2018 NFL Draft: Mike Mayock thinks Dolphins sticking with Ryan Tannehill

By | March 19, 2018

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Men’s Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill Nike Aqua Alternate Game Jersey Dolphins need to replace Jarvis Landry, find backup for Ryan Tannehill

Here are the moves the Miami Dolphins should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 14:

Replace wide receiver Jarvis Landry: The Dolphins moved Landry, as many expected. His 400 catches over the past four seasons constitute the kind of raw production that will be difficult to replace. However, 2017 also was proof that even 112 catches from Landry at 8.8 yards per catch weren’t going to kick-start the offense. The Dolphins face some tough timing here. The draft is usually not a reliable place to find immediate impact at the position — players struggle to transition from the wide-open spaces in college to more physical play in the NFL — and the pool of candidates in free agency isn’t deep, with players like Sammy Watkins, Donte Moncrief, Paul Richardson and Mike Wallace each having plenty of question marks. It will almost certainly take a mixture of the draft and free agency, but Landry’s departure means the Dolphins have to give both a long look.

Insurance for quarterback Ryan Tannehill: Dolphins coach Adam Gase said at the combine that he was “extremely excited” about the prospect of Tannehill being back as his starter. He hasn’t played since December 2016 because of injuries to his left knee, and the Dolphins have spent plenty of time vetting the quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has specifically said he felt a rapport with the Dolphins’ staff. Tannehill’s contract runs through 2020, but the prospect of additional knee problems has to be considered. The Dolphins don’t pick until No. 11 and there’s a very real scenario where the top four quarterbacks could be gone. Unless they deal to make a move or decide one of the other quarterbacks in the draft — Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph or Luke Falk — is a potential starter down the road, that puts them in the market for a veteran backup who can be more than a placeholder.

Figure out Kenyan Drake’s workload: New run game coordinator Eric Studesville has always gotten the most from the backs he’s coached. Knowshon Moreno and C.J. Anderson had their only 1,000-yard rushing seasons with him and Willis McGahee rushed for 1,199 yards at 30 years old with Studesville. So Drake is next. The Dolphins are optimistic about Drake as their primary back. But they still need more at the position to maximize what Drake can do end-to-end in the schedule. Of the backs in the market, 27-year-old Dion Lewis leads a group of backs between the ages of 26-28 who are worth a long look. Rex Burkhead, Isaiah Crowell and Orleans Darkwa are also in that group.

Learn the lesson: Miami must look harder at players on the wish list who also happen to be 30 or older. Take a moment, breathe, and grind another round of the game video to make sure, because there is no quicker road to a season of struggle and future cap troubles than being wrong on older free agents. For the Dolphins, that list starts with Lawrence Timmons and Julius Thomas. Look to free agents in line for their second contract, rather than third or fourth. Don’t skip the 30-somethings entirely, just look harder and figure out exactly what you’re getting.

2018 NFL Draft: Mike Mayock thinks Dolphins sticking with Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins are in an interesting position at quarterback, where they’re planning on a healthy Ryan Tannehill to shine this season. He’s locked in as their starter, but they need to figure out who’s going to play around him and what their long-term plans are.

With the No. 11 pick in this year’s draft and some proven options available in free agency, it’s a good time to redo the quarterback room. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock believes they’re so committed to Tannehill that they might not be looking for a quarterback in the first round.

“I think it would be easier in that building to talk yourself into ‘We’re not that bad, we’re not that far away if Tannehill can play well; Adam Gase is a very good quarterback coach, blah, blah, blah,’” Mayock said last week. “I think you can talk yourself into that conversation that, ‘If Tannehill’s our guy, it’s not a rebuild. What we need to do is fill in around him, be a better football team.’

“My gut tells me they’re going to go in that direction. I think it’s difficult to say, ‘OK, if we’re not going to sign a free agent quarterback, then at No. 11 who is going to be available at that point?’ And none of us know.”

Mayock’s point is that if the team is set on Tannehill as the starter and thinks it’s close to playoff contention, which is a questionable belief after a 6-10 season, management would be more inclined to address a need at another position in the draft.

Tannehill turns 30 this summer and has three years left on his contract. He missed the end of the 2016 season because of a knee injury, then all of last year when it gave out on him in in training camp.

Beyond that, even if he’s healthy, there’s no evidence to suggest he can elevate the team enough to make it a contender. Tannehill’s been a league-average quarterback, but his play hasn’t been what the Dolphins hoped for when the drafted him eighth overall in 2012.

“I think they’re at a crossroads,” Mayock said. “I’m not sure what the right answer is, but my gut tells me they’re going to hang with Tannehill.”