Why Ryan Tannehill Can Take the Next Step in 2014

Are the pieces in place for the Dolphins' young signal-caller to take a step forward this season?

Anytime I mention Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to one of my very good friends, he replies that Tannehill reminds him of two movies: White Men Can’t Jump (a reference more to his surprising rushing ability) and Failure To Launch.

As a staunch Tannehill defender, mainly in dynasty fantasy football circles, the second of the two offends me much more than the former. Some folks are of the mind that if a quarterback isn’t a high-level producer from the beginning, they won’t amount to much in their careers. I, however, believe much more in examining the trajectory of a player’s career as indicative of their likelihood of success; the more data we have to base our evaluations on, the more accurate they will be.

With Tannehill, we now have two years of results to draw on when peering into the future for his possible career path. That means it’s no longer just one dot in space that we’re making assumptions on; we can now draw a line and make judgments on its trajectory. If you’ll remember, we discussed Tannehill’s first two years in historical context back in May. Right now, however, we want to look ahead and see what course the young signal-caller in Miami is on, and where he should be headed when 2014 is in the books.

A Hard Knocks Life

We’ll examine Tannehill’s career thus far as only we know how here at numberFire: by using our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is a measure of how much a player improves the chances of his team scoring on any given play on a particular drive. For Tannehill, two types of NEP will be important to look into – Passing NEP and Rushing NEP. These describe the expected points gained solely on passes and rushes by a player, respectively. You can read more about NEP here.

The table below shows a concise snapshot of Tannehill’s passing and rushing career to this point, just to give you an idea of what we’re looking at.

YearDrop BacksPassing NEPPer Drop BackRushing NEPPer Attempt

It’s clear that Tannehill’s rookie season was fairly lackluster, as he finished 31st in the league in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with over 200 drop backs. If we put him in context with his rookie peers, however, Tannehill’s Passing NEP did rank in the top half – at 18th – of the 40 quarterbacks since 2000 who threw over 200 passes in their rookie season. Making up for some of this poor Passing NEP was a 15th-place rank in quarterback Rushing NEP, however, which is important to note in Tannehill’s skill set.

To be fair, you’d struggle if you had to be on an HBO show with Chad Ochocinco too.

Things started to shift the following year, though. 2013 saw Tanny retain the same rushing value, as his sustained Rushing NEP total suggests. Fascinatingly, though, Tannehill reached this mark in just over half the rushes he attempted in 2012, which almost doubled his Rushing NEP per attempt (a measure of efficiency in rushing value). As for Passing NEP, this took a sizable step forward in his second year, as Tannehill improved just over 20 points in the metric between his rookie and sophomore seasons. His ranking in the metric, too, improved to 25th in the league.

From volume to efficiency, total value to game tape, Tannehill took a decent step forward between his rookie and second seasons. Remember, too, all of this improvement came while having to deal with one of the worst offensive lines (15th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking, according to and least valuable run games in the league (leading rusher Lamar Miller ranked 29th in Rushing NEP among running backs with over 150 carries last year).

So why can’t he improve yet again in 2014?

A Lazor Show

Enter Bill Lazor, a certified quarterback guru from the accredited Chip Kelly ‘Blur’ School. Lazor will assume the mantle of offensive coordinator for the Dolphins this year after a major success implementing the fast-paced Oregon offense into the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. To put in context how drastically Philadelphia’s offense changed with the arrival of Kelly and Lazor, the table below depicts the Eagles’ Adjusted NEP between 2012 and 2013.

YearPass/Rush RatioAdj. Passing NEPRankAdj. Rushing NEPRank

This kind of NEP takes into account each player on the team’s contributions and adjusts the totals for the strength of the defenses faced. One can easily see that there was a massive resurgence in offensive value with the 2013 regime in Philly, but the league rankings make it clear just how much changed. In 2012, the Eagles ranked 27th in Adjusted Passing NEP and 29th in Adjusted Rushing NEP. In 2013, that shot up to ninth and first, respectively.

Bear in mind, this transition occurred without many massive personnel changes (they had essentially the same offensive line both years, and LeSean McCoy was their rusher in that dark season), excepting the advent and growth of a one Mr. Nick Foles. Foles, the Eagles quarterback, blossomed under Lazor’s tutelage in 2013, in a system custom-fit to his and his team’s strengths.

Stand and Deliver

Lazor’s kind of personalization and attention to ways to take pressure off the quarterback should greatly aid Tannehill in making a huge leap forward this year. From Tannehill’s own performance, it’s clear that his personal talent is advancing on its own, and was growing under a system that didn’t fit the pieces it had to work with. Now we get to see a chess grandmaster work with him and utilize his skills in the best way possible.

The blocking concepts Lazor brings over from Philadelphia should benefit a less-than-stellar line in keeping their oft-battered quarterback on his feet. Given the results with the 2013 Eagles, there will likely be a greater emphasis on the run. This, however, will also help to draw attention away from Tannehill and allow him to thrive in a fast-paced system. We may not see much more volume from Ryan Tannehill this year, but I expect his passing quality and efficiency to jump sky high, as his success finally takes off.