Ryan Tannehill’s stats with Titans: How he went from discarded by Dolphins to MVP conversation

By | October 24, 2020

Ryan Tannehill was often a punchline during his years with the Miami Dolphins. Since joining the Tennessee Titans, though, he’s far from that — instead, he’s a sleeper in the 2020 NFL MVP conversation.

There’s not just one reason that Tannehill has gone from mediocre to a star with a big contract. He didn’t make major mechanical changes once joining the Titans. He didn’t escape some awful injury bug. But taking his entire circumstances into account, Tannehill’s move to Tennessee was the best thing that could’ve happened for his career.

Instead of having a whole franchise’s hopes on his shoulders, Tannehill could just be himself and let the immense talents of the players around him lead the way. In joining a more complete offense, Tannehill has blossomed into the player Miami had always hoped the top-10 pick could be.

Ryan Tannehill stats with Titans

Tannehill isn’t Patrick Mahomes. Everyone knows that. But how’s this for a stats comparison? This is Tannehill’s statline since taking over as the Titans’ starter in Week 7 last season through 2020 Week 6 (15 games) compared with Patrick Mahomes’ stats over his last 15 games.

  • Ryan Tannehill last 15 games: 12-3 record, 3,966 passing yards, 35/7 TD/INT, 5 rush TDs, 117.3 quarterback rating
  • Patrick Mahomes last 15 games: 12-3 record, 3,899 passing yards, 30/6 TD/INT, 4 rush TDs, 103.8 rating

That’s pretty good. Tannehill was a huge key in helping the Titans upset the Ravens in last year’s playoffs, too.

Prior to last year’s postseason, Tannehill threw multiple touchdowns in his last seven games. He’s done the same in four of this year’s five games, and the one he didn’t (at Minnesota) was still a Tennessee win. Every week, it seems, Tannehill goes out there and puts up numbers despite still being a part of a run-heavy offense and carrying around some of the negative aura that his name once suggested in his Dolphins years.

After throwing three touchdowns to beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 and then four more to beat the Texans in Week 6, Tannehill entered himself into the back-end of the MVP conversation. It’s unlikely he catches up to Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers or Mahomes, but it’s about time his play caught some national attention.

The Titans signed Tannehill to a four-year, $118-million extension ahead of the 2020 season. They were believers, and now the rest of the football world is coming around. It just took a change of scenery and some talented pieces around Tannehill to show how good he could truly be.

Ryan Tannehill trade details

  • Titans receive: QB Ryan Tannehill, 2019 6th-round pick (LB David Long)
  • Dolphins receive: 2020 4th-round pick (traded to Steelers, picked OL Kevin Dotson), 2019 7th-round pick (RB Chandler Cox)

Why did the Dolphins trade Ryan Tannehill to the Titans?

When the Dolphins picked Tannehill in the 2012 NFL Draft, he seemed like the kind of high-upside quarterback worth going off the board eighth overall, the third passer taken after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Tannehill had started his Texas A&M career at wide receiver before switching to QB, coupling athleticism with the potential to grow exponentially as someone relatively new to the position.

In six healthy years with Miami, though, Tannehill could never quite escape mediocrity. Interceptions were a problem — he threw at least 12 in each of his first five seasons. So were sacks, as Tannehill’s tendency to hold the ball combined with poor offensive line play meant a lot of time spent on the ground.

Tannehill showed the most promise in his final two healthy seasons with the Dolphins, cutting down a bit on the INTs while completing a higher percentage of his passes. When Tannehill started in 2016, the Dolphins went 8-5. It regressed to 5-6 in his 11 2018 starts after 2017 knee surgery, and the Dolphins had seen enough to know they should look elsewhere for a true franchise quarterback. 

What changed for Ryan Tannehill with Titans?

Tannehill didn’t start right away for the Titans, because they were still working through the final stages of their Marcus Mariota era. But as soon as Tannehill took the field in Week 6 off the bench, he immediately was paired with the best running back he’d ever played with in the NFL in Derrick Henry.

Before Tannehill and with Tannehill, the Titans’ offense has been built around the freakish athleticism of Henry. In both 2019 and 2020, their percentage of rushing plays run out of total plays has ranked top-six in the NFL. When Tennessee establishes the run early and often, the burden is lifted off Tannehill’s shoulders.

Running early sets up the Titans for play-action passes as the game goes on, and that’s what Tannehill feasted on in 2019 and so far in 2020. In 2019, Tannehill led the NFL with a 140.6 passer rating while running play action. Tannehill executed a play-fake on 26.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2019, according to Yahoo Sports. That was just the ninth-highest rate among qualifying quarterbacks, but he took full advantage of almost all of those opportunities. The play-action pass becomes even more dangerous when someone with the deep speed of A.J. Brown lines up outside for Tannehill in Tennessee.

Speaking of Brown: Tannehill has gotten to work with a number of real weapons in Tennessee. Brown broke out as a rookie in 2019. Corey Davis was a top-five pick. Jonnu Smith is one of football’s more athletic tight ends. Adam Humphries is a strong possession receiver, and Kalif Raymond has impressive deep speed. The best weapons Tannehill had in his final season in Miami were an aging Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and a yet-to-breakout DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills.