The narrative of Ryan Tannehill's career up until this season was a story that began with promise, but ultimately ended where disappointment and regret collide.
It went something like this: The former wide receiver, who transitioned to quarterback at Texas A&M before the Dolphins selected him with the eighth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, was repeatedly on the cusp of becoming the franchise quarterback Miami has been so desperate for since the days of Dan Marino, but he always failed to make the leap. The narrative said that if (alleged) quarterback whisperer and offensive guru Adam Gase couldn't fix Tannehill, nobody could. It said that Tannehill's failure to ascend ultimately cost Gase his job in Miami. And so, the Dolphins finally decided they'd seen enough from Tannehill. In March, they shipped him off to Nashville, where Tannehill took on the role of backup to Marcus Mariota, even though the Dolphins didn't have a viable option to replace him.
Tannehill, the Titans' QB1 since Week 7 after Mariota finally lost his grip on the starting job, appears to be in the process of rewriting that narrative -- and it doesn't hurt that Gase's first year in New York with Sam Darnold has been, at times, a disaster. It's only been five starts, but in those five starts, Tannehill has played like a top-10 quarterback of the 2019 season. As a result, he's playing himself into a starting job next year, whether that be in Nashville with the Titans or in Chicago with the Bears or with any of the other franchises that are so desperate for an upgrade at quarterback.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'm overreacting. That the same size is too small to declare Tannehill a top-10 quarterback. You're not wrong. It has only been five starts. This shouldn't be, by any means, considered a prediction that Tannehill will go on to become the next Marino or sustain his current run of play. It's merely an evaluation of how Tannehill has played since he replaced Mariota. It's giving credit where credit is due.
In his five starts, Tannehill has completed 71 percent of his passes, averaged 255.2 yards per game, thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, and accumulated a 114.9 passer rating. What's particularly impressive is that he's averaged 9.3 yards per attempt as the starter. His career yards per attempt prior to this season rested at 7.0. That's a drastic and shocking improvement for a quarterback who entered the NFL the same season Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a championship and Adrian Peterson won MVP with the Vikings.
So, what's changed? For one, Tannehill is throwing the ball downfield more frequently. He's averaging 9.2 air yards per attempt, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Only five quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes -- throw the ball deeper on average and three of those quarterbacks are in the MVP conversation (not to mention, Stafford was playing at an MVP level before an injury wrecked his season). Last season with Gase in Miami, Tannehill averaged 7.9 air yards per attempt. In 2016 (we're skipping 2017 because he missed the entire season with a torn ACL), he averaged 8.1 air yards per attempt.
Even though he's pushing the ball downfield, his accuracy hasn't suffered. His 71 completion percentage as a starter is 8.2 percent higher than his career completion percentage coming into this season. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he leads the league in completion percentage above expectation at 9.4 percent. The next closest quarterback? Kirk Cousins, another quarterback on the fringes of the MVP race, at 7.2 percent. By that measure, Tannehill's been the most accurate quarterback in football by a wide margin.
The Titans deserve credit for designing a quarterback-friendly offense. That might sound obvious and not worthy of praise, but it's not like every team does that -- we're looking at you, Dallas. Crucially, Tannehill's athleticism has been weaponized. He's already rushed for three touchdowns and eight first downs.
He used his legs to pick up a first down on the Titans' first snap on Sunday.
Later, he scored a touchdown with his legs. And it was awesome.
But he's not overly reliant on his legs like, say, Josh Allen. Notice in the play below how he kept his eyes downfield even while he navigated a treacherous pocket. He wound up finding Adam Humphries for an 8-yard gain in the red zone. It was an understated yet brilliant play.
Something should stick out about all three of those plays. They came off play-action. With Tannehill, the Titans have smartly used play-action at a high clip. And it's working, which should come as no surprise given play-action works well with almost any quarterback.
Citing data from Pro Football Focus, The Ringer's Danny Kelly noted earlier this week that Tannehill has posted a 123.2 passer rating (seventh) and is averaging 13.3 yards per attempt on play-action passes. According to The Ringer's Robert Mays, the Titans used play-action against the Jaguars on 64 percent of Tannehill's dropbacks. On those plays, Tannehill went a perfect 10 of 10 and averaged 21.9 yards per attempt.
