In my weekly column, we take a long look at two or three rookies. I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this series by looking back at Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon after their week five games:
Ryan Tannehill, QB MIA
Here were my original thoughts on Tannehill in college: I went back and re-watched his 2011 games against Arkansas and Iowa State. One can certainly tell that Ryan Tannehill is still a bit raw at the position after playing less than two seasons as the starting quarterback; however, he was a converted wide receiver so he understands route running and can use his eyes and pump fakes to help set up defenses so his receivers get open.
Tannehill is a very athletic quarterback who reads defenses well when he rolls out, has good pocket presence, finds a way to put the ball where only the receiver can get to it and is accurate within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. He makes an effort to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Tannehill’s accuracy suffers greatly after 20 yards as his long ball tends to float as he doesn’t seem to set his feet as well when dropping straight back.
This past week against the Bengals, I saw a more seasoned quarterback: He appears to be older when you watch him in the pocket. The defensive linemen and linebackers closed in towards him while he stood steady and kept his eyes focused down the field. The majority of the time this paid off as he made the necessary completions and kept Dolphin drives from stalling. During the first series, Tannehill didn’t feel pressure and was sacked. For the rest of the game, he used the Bengal blitzes against them. By focusing where the defense couldn’t protect, he found open seams to exploit.
The accuracy of his throws in the box score (65%) do not do him justice. By putting the ball where only his receiver could make a play, he kept the Dolphins moving down the field. Brian Hartline was once again was his top receiver, but was unable to top his 12 receptions for 253 yard performance from the previous week – Hartline managed to catch four of his five targets for 59 yards. Tannehill shredded triple coverage to squeeze the ball that kept a drive going to the former Buckeye receiver.
The seldomly heard from FB/TE Charles Clay pulled in three catches for 35 yards and was the recipient of a threaded needle pass from the young quarterback on a third and ten that kept the drive alive. Tannehill attempted to get Davone Bess involved more in the passing game, but Bess could only muster two receptions on six targets. His completion percentage of 57% should increase to closer to the 63% range for the year. I think he can support close to the 250 yards passing a game that he has averaged, but he needs to throw more touchdowns. Hopefully, a few more running plays can be developed as his 13 carries for 12 yards and a touchdown is pathetic and nearly Dan Marino-like rushing numbers.
If you compare Tannehill to his fellow first round rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, he will fall short in athletic gifts and surrounding offensive playmakers. I’m not convinced that he will ever be a top 12 dynasty quarterback, especially if the only two weapons Miami gives him are Reggie Bush and Hartline in Miami. He has his college head coach as his offensive coordinator so he can only grow as an NFL player. I compared him to a cross between Jeff Garcia and Alex Smith, but I think he can be better than them.
Tannehill is a strong QB2 in a dynasty league. Imagine what he could do with a true number one wide receiver, Bess, Hartline, and a strong running game if they re-sign Bush. I think what will keep him from ever being truly elite is Miami’s strong defense that will not force them into shootouts. You might be able to get him at QB3 prices, so make your deals for him before the rest of your league reads this.
Justin Blackmon, WR JAX
Here were my original thoughts on Blackmon in college: After re-watching last year’s games against Stanford and Kansas State, I came away impressed. Blackmon is a quick receiver with an amazing catch radius which will come in handy with the raw play of Gabbert. He has an effective spin move, breaks tackles and uses his body to shield defenders away from the ball well.
He is not the biggest, nor the fastest wide receiver in this year’s draft; however, Blackmon is the best play maker of his class despite his measurables. He has tremendous hands, this class’ best body control to contort to the ball, and can gain separation against defensive backs. The downside is that Blackmon isn’t a physical wide receiver at only 6′ 1″, 207 lbs and can be out-muscled by more imposing defensive backs.
This past week against the Bears, I saw a frustrated wide receiver: Blackmon seemed to be bothered on Sunday with his mediocre three catches for 40 yards. It wasn’t for a lack of targets, as he received eight of them, but many of those were all over the place. He was forced to play defense on two bad throws by Blaine Gabbert. The young wide receiver knocked the ball away from his defender’s out-stretched hands to prevent the interception. The chemistry was off between he and Gabbert as it seemed like the wide receiver was running a route that the quarterback didn’t expect him to run.
Blackmon demonstrated the same toughness that we saw in college. He did well battling defensive backs and fighting off physical press coverage. Early in the game, he ran a sharp sideline route, spun away from contact and delivered a blow to the defender to get a first down. Jacksonville did a good job lining him up all over the place to get him different coverage as he even lined up at full back on one play – this got him a free release into the defensive backfield.
He continues to show off his amazing catch radius by getting to the hard to bring down passes. He isn’t afraid to lay his body out and sky up to catch a poorly thrown ball. Once again, he uses his body to shield the defender away from the ball so only he can catch the ball. The Jaguars entire offense seems to be held back by Gabbert. MJD is struggling and Blackmon will too, as long as the quarterback situation remains the same. Out of the 33 targets, he has only caught 13 of them. Perhaps with a change to Chad Henne, this percentage can change; however, until that happens, consider Blackmon a dynasty WR4. I’m not sure he will ever be more than a WR3 as he is more Derrick Mason (possession wide receiver) than Reggie Wayne (a wide receiver who demands double coverage).