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Making the Leap, No. 1: Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 1 on the list: Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Why Tannehill is on the list


We're down to No. 1.

Tannehill was an easy choice to cap our summerlong "Making the Leap" series.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman predicted his young passer "will be the most improved quarterback in the National Football League from Year 1 to Year 2."

That's not so hard to fathom. When Miami made Tannehill the eighth-overall draft pick in 2012, most draft experts anticipated a raw project headed for a red-shirt season. With just 20 college starts at Texas A&M, Tannehill wasn't forecast to win the Dolphins job as a rookie. He wasn't expected to play with such confidence or do so many of the little things well, either, but he did. And that's why Tannehill's here at No. 1.

Mike Wallace praised Tannehill's "cannon arm," but what I love most about his rookie year shines through on this 24-yard strike to Charles Clay against the Bengals. With Vontaze Burfict closing in, Tannehill stood his ground and fired an accurate ball downfield.

That's pocket presence. So many young passers struggle against heat, but Tannehill showed poise in a muddied pocket. He completed 50.8 percent of his passes under pressure, seventh best in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus. Remove dropped passes, and that figure jumped to 72.9 percent, second only to Robert Griffin III.

If you can string together completions under fire, you have a future in the NFL.

Few questioned Tannehill's athleticism coming out of Texas A&M. He made plays last season that can't be taught. This designed run against the Bills shouldn't have gone for a first down, but Tannehill blew past one Buffalo would-be tackler after the next.

Tannehill has the arm strength required of an NFL starter. He makes throws across his body and isn't afraid to carve the ball into tight spaces. His footwork was impressive, and Tannehill cut down on his mistakes as the season wound on. After throwing nine interceptions in his first nine starts, he threw just four the rest of the way.

There's plenty to like about what Tannehill accomplished as a rookie, and no reason to call it a fluke.

Obstacles


Tannehill goes into this season behind an offensive line in search of itself.

General manager Jeff Ireland surrounded his young passer with proven targets in Wallace and Dustin Keller, but Miami's front five is a work in progress. Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin -- flipping to the left side -- has earned shaky reviews as Tannehill's blindside protector. The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero reported that Martin has been manhandled and "owned" in camp.

"It has been eye-popping to see the extent of the domination because we're not talking about a sack some days but not others," wrote Salguero, "We're talking sack followed by sack followed by other sacks."

Outside of center Mike Pouncey, it's possible the Dolphins could have four linemen playing in new positions this season. Guard Richie Incognito told The Palm Beach Post in late July, "It's still early ... But I think if we're having this conversation on Aug. 31, then that's the time to worry."

As for Tannehill's play, it's fair to demand fewer mistakes in Year 2. Confidence in his own abilities created occasional issues last season, as Tannehill fell victim to interceptions like the one above to LaRon Landry. He's too slow unloading the ball on this play, and he puts his receiver in a no-win situation. Considering Miami fell to the Jets 23-20 in overtime, Tannehill's poor decision-making can be viewed as the difference.

2013 expectations


After last season, Ireland said his quarterback still had a "long way to go." Tannehill responded by locking himself away to review every snap of his rookie campaign. "I definitely expect to improve," he told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington.

Tannehill told USA Today, "I couldn't really step out and be the leader I wanted to be" as a rookie, but the training wheels are off. His teammates have praised Tannehill's work ethic, maturity and production in practice. He went a week without an interception in training camp and seems uncowed by the big stage.

Dolphins fans have waited for a quarterback since Dan Marino exited stage left. Tannehill, already a solid starter, has the chance to be a top-10 arm in 2013. "(He) works like somebody who wants to be great," a team source told The Phinsider, "and who wants to be a part of something special."

Ryan Tannehill can be that guy.

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