Below, note his timing and ball placement, which prevented the underneath defender from deflecting the pass and allowed his target to make a catch without breaking stride, affording him the opportunity to pick up yards after the catch:
It hasn't been all good, of course. Nobody is saying Tannehill is suddenly Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson. His interception rate of 2.6 ranks as the 10th highest. In the interest of preemptively responding to those who will watch the clips above and say something about cherrypicking, here's a downfield miss from Sunday's game that might've resulted in a touchdown if Tannehill hadn't overthrown it.
But Tannehill is playing like a top-10 quarterback right now. He hasn't played enough to qualify for most of Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, but if he did qualify, he'd rank sixth in DVOA, which measures value per play. Also of note: He's doing all of this behind the league's worst pass-blocking offensive line. Only Mariota has been sacked at a higher rate than Tannehill.
As a result of Tannehill's ascent, the Titans are a scoring machine. They're averaging 29.4 points per game with Tannehill as their starter. As a result of their offensive outburst, they're suddenly in the playoff mix. They've won four of their five games with Tannehill to boost their record to 6-5. They have the same record as the Steelers, who occupy the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, and they're only a game behind the Texans for first place in the AFC South.
Perhaps more importantly, at least for Tannehill, he's proven that he deserves a chance to start somewhere next year. With so many teams looking for upgrades at the sport's most important position, he should get that chance -- the chance to keep playing football and in the process, finish rewriting the narrative of his career.
In this week's edition of quarterback power rankings, I have Tannehill ranked No. 10. That's partly due to the horrific week so many quarterbacks endured -- such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Carson Wentz -- but it's also due to Tannehill himself.
Before we move onto the rest of the power rankings, a reminder of the rules:
- One quarterback per team. Whichever quarterback started in Week 12 will be the quarterback selected.
- Recent success matters more than past success. These are power rankings. That's why you won't see Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, at No. 1. We're valuing performances this season more than performances in previous seasons. We're valuing performances last week more than performances four weeks ago. As a result, don't be surprised if the rankings fluctuate in a major way each week.
- But reputation and history do matter, because they're tools we're using to predict future success. All-time greats get a bit of a boost.
- There's more to the rankings than wins and losses. Wins are not a quarterback stat. While we're definitely taking into account wins and losses, it's not the only thing that matters. You'll see a ton of other stats listed -- like DYAR, DVOA, and total QBR. For an explainer on those stats, click right here. Yes, the eye test matters too.
Onto the rankings.
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
| In his past four games, Jackson is completing 76.2 percent of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt, and has thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's also rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns in that span. Against the Rams, he led the Ravens to touchdowns on all six of his drives before spending yet another fourth quarter on the sidelines. He's the frontrunner for MVP and the league's best quarterback right now. |
Last week: 1
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
| By his standards, Wilson struggled against the Eagles. But because Mahomes was on his bye and because Dak Prescott wasn't particularly good against the Patriots, Wilson gets to move up one spot. He's been the second-best quarterback, behind only Jackson, for the entire season. And he's not quite dead yet in the MVP race. He does, however, need Jackson to suffer a bad outing at least once between now and January. |
Last week: 3
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
| If not for the injury that cost him nearly three full games, Mahomes would be a factor in the MVP race. There's an argument to be made that he's actually been the best quarterback in the league this season. By DVOA, which measures value per play, he ranks first. And he's second to only Jackson in total QBR. |
Last week: 4
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
| It's not all Prescott's fault. His coaching staff is also to blame. If the Cowboys hadn't settled for a field goal in the fourth quarter and had let their quarterback go for a tying touchdown, we might be talking very differently about his otherwise meh performance against the Patriots' top-ranked defense. Similarly, if the officials didn't throw that stupid flag for tripping and if his fourth down pass hadn't been dropped, we might be talking about his game-winning drive in Foxborough, which would've served as his MVP moment. But the Cowboys lost. And Prescott didn't play particularly well. So, he falls a couple spots. |
Last week: 2
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
| Coming off the Vikings' bye, Cousins gets the Seahawks (a winning team) in Seattle (road game) on Monday night (primetime). Basically, he has a chance to extinguish most of the narratives that have marred an otherwise productive career in one night. |
