NFL Nation: Legedu Naane

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

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."

 
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC West team:

Denver Broncos

1.Trade Kyle Orton or name him the starter: The Broncos need to make a decision at quarterback quickly. There will be some teams in need of a veteran quarterback and the Broncos will surely field calls about Orton. If they get a decent offer in return (second or third-round pick) I could see Denver trading him and going with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. If Orton is not traded early in the new league year, we’d have to assume Denver is going to give him the opportunity to hold off Tebow.

2. Sign a defensive tackle: The Broncos have long had a major hole at this position. It needs to upgrade its defense, which was ranked 32nd in the NFL last season. It begins at this position, which Denver bypassed in the draft. Potential free-agent targets include Seattle’s Brandon Mebane and San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin,although he is a better fit for 3-4 teams.

3. Sign a running back: New Denver coach John Fox recently said signing a running back is the team’s top free-agent priority. I think the above-mentioned projects are more pressing, but there’s no doubt Denver needs help at the position. It needs a veteran to pair with third-year running back Knowshon Moreno. We could see the Broncos trying to reunite Fox with former Carolina back DeAngelo Williams.

Top free agents: Tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas.

Kansas City Chiefs

1. Sign a nose tackle: The Chiefs have a few needs and more than $30 million in salary-cap money to play with. They can get to work. The team could use a stout anchor for the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs tried to sign Shaun Rogers prior to the lockout and they want a veteran. Franklin could be the answer.

2. Sign an offensive tackle: If the Chiefs get an upgrade at tackle, they should have a very strong line. They could sign a right tackle (a position they considered in the draft) or they can sign a left tackle and move Branden Albert to right tackle. Possible names to consider include Matt Light (who has New England ties to Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and quarterback Matt Cassel) or New Orleans' Jermon Bushrod or a right tackle like Tyson Clabo or San Diego’s Jeromey Clary.

3. Sign a receiver: The Chiefs are a dangerous offensive team. But they could use a slot receiver to do along with No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and first-round pick Jon Baldwin. A name to keep an eye on is the Cardinals’ Steve Breaston. He played for Kansas City coach Todd Haley in Arizona.

Top free agent: Center Casey Wiegmann.

Oakland Raiders

1. Re-sign tight end Zach Miller: Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the best free agent in the NFL. But it will be difficult for Oakland to keep him. The Raiders must do what it takes to sign Miller. He is one of the game’s best young tight ends and he is arguably the team’s most important offensive player. He is the team’s most reliable receiving target. The Raiders love Miller and tried to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the lockout. Signing him before he hits the market will be and should be the team’s top priority.

2. Sign a couple offensive linemen: The Raiders’ offensive line is in flux. It has some interesting young players, but it needs to find a way to add some veterans somewhere -- despite the team’s salary-cap limitations.

3. Figure out secondary: If Asomugha and safety Michael Huff leave, the Raiders will need to get their youngsters up to speed quickly or try to find a veteran experience. I think we’ll see a mixture of both if Asomugha and Huff both leave as expected.

Top free agents: Asomugha, Huff, Miller and guard Robert Gallery.

San Diego Chargers

1. Re-sign safety Eric Weddle: The safety is a playmaker who will be very popular on the open market. The Chargers don't want him to get there. The Chargers have the salary-cap room to keep their top in-house options, and Weddle is at the top of the list. There is no reason for the Chargers to lose him and I think this key part of the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense will remain with the Chargers.

2. Figure out receiver situation: Top receiver Vincent Jackson will be franchised. No. 2 receiver Malcom Floyd is unrestricted and he could get a big offer elsewhere. Backup Legedu Naanee is also expected to leave. The Chargers could use a veteran receiver. I doubt they will spend big money on the top names available, but they could look for a bargain or swing a trade for a veteran like Carolina’s Steve Smith.

3. Figure out inside linebacker situation: The Chargers could lose inside linebackers Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler. They would like to keep Burnett. Still, I could see the Chargers trying to find another inside linebacker to compete to star. They could also look for an edge rusher at outside linebacker.

Top free agents: Floyd, Weddle, Clary, Burnett, quarterback Billy Volek, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Stephen Cooper, linebacker Brandon Siler and running back Darren Sproles.

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