Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will take on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for the second time in as many seasons on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.
It’s a matchup of two signal callers who were taken in the top 10 picks of the 2012 draft, which is considered by many to be the deepest quarterback draft in some time, perhaps ever. And while Luck is frequently compared to Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson from that class, it’s Tannehill who could emerge as his rival in the AFC.
Tannehill is one of the youngest, most promising passers in the conference and could become the biggest threat to Luck in his bid for AFC supremacy in future seasons. The Bengals’ Andy Dalton also comes to mind and two rookie quarterbacks in EJ Manuel and Geno Smith had promising debuts in Week 1.
But Tannehill and Luck are already linked to one another, as their career paths will forever be traced back to one fateful night in April, 2012.
But will that comparison ever become a legitimate debate?
Can Ryan Tannehill ever surpass Luck’s success as a NFL quarterback?
If success is measured by wins exclusively, there’s certainly a chance he can. The Dolphins probably possess a more talented roster than the Colts do this season, and have a decent shot of going on the road and getting a win in Indianapolis on Sunday.
But let’s take a step back from the team argument for a minute and look at how Luck and Tannehill match up individually.
It’s not close at the moment. Luck is far and away the more accomplished quarterback. He led his team to the playoffs and threw for nearly twice as many touchdown passes as a rookie. But their skill sets are closer to parallel than you may think.
Both have the ability to make every NFL throw, with Tannehill possessing a slightly stronger arm, while Luck’s accuracy is more consistent. And both have the athleticism to escape pressure or move the chains with their feet. The difference is, the game has slowed down for Luck and Tannehill is still developing.
Playing quarterback comes naturally to Luck. It always has. Luck has the awareness to completely grasp how opposing coverages are scheming and his convictions with the football are more sophisticated. But that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.
Tannehill and Luck weren’t exactly on a level playing field coming out of college. Luck started 38 games at Stanford, twice as many as Tannehill did at Texas A&M. So, obviously, Tannehill’s learning curve has been steeper. But the question is, can Tannehill emerge from that curve as a better quarterback than Luck?
Certainly, that’s a lofty goal. And I have no stats to suggest he can or can’t. Every player is different, and past successes or failures under similar circumstances don’t tell us anything about Luck or Tannehill.
I’m just looking the ability of both quarterbacks and saying it’s possible Tannehill can catch Luck. I’m also suggesting that Sunday will be a telling measuring stick for Tannehill. Has he closed the gap in year two for both players?
Last November, Luck was clearly the superior quarterback, throwing for 433 yards, while Tannehill showed promise but fizzled out down the stretch with a limited group of receivers. Tannehill now has the supporting cast to go toe-to-toe with Luck.
It really doesn’t matter where each quarterback was drafted or who gets the most attention and praise in the media. Tannehill has a golden opportunity this Sunday in Indianapolis to prove he deserves to be in the same conversation as Luck on the field. To be in the same conversation with Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson as well.
This is Tannehill’s chance for a defining moment, a breakthrough performance. Outperform Luck, win this game and enter center stage. Losing, being outplayed wouldn’t carry consequences of similar significance, but it would be a missed opportunity for the Dolphins and Tannehill.