Last week: 5
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
| In the past two weeks, after a shockingly horrific outing against the Falcons, Brees has rebounded by going 58 of 74 for 539 yards, six touchdowns, one interception, and a 118.4 passer rating. He's not playing as well as he did during his peak, but he has still been a top 10 quarterback by most measures (ninth in DVOA and 10th in total QBR) at the age of 40. |
Last week: 6
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
| Watson helped the Texans earn a huge win over the Colts, but he submitted another poor -- by his standards -- performance. He was lucky to see the Colts drop two passes that should've been intercepted, including one that really would've swung the game. Still, his body of work this season remains impressive: ninth in DYAR, 10th in DVOA, and fifth in total QBR. |
Last week: 7
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
| In his past seven starts, he's thrown for 233.1 yards per game, and has accumulated 10 touchdowns and only one interception -- and two of those starts came against the 49ers. He might already be the second-best quarterback in the NFC West. |
Last week: 8
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
| Speaking of the NFC West, Garoppolo outplaying Aaron Rodgers by a significant margin in primetime was a good way for him to change his perception. It helps that he has one of the league's best play-callers in his ear and a dominant rushing attack, but let's give him some credit for averaging 12.7 yards per attempt and throwing two touchdowns against the Packers. What's notable is that he didn't turn the ball over, because that's been a problem this season. His interception rate of 3.0 percent is the seventh-highest among qualified quarterbacks. |
Last week: 14
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
| He deserves a full-time starting job next season. |
Last week: 16
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
| Rodgers was at his worst against the 49ers -- a great defense, but still, one that was gouged twice by Murray and dealt with capably enough by Wilson. In a primetime debacle, Rodgers attempted 33 passes but only totaled 104 yards, meaning he averaged 3.2 yards per attempt, which made it the worst start of his career by that metric. It does seem like Rodgers' reputation as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever has helped him avoid a conversation about his declining skillset. It's not that Rodgers is bad now. He's still good. But he's not the great quarterback he once was. He hasn't been that guy for a couple years now. And it turns out, it might not have been all Mike McCarthy's fault. |
Last week: 9
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
| Against a not-good Buccaneers defense, Ryan was atrocious with a pick, two fumbles, 5.9 yards per attempt, and a 59.2 passer rating. I don't necessarily think Ryan is washed up, but given his age (34), the state of the Falcons (not close to contending), and his declining level of play (17th in both DVOA and DYAR, and 13th in total QBR), it's all very concerning. |
Last week: 10
Derek Carr Oakland Raiders QB
| Things went so poorly for Carr that with the Raiders trailing to the Jets by an insurmountable deficit, he was yanked for Mike Glennon in the third quarter. Before the Raiders waved the white flag, Carr went 15 of 27 (55.6 percent) for 127 yards (4.7 YPA), no touchdowns, one pick, and a 52.5 passer rating. He was enjoying a better than expected season until Sunday, but his lackluster performance causes a drop. |
Last week: 11
Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
| The weird thing, it certainly felt like during the Patriots' win over the Cowboys that Brady was playing better than he has for most of this season. And then I took a gander at the box score and it revealed yet another lackluster outing. Against the then-20th ranked defense by DVOA, Brady completed fewer than 50 percent, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, and recorded a 70.8 passer rating. So far this season, Brady has been the 10th best quarterback by DYAR, 12th best quarterback by DVOA, and 15th best quarterback by total QBR. Like Rodgers, Brady is playing nowhere close to his peak. |
Last week: 13
Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles QB
| That was brutal. Yes, Wentz was down almost all of his playmakers. Yes, the Eagles offensive line was shorthanded. But Wentz's rough performance against the Seahawks also had plenty to do with him. He seldom threw the ball downfield. He skipped more than a few passes toward his targets. He finished with three fumbles, two interceptions, 5.7 yards per attempt, and a 75.8 passer rating one week after a dismal outing vs. the Patriots. It's concerning. So is his contract. |
Last week: 12
Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns QB
| Mayfield has overcome a rough start to his hyped sophomore season by playing solid, if not great football the past few weeks. Turnovers remain a problem -- bad ball placement resulted in yet another interception on a poorly thrown slant -- but Mayfield is averaging 257.8 yards per game and has thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception in his past four games. |
Last week: 17
Sam Darnold New York Jets QB
