Recently on Twitter, someone asked me if it was time to cut bait on Ryan Tannehill. I’m sorry, what? Are we talking about the same player who, after a rough 1-4 start in his first five games under a brand new Adam Gase-led offense, went 7-1 over his final eight games of the season to help push the Dolphins to just their second playoff appearance since 2002? With a completion percentage of 69% and 13 TDs to just five interceptions over that same span?
People seem to treat Tannehill like he had a terrible season last year. The reality was he was halted in the midst of his best stretch of QB play ever. In 2017, he didn’t play bad at all, he just didn’t play, period! I feel like I am one of the last people standing on the island of Ryan Tannehill supporters. It’s getting lonely and I’d like to change that.
This offense is sure to look a lot different in 2018. The team leaders in pass attempts, rush attempts and targets have all left the building. I don’t know how often that has occurred in the history of the NFL but I have to imagine it’s quite a rare occurrence.
The most notable subtraction was, of course, the league leader in receptions last year, Jarvis Landry. Jay Cutler was always just a one-year placeholder for Tannehill and after a pretty bad season, it was easy to move on. Jay Ajayi led the team in rush attempts but was traded midseason. For whatever reason, he wasn’t a fit with Gase’s system and played far better in Philly. The team also moved on from tight end Julius Thomas and backup running back Damien Williams.
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Who’s New in Miami?
The players Miami has brought on haven’t exactly been big names that draw attention, but I believe they add enough to what Miami already has to make this a very potent offense. The ageless wonder Frank Gore managed to put up 1,200 yards from scrimmage working behind one of the worst offensive lines in football and playing with a backup QB. He is still surprisingly capable in all facets of his game. With Kenyan Drake’s emergence last year, I don’t think we are looking at Gore as a 250-carry player anymore. It’s bad for fantasy, but an RBBC should be the most productive for Tannehill and the Dolphins.
The one huge addition to the offense is on the offensive line where Florida born Josh Sitton returns to the state he grew up in and went to college. Sitton was PFF’s fifth-highest graded guard last year. He may be slightly older at 31, but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. His presence will help an offensive line that I believe was already set to take a step forward. Tackle Ja’Wuan James was a former first rounder who PFF graded very highly in eight games before injury.
At center, the team moved from Mike Pouncey to Daniel Kilgore which I think is a lateral move. Laremy Tunsil was drafted 13th overall in 2016 and played okay last year but will be the key to just how good this offensive line can be. Overall, with the signing of Sitton and the return of James, this line is absolutely improved for 2018. If Tunsil takes a step forward, the line may even be one of the better units in the NFL.
At receiver, the team will try to replace Jarvis Landry with oft-injured and older than I realized (32, turns 33 midseason!) Danny Amendola. With New England, Amendola emerged as one of the premier possession receivers in the game when healthy. He led all WRs in catch percentage from 2015-2017 at 73.8%. Landry was near the top but still a considerable drop from Amendola at 69.0% over that same span. Amendola had a monster postseason with a 26-348-2 line on 38 targets. The problem is that he hasn’t seen 100 targets since 2012. This is in large part due to the fact that he gets banged up when seeing more volume. If he can stay healthy, he can surprise many people with his production.
The team also added Albert Wilson. He was mostly a backup in Kansas City but played well. Wilson was given a chance to shine in week 17 of last year when the Chiefs benched their starters. He flourished as Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target and put up a line of 10-147-0 on 11 targets. He’ll now get a real chance to be a regular starter after receiving a hefty three-year, 24 million dollar contract.
At tight end, they added rookie Mike Gesicki in the second round and I’m really excited about that. Gesicki is an athletic freak with the highest SPARQ score among TEs in the entire four-year database. Number two? George Kittle, a tight end who really exceeded all expectations last year. Gesicki is taller, more athletic than Kittle and actually put up numbers in college. Excuse me while I take a moment to stop drooling.
Lastly, they added RB Kalen Ballage in the fourth round of the draft. Ballage is a big dude (6’3” 230 lbs) with a lot of speed (4.46) but is probably best suited to a pass-catching role in the NFL. He caught 64 passes over the last two seasons and had a really nice 44-469-1 line in 2016. Kenyan Drake had some nice plays as a receiver but 5 drops on just 43 targets aren’t going to cut it. Ballage should be able to step in and help the passing game right away.
The Holdovers From 2017
That is a lot of additions to make on one side of the ball in a single off-season. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the few skill position players that are returning. I still really like DeVante Parker and the aforementioned Kenyan Drake as well. I am not so much a Kenny Stills fan but he does have fantastic speed, a valuable asset to any offense.
Parker has been a fantasy tease throughout the first three seasons of his career. There are still believers though, as his April ADP remained a robust 67th overall, WR33. Although he has only missed five games in his career it sure feels like he was banged up a lot more than that.
He was still a bit inconsistent in 2017, but I will argue that Parker took a clear step forward. He had 60 or more yards in eight games last year despite playing in just 13. Parker played just three snaps in one of those games against the Titans before leaving with an injury. Taking that out makes it eight out of 12 which is really quite an impressive number! He also finished the season strong with 21 recs for 256 yards over the final four games. That would have been good for an 84 rec, 1,024-yard season pace. It all went under the radar because Parker managed to score just one touchdown. That number is sure to increase. If Parker stays healthy, he could still be the difference maker the Dolphins expected when they drafted him in the first round.
Kenyan Drake had a fantastic season after the Jay Ajayi trade. He put up 819 yards from scrimmage over the final nine games. Drake was RB15 in PPG over that span with a 5.0 YPC and six games of 90+ yards. He was also second in the league from week nine on with seven runs of 20+ yards. He’s almost certainly not going to be a workhorse back after the additions to the RB corps, but he should still lead the backfield with the potential to break off a big run in any game.
What It All Means for Tannehill
What can Ryan Tannehill accomplish with all of this? In 2016, this was a low volume pass offense that finished 31st in pass attempts. It’s hard to be fantasy relevant in that scenario and Tannehill was just QB24 in PPG that season. He was an improved QB18 over his final seven games which is quite impressive given the lack of passing that team did.
Last year the team was thrown a curveball and had to adapt on the fly. With the trade of Ajayi midseason, this led to a gigantic increase of 125 pass attempts, fourth-most in the league. Now that Gase will have his QB back and some semblance of a run game that he can trust, the number should fall somewhere in the middle.
Tannehill hit several career highs in 2016. Completion percentage, touchdown percentage and adjusted net yards per passing attempt (ANY/A) – my favorite all-encompassing stat for a QB – were all Tannehill’s career bests. On the flip side, he did have a career-worst interception percentage and his lowest yards per game since his rookie season – a product of the low volume offense. The majority of his interceptions came in the first five games. After that, he sat at a 2.1% rate, pretty much spot on with his previous two seasons at 2.0%.
The 2016 Dolphins were very young and inexperienced on offense. The top six targets on the team were all 25 and under. That comprised over 85% of the team’s total targets. The same goes for the run game. Frank Gore and Danny Amendola provide veteran experience while DeVante Parker is now in his fourth season. The 2018 Dolphins may not have Jarvis Landry but they have far greater depth.
I just pulled up Ryan Tannehill’s April ADP and I was shocked at just how low it was. He was undrafted in four mocks with an ADP of QB31. I get that we are in the midst of rookie season and this is a hyped class for the position but QB31? I’d take him over starters such as Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor for sure. I’d take the 30-year-old Tannehill over older players such as Alex Smith (34), Ben Roethlisberger (36) and Philip Rivers (36, 37 by season’s end). I actually like him more than Derek Carr as well, a QB who finished just QB24 last year in PPG – worse than Tannehill in 2016 before everyone left him for dead.
I’m willing to guarantee that Tannehill finishes no worse than QB20 in PPG in 2018. That would make him a quality QB2 in any superflex league. I think he has the ceiling of a low-end QB1. Tannehill (along with perhaps Andy Dalton) is the cheapest QB that has total job security for 2018. He’s now entering his third season in this offense. When he returns from injury he will have complete familiarity with the playbook and a roster that may lack studs but is loaded with guys that can produce.
The Dolphins spent the off-season investing in every unit on offense to build around Tannehill. No matter what direction you are heading with your dynasty team, anyone in a superflex league could use another starting QB. He’s dirt cheap and right now, Ryan Tannehill is the best QB value in dynasty football.
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