Given the exploits of his successor in College Station — a certain Johnny Football — former Texas A&M University quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be accustomed to being unheralded and overshadowed. He is, after all, bereft of a snazzy nickname.
As he enters his second season with the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill has been excluded from inclusion into the ballyhooed "Gang of Four" club. Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson overcame preconceived notions of debilitating inexperience and led their teams to the playoffs as first-year starting NFL quarterbacks.
Tannehill cannot make that claim on his resume.
“I don’t compare myself to the other quarterbacks. It’s fun to watch them, fun to see them on tape when I can. But I don’t compare myself to them."
What Tannehill does have in common with Griffin III, Kaepernick, Luck and Wilson is the burden of greater expectations as a second-year starter. He shouldered a heavy load as a rookie and remained dutifully upright, performing at a level some might find surprising in retrospect.
Relying upon the Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement metric utilized by FootballOutsiders.com, Tannehill ranked 25th among the 39 quarterbacks who attempted a minimum of 100 passes in 2012. He narrowly outperformed venerated veterans Jay Cutler and Michael Vick. His production exceeded that of contemporaries Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden.
The confluence of his rookie statistics and his performance Saturday night in a 24-17 preseason loss to the Texans at Reliant Stadium reveals Tannehill as ascendant. At this stage he isn’t Griffin III, Kaepernick, Luck or Wilson, each of whom ranked above Tannehill in DYAR last year, but the Dolphins are fully committed to his talent, which is obviously abundant.
That Tannehill is determined to hold himself to an exacting standard offers another example of his similarities with the reputed Gang of Four.
“I have very high expectations on myself,” Tannehill said. “Just like missing a throw to (receiver) Mike (Wallace); yeah he caught it, we got a completion, but I’m not happy with that throw. And I want to continue to be tough on myself and grow as much as I can each week.”
NFL Quarterback Truths
Despite a narrative suggesting otherwise, serving as an NFL starting quarterback can provide a modicum of anonymity. The sheer volume of franchises lures casual fans into misremembering every signal caller entrusted with the reins of an offense. A cursory glance at his rookie stats — 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — might lead one to categorize Tannehill with the relatively indistinguishable Christian Ponder or the mystifying inconsistent Josh Freeman.
But one does not morph from former Aggies receiver into a Top 10 draft pick at quarterback without aplomb. And following a pedestrian start to this preseason leading the Dolphins’ first-team offense to just one score in seven possessions against Dallas and Jacksonville, Tannehill flashed the talent that intrigued Miami in the first place against the Texans.
Over five possessions Tannehill engineered two touchdown drives. He completed 10 of 15 attempts for 141 yards, displayed his dexterity on a couple nimble scrambles once the pocket collapsed, and finally got on the same page with Wallace, the Dolphins’ high-priced free-agent acquisition. When the Texans grabbed two seven-point leads in the first half, Tannehill led Miami on marches that produced immediate replies.
The Dolphins were so efficient on their initial scoring march that they didn’t face third down once. Tannehill and Wallace connected three times for 58 yards on that seven-play, 80-yard drive, including a nine-yard scoring strike where Tannehill fired a bullet between Texans starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning.
O ne does not morph from former Aggies receiver into a Top 10 draft pick at quarterback without aplomb.
In guiding Miami on an 11-play, 78-yard drive late in the second quarter, Tannehill overcame a sack that was a byproduct of his holding the ball too long and subsequently converted a third-and-14 with a 28-yard shuttle pass to Daniel Thomas. Two plays later the Dolphins found the end zone again, and while Miami sputtered due to five penalties, it parlayed both red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. That’s progress.
“I thought he played well. I thought he managed the game pretty well,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said of Tannehill. “His decision-making I thought was good. We had some big-play opportunities we missed.”
Criticism will accompany Tannehill every step along the way this season. The Dolphins invested $36 million of guaranteed money toward improving their receiving corps, signing receivers Wallace (five years, $60 million) and Brandon Gibson (three years, $9.755 million) and tight end Dustin Keller (one year, $4.25 million) to provide Tannehill targets.
And while Keller suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the second quarter, the fact remains that the Dolphins bolstered their offense to provide Tannehill the support he needs to take Miami to a place where Griffin III, Kaepernick, Luck and Wilson have led their respective franchises. If Tannehill is to join the conversation of breakthrough young quarterbacks, he needs to win now to do so.
Not everyone can claim a Heisman Trophy or adopt a catchy moniker.
“I don’t compare myself to the other quarterbacks,” Tannehill said. “It’s fun to watch them, fun to see them on tape when I can. But I don’t compare myself to them.
"I just try to control what I can control here in Miami and do everything I can to be a better quarterback.”