| Like Mayfield, Darnold is surging. A lot of that has to do with his opposition (bad teams), but still, good quarterbacks are supposed to tear up bad defenses and that's what Darnold has done in recent weeks. Darnold's past three games: 279.3 yards per game, seven touchdowns, and only one interception. That one interception was a disaster and emblematic of the long-term concerns pertaining to Darnold. But Darnold is improving. |
Last week: 18
Jacoby Brissett Indianapolis Colts QB
| What's concerning is that Brissett continues to avoid throwing the ball downfield. He's averaging only 6.8 yards per attempt and only 7.2 air yards per attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats. |
Last week: 15
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
| Like Mayfield and Darnold, Allen is showing signs of progress. Allen's past seven games: 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. That's the good. However, in that span, he's averaging only 6.9 yards per attempt and has fumbled six times. Consistency remains an issue. It feels like he's either making an incredible downfield strike or sailing the ball over his receivers' heads. His running ability, though, propels him inside the top 20. |
Last week: 20
Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
| It's beginning to look like this is actually Rivers' final season with the Chargers. It's been a bad one. He's 13th, 16th, and 25th in DYAR, DVOA, and total QBR, respectively. |
Last week: 19
Kyle Allen Carolina Panthers QB
| After throwing nine interceptions in his previous four games, Allen responded against the league's then fifth-ranked defense by DVOA, throwing for 256 yards and three scores without an interception. If not for a terrible day at the office for Panthers' kicker Joey Slye, Allen would've led the Panthers to a huge win over the Saints and revived their playoff chances. |
Last week: 25
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
| The glimpses of promise are there. In a tough situation on Sunday -- against a still very good Bears defense -- Jones struggled, but it wasn't entirely his fault. Plus, he threw a clutch touchdown to give the Giants a chance at the end. Fumbles are his biggest issue. He's already fumbled 14 times this season even though he spent the beginning of the season on the bench. The NFL record for fumbles in a season is 23. |
Last week: 21
Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
| The quintessential Jameis Winston performance: Against the Falcons, Winston averaged 11.2 yards per attempt and threw three touchdowns, but also got picked off twice. With 20 interceptions, Winston has opened up a six-interception lead over Rivers. |
Last week: 28
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
| The Rams' decision to give Goff a mega contract one year before they had to has always looked like a bad one. Now, we know for certain: The Rams botched yet another contract situation. And they're stuck with Goff for the foreseeable future. You hate to see it. |
Last week: 23
Ryan Fitzpatrick Miami Dolphins QB
| With two interceptions, he was more FitzTragic than FitzMagic in a 17-point loss to the Browns. Still, Fitzpatrick has already exceeded expectations by leading the Dolphins to two more wins than they should have. |
Last week: 22
Nick Foles Jacksonville Jaguars QB
| Since the Jaguars made the mistake to move from Gardner Minshew to Foles, they've been outscored 75-33. |
Last week: 24
Mitchell Trubisky Chicago Bears QB
| Trubisky has improved in recent weeks, flashing some of the potential that tempted the Bears into drafting him, but he also can't avoid the horrible mistakes that have come to define his career. He's still not any good. The Bears would've beaten the Rams with a consistent quarterback. The only thing Trubisky is consistent at is being inconsistent. |
Last week: 29
Dwayne Haskins Washington Redskins QB
| He did not play well in a win against the Lions, misfiring on more than a few passes. But it's difficult to assign all of the blame to him considering how dysfunctional the team is around him. And hey, the Redskins won a football game. That's rare. |
Last week: 30
Jeff Driskel Detroit Lions QB
| With three interceptions and six sacks, Jeff Driskel provided a reminder that he's still, in fact, Jeff Driskel. He's nothing more than a backup who isn't suited to start in the NFL. But the Lions would still be wise to sit Matthew Stafford for the remainder of the season. |
Last week: 26
Brandon Allen Denver Broncos QB
| It has to be Drew Lock time in Denver, right? Allen's not the answer. |
Last week: 27
Mason Rudolph Pittsburgh Steelers QB
| What Mike Tomlin said to explain his decision to start Devlin Hodges this week really says it all: "He has not killed us." Translation: Rudolph has killed the Steelers -- mostly due to interceptions. He owns the league's fifth-highest interception rate. |
Last week: 31
Ryan Finley Cincinnati Bengals QB
| So long Ryan Finley. It'll be Andy Dalton in this space next week after the Bengals decided to give Dalton his starting job back. Finley was terrible as the starter, but it's not like he was placed in the best situation behind a bad offensive line and throwing to a receiver group lacking A.J. Green. Dalton is better than Finley, of course, but I don't really understand the point of going back to Dalton now. The Bengals are better off coasting to the top-overall pick and seeing what they have in Finley before the offseason. Dalton might just be good enough to lead the Bengals to a win or two down the stretch. |
Last week: 32