It's a make-or-break year for QB1
Entering his fifth season as a starter for the Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill remains an enigma. He seemingly has everything you want in a franchise quarterback: size (6'4", 216 pounds), elite athleticism, a right arm that can make any throw and enough smarts to get the job done.
But under Tannehill, Miami has gone 29--35 and twice blown shots at playoff berths. His completion percentage (61.9) and passer rating (85.2) are both mediocre. The Dolphins point to Tannehill's 15,460 passing yards, which rank third all-time to Peyton Manning's (16,418) and Dan Marino's (16,177) for quarterbacks after four seasons. But given how pass-reliant the NFL has become and how few QBs entering the league are prepared to start, that stat is almost meaningless.
In Tannehill's defense, he is on his third coach and fourth coordinator, and most quarterbacks are only as good as their supporting cast. Has the coaching and talent been good enough to take a true measure of his ability? The Dolphins don't think so, but that should change this year, because they've done everything they can to give Tannehill a chance to flourish.
That starts with the hiring of first-year coach Adam Gase, who developed the reputation as a quarterback whisperer at his previous stops as the offensive coordinator of the Bears (Jay Cutler) and the QB coach and later coordinator of the Broncos (Tim Tebow and Manning). Tannehill is at his best on the move and when plays break down, but he has struggled in the important presnap phase of the game. That requires not only getting the team into good plays and out of bad ones, but also anticipating what the defense will do and where he needs to deliver the ball. Gase has great expertise here, and he will provide Tannehill with hands-on instruction. "I feel great where he's at right now," Gase says. "It's not as easy as the guy that I've had before [Manning] made it look. It's a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of experience and we're going to have growing pains."
The Dolphins have beefed up the offensive line, one whose deficiencies contributed to Tannehill's being sacked 184 times in his first four seasons, the most of any quarterback over that period. Miami drafted Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil in the first round, but then retained former Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and moved Tunsil to left guard. Standout center Mike Pouncey anchors the protection, and former Saints Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod will battle it out at right guard with veterans Billy Turner and Kraig Urbik. Ja'Wuan James, a 2014 first-round pick, is solid at right tackle. Says Pouncey, in his sixth season in Miami, "This will be one of the first years in a long time we'll have depth going into the season."
Miami's ground game will rely on the oft-injured former All-Pro Arian Foster (free agent, Texans) and the inexperienced Jay Ajayi (49 carries last year as a fifth-round rookie). But Tannehill has plenty of capable receivers. Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Griff Whalen (free agent, Colts) and third-round pick Leonte Caroo (Rutgers) can threaten defenses long and short. Tight end Jordan Cameron is athletic and an effective red zone target.
The Dolphins signed Tannehill to a four-year, $95 million extension in May 2015, but they can walk away from the deal before next season (when his cap number balloons to $20.3 million) without much damage. One way or another, this will be the year Tannehill shows whether he's worthy of his starting job.
TAKE THIS GUY AWAY AND THE DEFENSE CRUMBLES
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's first year as a Dolphin was tumultuous—there were reports that the former Lion was deviating from the scheme, Miami played poorly, and the coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, was fired last October. Now Suh has a chance at a fresh start with new DC Vance Joseph, who has promised a more attack-oriented approach—which means more blitzing on third down. But to do that the Dolphins need to get stops on first and second down, and that's where the 6'4", 305-pound Suh comes in. In Joseph's 4--3, Suh will most likely often align on the same side as the tight end. Three blockers (the tight end, tackle and guard) will take on Suh and the defensive end, with Suh being the one who gets doubled. He's seen plenty of this in his career, and his best attribute is the power he uses to wear down opponents late in the play. Miami's system will be depending on it.
SI's 2016 Prediction: 7--9
2015 Record: 6--10
SEPT. 11 atSEA
SEPT. 18 atNE
SEPT. 25 vs.CLE [PREDICTED WINNER]
SEPT. 29 atCIN
OCT. 9 vs.TEN [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 16 vs.PIT [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 23 vs.BUF
NOV. 6 vs.NYJ [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 13 atSD
NOV. 20 atLA
NOV. 27 vs.SF [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 4 atBAL
DEC. 11 vs.ARI [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 17 atNYJ
DEC. 24 atBUF
JAN. 1 vs.NE [PREDICTED WINNER]
= PREDICTED WINNER