Realistic expectations for Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill's supporting cast in Miami lags behind those of other rookie QB starters. Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is about to accomplish something even the great Dan Marino couldn’t with the Miami Dolphins.

Tannehill, a rookie, will be Miami’s Week 1 starter Sept. 9 against the Houston Texans. Marino, a Hall of Famer, didn’t see his first NFL action until Week 3 of his 1983 rookie season and finished with nine starts in 11 games.

The Tannehill era is beginning sooner than expected. A surprising series of events -- which included a knee injury to veteran quarterback David Garrard and struggles from former starter Matt Moore -- propelled him into the starting lineup. This year’s No. 8 overall pick has been a fast learner, in part due to his collegiate experience in a West Coast system run by current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

Sept. 9 is not only historic for the Dolphins, but it’s a good personal moment for Tannehill. He gets to make his NFL debut where it all started -- in his home state of Texas.

"If it would have been in Buffalo or San Diego, I’m excited," Tannehill said this week. "Obviously, it’s nice to go back to my home state. I’ll have a lot of friends and family there, but I’m just excited to play in my first real NFL game, a real season opener. I’m excited for this team. I’m excited for what we can do."

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in 2012? He is one of five rookie quarterbacks -- including four first-rounders -- who will start in Week 1. That’s an NFL record.

The AFC East blog, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, crunched some numbers on rookie quarterbacks who started in Week 1 from the past five years. Here's what we found:

These average numbers are respectable for Tannehill and should be the bar for his rookie season. If he throws for more than 3,100 yards and has more touchdowns than interceptions, it would be a great first season. The average passer rating also was 77.2, which is not bad.

But you have to consider what many of these quarterbacks had around them as rookies and how that compares to Tannehill’s supporting cast in Miami. For example, Stafford had stud receiver Calvin Johnson in Detroit. Ryan had Roddy White in Atlanta. Dalton had A.J. Green in Cincinnati and Newton had Steve Smith in Carolina. These are all legitimate No. 1 receivers who make the job of a rookie quarterback much easier.

Tannehill has no receiver close to that caliber, and it certainly will hurt the rookie. Tannehill is working with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. His top targets include Legedu Naanee, Davone Bess and, if healthy, Brian Hartline.

Miami needs receivers in the worst way. There is no getting around it. The Dolphins have an unproductive group that’s having trouble making plays and catching the football this preseason. Miami has to be concerned that this could stunt Tannehill’s growth.

"Well, they haven't helped matters," Sherman said of his receivers. "I wish they would say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy’ and jump up on the table by having a knockout performance, and that hasn’t necessarily happened just yet. ... I think we’ll keep Bess. I can pretty much guarantee that, but there’s only one of him. We need to fill in the other spots."

The good thing I noticed about Tannehill is that he hasn't appeared to be shaken by the drops and poor play from his receivers. In many cases, he’s taken the blame, which is a smart move on his part. He must stay poised throughout this process and weather the initial growing pains.

Getting Tannehill better receivers could come via trade or free agency. The Dolphins have a wealth of draft picks. Miami has a first-round pick, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in the 2013 draft. That is valuable ammunition that could potentially land a receiver for this season. We mentioned Green Bay Packers backup receiver James Jones as a potential target. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin coached Jones when Philbin was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay.

But the most likely option is scanning the waiver wire for veterans released by other teams. There will be plenty of receivers becoming available Friday when teams are mandated to trim rosters from 75 to 53 players. Veteran pass-catchers such as tight end Chris Cooley and receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth already have hit the open market.

Until then, Wednesday night will be the final tune-up for Tannehill with the group he has. The Dolphins travel to play the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason finale. But after that, the Dolphins and Tannehill are playing for keeps.

"I don’t know exactly how many snaps I’ll get, but I want to go out and take advantage of every rep," Tannehill said. "Really play like we can as an offense [and] really move the ball and be consistent. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve kind of focused on is being more consistent as an offense, being more consistent as a quarterback."