NFL Mocks’s Erik Lambert continues to churn out interesting pieces this offseason, and he decided to take a look at potential fantasy breakout stars for the 2014 season. Jordan Reed, whom I would argue already broke out as a rookie, and Justin Hunter, who has amazing physical tools, were two notable players on his list, but the biggest headliner on his list of five is Ryan Tannehill.
Aside from Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, I wouldn’t want to take any quarterback early in this year’s fantasy draft, because I think there are some great second-tier options. Jay Cutler (more on him as a fantasy option here and here) and Tannehill are two excellent options later on in the draft, and I would be shocked if Tannehill doesn’t have a big year, even if Bill Lazor emphasizes the running game more with an improved offensive line, veteran Knowshon Moreno, and underrated, electric starter Lamar Miller.
Tannehill just might be the most underrated quarterback in the NFL right now, and his ability to operate while under pressure is key. The Dolphins had an embarrassing offensive line last year, and that severely skewed Tannehill’s performance. He’s heading into this third year with an upgraded offensive coordinator (he was familiar with Mike Sherman, but the guy just wasn’t good enough at running an NFL offense), and we all know that year three is a huge one. Last season, Tannehill improved his completion percentage and TD:INT ratio despite being under pressure more often and not having the benefit of an adequate running game to keep defenses honest against the pass.
I think the Dolphins have one of the most impressive pass-catching groups in the NFL, and the dynamic weapons will surely help Tannehill put up some nice numbers. He’ll have more experience with Mike Wallace, and they should have better chemistry next season. Wallace will also do a better job of becoming a prime deep threat again. Brian Hartline and Tannehill are always on the same page, and his No. 2 receiver is one of the league’s most consistent.
Brandon Gibson‘s 2013 season was cut short by a season-ending injury, but he was playing at a high level before going down. Jarvis Landry will make an impact as a rookie, as the former LSU product draws Anquan Boldin comparisons due to his amazing hands, precise route-running, jump-ball ability, versatility (can line up inside or outside), and his short-area quickness makes up for a lack of long speed. In offseason workouts, he and Tannehill hooked up at a solid rate.
And those are just the wide receivers. You see, Tannehill also has a solid pass-catching back in Moreno, who caught 60 passes and showcased some of the best pass protection in the league at the running back position. Tight end Charles Clay can make mis-matches anywhere, and he catches passes out of the H-Back position in Dallas Clark fashion. When we interviewed New England Patriots standout free safety Devin McCourty, he told us that former Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall and current TE Clay are two incredibly difficult players to cover.
Clay had a monstrous breakout season last year, and he became the high-impact TE the Dolphins have been pining hard for after drafting Michael Egnew and hoping he would work out. With 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns, he established himself as a staple on the Dolphins offense, but his most important contributions could be freeing up other players and confusing defenses. Versatile, pass-catching TEs who can make big plays are some of the most valuable players in the game, and they are a key feature of some of the league’s top offenses (Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions with Zach Ertz and Eric Ebron).
With better pass protection, a healthy Gibson, a new possession receiver in Landry, and more experience with Wallace, Tannehill will undoubtedly improve on his 6.7 yards per attempt average. He’s also going to have a better situation around him in the Dolphins organization and has surely become a better player himself as he heads into a critical third season. I would chalk up Tannehill as a big fantasy sleeper, and I think he’ll make us remember that there were a handful of talented QBs to come out of his draft class. Honestly, his breakout could match Nick Foles‘s, who spent his 2013 season under Lazor.
For those of you who play fantasy football, I wouldn’t recommend drafting Tannehill as your starter, but he’s a great late-round sleeper to pick up due to his upside. He plays on an offense with five legitimate weapons, as well as a running back who can be used as a nice safety valve.
There are, of course, things Tannehill needs to do in order to put himself in a position to break out, because he has a few flaws to his game that have also held him back. His lack of accuracy on deep throws is concerning when combined with 17 interceptions and a completion percentage under 61%, so he will either have to become more consistent or generate more plays. That said, it’s almost unfair to ask a QB behind a dumpster fire offensive line to be accurate downfield, since the reality is that it’s difficult to find time to make those passes. Plus, the line prevented an adequate running game from developing, which in turn allowed defenses to have an easier time providing the man power to stifle deep throws. The Wallace-Tannehill connection may be lacking, but it might have more to do with a trickle-down effect created by the offensive line.
His numbers were below-average across the board last season compared to league averages at QB, but the upticks in accuracy and decision-making that will result from better line play and his own development as a QB should allow him to make full use of the talent around him and fulfill his potential as a true franchise QB in 2014. At this point, I will be very surprised if he doesn’t put together a solid season that gives the Dolphins organization even more hope for the future.