This is the age of the young quarterback. Buoyed by the draft class of 2012, we have a surplus of promising young signal-callers. Around The League and "NFL Total Access" will count down the top 10 quarterbacks 25 or under we'd want leading our franchise.
No. 7: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Why he's here
Look beyond the numbers. Tannehill was overshadowed among last year's preposterous rookie class, but the former Texas A&M wide receiver showed more promise than we usually see from any rookie quarterback in a given year. In baseball, Tannehill would be classified a five-tool player -- he has all the traits you look for.
Tannehill shows uncommon touch on a pass over the middle on the first play. He has a very strong arm, but a lot of young quarterbacks struggle to throw changeups depending on what's required for the play. Tannehill goes to his second read decisively on the next play and delivers a strike. Progression reads could be the toughest skill for a rookie quarterback to learn, and Tannehill improved throughout the year at it.
His vertical passes, like the long one to Brian Hartline in the highlight, come out of Tannehill's hands so easily. He generally does a great job stepping up in the pocket and creating space for himself when necessary. The final play on the reel was typical of Tannehill's season. He completed so many passes just before he got creamed by the pass rush -- I love that.
It's the little things about Tannehill that impress. He's not afraid to throw the ball into windows. (Pass interference often was his best play.) He changes plays at the line of scrimmage like a veteran. He usually makes quick decisions. Those traits got obscured for a variety of reasons last season, but Dolphins fans have every right to be thrilled about their quarterback selection. General manager Jeff Ireland got this one right.
Why he's not higher
Tannehill went through bouts with inaccuracy, especially toward the end of the season. (The slight second-half fade was discouraging.) There were too many loose throws, and they tended to come in bunches. (So did completions; he had a 19-of-22 stretch against the Jacksonville Jaguars.) Tannehill played his worst in many of his high-profile games: Versus the New England Patriots and on "Thursday Night Football" against the Buffalo Bills. That led to public perception about Tannehill not matching up with his level of play.
One of Tannehill's strengths -- his courage to make tough passes -- sometimes caught up to him. Like the throw to the right, he almost was too confident his teammates could win one-one-one matchups. (He also was occasionally too confident he could out-run a defender, too.) I'll take that aggression as a positive overall. His struggle to recognize blitzes also was notable but typical for a rookie.
In some ways, I'm projecting Tannehill's skills to a player on a team that provided better protection and a true speed threat on the outside. Adding Mike Wallace should at least help the second problem.
It's easy to forget that Tannehill was supposed to be "raw" as a rookie and possibly sit all year because of his lack of experience. Tannehill had just 20 starts at quarterback in college. He should be a long-term, mid-level starting quarterback at worst.
Tannehill's feet make a big difference. He can throw on the run in both directions. The plays below highlight his movement inside and outside of the pocket.
Like Ben Roethlisberger, Tannehill is a tough guy to take down because of his size. He evades pressure and naturally feels it around him. He also can out-run pressure, showing off his arm strength on the second throw.
Tannehill's five-year ceiling
The plan in Miami is not to be average. It's to end the Dolphins' long losing streak at quarterback. A career like Jay Cutler's feels like a worst-case scenario, which isn't so bad. Maybe it's because I watched Tannehill all year for my weekly rookie quarterback column. Maybe it's his lack of experience and skill set. I went all-in early on him -- as my ATL colleagues like to remind me -- and believe he'll benefit from NFL experience as much as any quarterback in his class.
It wouldn't shock me if Tannehill wound up eventually passing one or two of the big-name young quarterbacks in front of him. I don't see any big reason why Tannehill can't evolve into a top-five NFL quarterback. Spots on the bandwagon still are available.