Scouting the Dolphins: Can Tannehill become elite?

Scouting the Dolphins: Can Tannehill become elite?
October 3, 2013, 11:00 am
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Stop me if you've heard this before: A quarterback selected in the first round of the draft immediately becomes the team's starter.  His seemingly limitless potential is tempered by inconsistency and mistakes. And fans and media alike debate whether that quarterback can ever rise to the level of 'elite.'

Just as the Ravens did in 2008 with Joe Flacco, the Dolphins handed the keys to its offense to Ryan Tannehill as a rookie last season. And the Dolphins, whom the Ravens will face in Miami on Sunday, will go as far as Tannehill can take them.

Tannehill was the third quarterback taken in the 2012 draft -- Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went No. 1 and No. 2 overall -- and was reunited in Miami with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was his head coach at Texas A&M.

Tannehill, who played wide receiver his first two years in college, has the size (6-4, 222) to be a pocket passer but also has the ability to run. He is known for a strong, accurate arm and a quick release.

"He’s a great athlete, first of all," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. "He can run. He’s done a great job with the timing routes. He’s got a good arm. I’m really impressed with the fact that he stands in there. He’ll stand in there, and he’ll make tough throws under pressure, take hits, and he’s accurate.”

But Tannehill has also been prone to mistakes. In 20 career NFL games, he has thrown 18 interceptions and has fumbled 15 times, losing seven. In the Dolphins' 38-17 loss to the Saints on Monday night, Tannehill was intercepted three times and lost a fumble.

The Dolphins went out this offseason and got Tannehill some new weapons in former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace and former Jets tight end Dustin Keller, though Keller is out for the season with a knee injury.

Tannehill, like Flacco, became a starter from Day One and now has 20 games under his NFL belt. Incidentally, he is 10-10 in those games; Flacco was 14-6 in his first 20 regular-season starts.

Given their career parallels, Flacco is perhaps most qualified to gauge Tannehill's progress.

"The biggest thing with a young quarterback is that when you get back in the film room is, is he making the right decisions?" Flacco said in a conference call with Miami media on Wednesday. "Is he going to the right places with the football, and is he getting the offense into the right plays? If he’s doing those things, then I would say that they’d have to feel really comfortable with where their progression is and where they’re headed.”