Readdressing Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill’s main criticisms

Tannehill warms up pre-game - Image by Brian Miller
Tannehill warms up pre-game - Image by Brian Miller /

There have been many criticisms about the Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. After the 10-6 winning 2016/17 season under new coach Adam Gase, is it time to readdress these long-standing opinions of Ryan Tannehill’s career, so far?

Drafted in 2012, Ryan Tannehill has been the quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for 5 seasons. In this time he has played 77 games for the Miami Dolphins. NFL

  • 112 TD (total)
  • 83 (turnovers)
  • 18,455 (pass yds)

This is not a persuasive article for or against Ryan Tannehill as the Miami Dolphins quarterback. This is more about you as a reader determining whether or not the criticisms of Tannehill are valid, if my response to these criticisms are “excuses”, or legitimate variables that effect the perception of Tannehill as the Miami Dolphins quarterback.

There are still questions about whether the Dolphins should acquire a quarterback to replace Tannehill either through trade, free agency, or draft. Let’s discern between what are fair criticisms about Tannehill’s game, what we are projecting onto him by comparison, or what can be contributed to the team’s performance throughout Tannehill’s time as the Miami Dolphins quarterback.

Can’t throw the deep ball

After Tannehill started a few games in his 2012-13 season, questions of his ability to throw an accurate deep ball began to arise. Either Tannehill couldn’t hit open receivers or does not have the touch needed.

  • Response

According to the Deep Ball Project on Ryan Tannehill’s 2016-17 season

"His accuracy on throws 20+ yds was 61%., 2nd highest (only behind Derek Carr)"

The question you should ask yourself is “If you can’t, can you learn to throw a deep ball?” If you think that you either have the touch to throw a deep ball or you don’t, then Tannehill’s 2016/17 season is attributed to other factors (better receiver play, fewer big plays called, luck). Others think you can learn to throw a deep ball as long as you are coached properly (throwing to markers on the field, footwork, cleaner pocket, chemistry with receivers). Is it innate or a learned ability? Do you think Tannehill improved his deep ball throws? What do you attribute that to if he has?

Throughout Tannehill’s career there have been throws that show both good and bad deep ball accuracy. The over/underthrows to an open Mike Wallace down the field run fresh through my mind. Even so, after this past 2016/17 season you’ve got to revisit how you feel about Tannehill’s “ability” to throw a deep ball. You’ve seen Tannehill hit Kenny Stills for a 39-yard TD pass right on the money in the Dolphins vs Chargers game this past season or the 49-yard bomb to Devante Parker as Tannehill is getting hit in the Dolphins vs Titans game. I make mention of these throws only because they were tough throws to make and are examples of possible growth in Tannehill. By no means does this stop the questions about his deep ball but this should at the very least be something to reconsider about his struggle to throw a deep ball. Also, by its nature, deep balls are inaccurate because…….physics.

Pocket presence

Over the seasons, its been noted that Tannehill struggles to feel pressure and has contributed to the high number of times he has been sacked. Tannehill has been sacked, by season, 35, 58, 46, 45, 29 for a total of 213 times since entering the league in 2012. NFL

  • Response

Watching the games it is a legitimate question to ask about Tannehill’s awareness in the pocket. There have been times where he has held on to the ball too long or kept his eyes down field without ever looking around the pocket for any breakdowns and avoid taking a sack. This past season though, his sack total was the lowest its been since his rookie season. Chalk it up to a shortened season, switching to a more run-centric offense, or maybe a more healthy offensive line. The fact that all of these variables could be the reason for the lower sack number is enough to bring context to this criticism. Considering the fluctuations in the health of the offensive line, poor performance, or running a different offense, critiquing Tannehill’s pocket presence is difficult to do.

The “It” factor”

The much alluded “It factor”. The umbrella term used to give value to the varying intangibles that a player possesses. The detailed nuances that accompany a position, in this case, the quarterback position. Making “clutch” passes in difficult situations; third/fourth downs, breaking the pocket for 1st downs, avoiding the rush, buying time in the pocket, hail mary passes, and 4th quarter drives. All of these moments are looked upon as plays only quarterbacks with the “It factor” can accomplish, routinely.

  • Response

Tannehill does not have a history of routinely executing in those moments deemed “clutch”, by his critics. 3rd down efficiency and 4th qtr QBR/passer rating are the statistical numbers the critics like to point to as empirical data to infer his lack of the “It factor”.

Below is the Miami Dolphins 3rd down efficiency and 4th qtr QBR from

Season               3rd %               Ranking               4th QBR               Ranking

2012                  37.7%                16th                     83.4                      18th

2013                  35%                    23rd                     59.2                      30th

2014                  40%                    17th                     80.5                      22nd

2015                  30.7%                 30th                     85.4                     19th

2016                  36.7%                 25th                     90.1                     14th

The biggest issue in determining if a quarterback has the “It factor” is that it can only be indirectly supported by “stats”. Using “3rd down efficiency” or 4th qtr QBR/passer rating are stats based on systems that take into account if the play succeeds or fails. Football is a team sport. I find it foolhardy to use these stats to reinforce the narrative that a quarterback is “clutch”, in this instance.

There are more moments when Tannehill failed to avoid the rusher, break the pocket, or make the pass to win the game then there are of him making a “clutch” play. Although you can say this about every quarterback ever. Logic dictates if Tannehill is capable of executing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Devante Parker with 39 sec left in the 4th qtr against the Rams or where he avoided a sack and delivered a 53-yard bomb to MarQueis Gray, then Tannehill does in fact possess the “It factor” to some degree. There are more to “clutch” moments in football then putting the responsibility of success on an individual player, in any position in football.


I understand that it seems as though I’m only stating recent moments where Ryan Tannehill executed plays successfully but, if all that makes a player good is a history of success, then there is no room for any player in football to become great. Our perceptions are shaped by our experiences and influences. We tend to romanticize those players we deem great and forget the oversights. Then we draw arbitrary lines to separate successes and failures among these individuals playing a game meant to facilitate synergistic goals. If you take these criticisms and put them into context you’ll find that your perception might be different then you initially realized.

Ryan Tannehill is starting his second season under Adam Gase’s offense. So far, every season Tannehill has played for the Miami Dolphins he has shown improvement in some aspect of his game that has been criticized. He is far from elite, but aren’t you the least bit curious to see how Tannehill might improve this upcoming season?