive as you’d like in year one. But he was a rookie. A rookie who only started 19 college games and who was thrust into the starting lineup well before even his most avid supporters expected.

Experience, even more so than new additions like Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller, should aid Tannehill’s maturation the most in year two. And if all his promise comes to fruition, the Dolphins will not only be playoff caliber at the position this season but perennially. And being playoff caliber at quarterback usually translates to a team becoming a playoff contender.

That’s what’s expected of the Dolphins this season. And by expected, I of course mean demanded. It’s a reasonable requisition with a quarterback of Tannehill’s caliber at the helm.


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