Since Dan Marino’s retirement, the Dolphins have lacked consistency at the quarterback position; an issue which has led to many disappointing seasons. In consecutive years, Miami spent second round picks on John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White while trying to find the solution. None of those picks panned out and that led the Dolphins to draft Ryan Tannehill a month ago in the hopes he could finally be the one to fill the void.
There have been a handful of rookie quarterbacks to start from Day 1 in recent years, and all indications show that will happen with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III in Washington. The Dolphins, however, don’t need to force their rookie quarterback to learn on the job.
For most of the 2011 season, the Dolphins started Matt Moore who posted the ninth-highest PFF pass rating at (+13.2). To bring in competition for Moore, Miami added our fifth-ranked free agent quarterback–a player who graded among our Top 12 quarterbacks between 2008 and 2010–David Garrard. While only one will win the starting job, whoever it is could be the Dolphins’ Secret Superstar in 2012, affording Tannehill the time to develop and making the most of a talented squad of players.
Moore’s Path to Miami
Moore was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 2007 after starting two years at Oregon State. The Cowboys cut him with the intention of making him a practice squad player, but Carolina brought him to their active roster. The Panthers used Vinny Testaverde, David Carr, and Jake Delhomme before giving Moore a chance in the last three starts of the season. In those games he threw for 564 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
With Delhomme entrenched as the starter, Moore would have to wait until 2009 to get another shot when he took over for the last five games. While he was solid in that stretch when the offensive line did their job (averaging 8.7 yards per attempt), that number fell to 4.4 when he faced pressure.
In 2010, the Panthers ended the Delhomme era, and drafted the eventual starter in Jimmy Clausen. While Moore led the huddle to open the season, it took just two games (and an Accuracy Percentage of an abysmal 61.4%) to summon the beginning the Clausen Era. The Panthers went back to Moore for three games midseason, but a shoulder injury ended his year and his run in Carolina.
He was added to the Dolphins’ roster prior to 2011 as an unrestricted free agent backup to Chad Henne. A separated shoulder took Henne down in Week 4, and the Dolphins couldn’t find a replacement, so the job went to Moore. It took a few weeks to find his rhythm with the offense, but having a second chance was clearly what he needed to turn his play around. He had the best game of his career in the Dolphins’ first win of the season against the Chiefs. The offensive line allowed just one pressure, which helped Moore throw for 10.6 yards per attempt and three touchdowns.
For the rest of the season, you wouldn’t confuse Moore with an elite quarterback, but he was consistently playing above average football with a positive PFF rating in 10 of 13 games. He had an Accuracy Percentage of 66.2% when under pressure; bested only by Eli Manning and Drew Brees. He was also the AFC’s most accurate passer on deep throws with 47.5% of his attempts hitting the target.
Everyone wants an elite quarterback, but having an above average starter is a lot better than the alternative. Over the second half of the season, Moore became that guy.
Garrard’s Path to Miami
Garrard’s story is a little more well known. He was a fourth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2002, brought in to back up Mark Brunell. Once Jacksonville drafted Byron Leftwich in 2004, Garrard had to prove himself the better option to eventually take over and won the job in 2007.
For four years he was the starting quarterback and then, a week before the 2011 regular season began, he was cut to make way for Blaine Gabbert. Garrard took the year off to fully recover from a back injury and was signed by the Dolphins to compete for the starting job in 2012.
In 2008, Garrard was our seventh-highest graded passer (+18.8), 13th in 2009 (+8.7), and 14th in 2010 (+5.2). He has also consistently rated above average as a runner.
He rarely has a big game–his 2010 contest against Dallas is the only one that would qualify. He completed 17 of 21 passes, four going for touchdowns. Of his four incomplete passes that day, one was thrown away and he was hit while throwing another. Similarly to Moore, he has been a consistent above-average quarterback. He has done it over a longer period of time, but age isn’t on his side.
What this Means for 2012
While Dolphins fans might want to see the future start now, most performances by rookie starters haven’t been all that glamorous in recent years–we’ve seen more rookies struggle than succeed: Christian Ponder (-15.6) and Blaine Gabbert (-49.9) in 2011, Sam Bradford (-11.0) and Jimmy Clausen (-17.2) in 2010, and Josh Freeman (-18.6), Matthew Stafford (-30.9) and Mark Sanchez (-24.1) in 2009.
There are times where a coach will start their rookie early to buy themselves more time, but the staff in Miami is new and they can allow Tannehill to learn from the bench. Because the Dolphins have Moore and Garrard–two quarterbacks who have proven they can start in this league and play at a high level–they don’t need to rush Tannehill for the sake of rushing him and put unneeded pressure on him. Unlike the Colts and Redskins, the Dolphins don’t need the future to start now and their Secret Superstar (be it Moore or Garrard) affords them that luxury.