Dolphins give fans hope with Tannehill

The last name printed on the back of the aqua jersey that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed the No. 8 pick in Thursday night’s draft was “Tannehill.”

It may as well have read “Hope.”

There was none in South Florida this offseason when it came to the Miami Dolphins. A once-proud franchise had become a disaster under general manager Jeff Ireland’s leadership and Stephen Ross’ bumbling ownership.

The quarterback position is symbolic of how far the club has fallen. No team had fielded more starters (16) than Miami since Dan Marino’s retirement following the 1999 season.

The problem was further magnified this offseason. The Dolphins couldn’t emerge as a serious contender to sign Peyton Manning and were outbid by Seattle for Green Bay’s Matt Flynn in free agency. The latter was a natural fit for a reunion with Joe Philbin — the former Packers offensive coordinator who is Miami’s new head coach — but the Seahawks did a far better job courting Flynn than Ireland did.

Even die-hard Dolphins fans had seen enough after the Flynn debacle and other shaky roster decisions. There was a grassroots protest outside team headquarters in March calling for Ireland’s firing. The Miami Herald reported that season-ticket sales have slipped into the 30,000 range, which is a drop of almost 50 percent from a decade ago.

The selection of Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill isn’t going to trigger a flood of box-office calls Friday like when LeBron James joined the Miami Heat. But it’s enough to stop the bleeding for at least the short term.

That’s why the Dolphins needed to make this pick regardless of whether Tannehill was truly the eighth-best prospect in this draft class, or chosen largely at Ross’ insistence per multiple media reports that the team has denied.

By neglecting the position in recent drafts and placing so many eggs in the Chad Henne basket (yikes!), the Dolphins needed to develop someone who could eventually grab the torch from 2012 place-holders Matt Moore and David Garrard. This is one of the reasons Miami hired Philbin as head coach.

Is Tannehill overrated like the fans at Radio City Music Hall chanted as he celebrated with friends and family members? Maybe.

Is Tannehill ridiculously naïve to say he didn’t think there was any “added pressure” by coming to such a quarterback-starved market? Definitely.

But he still makes more sense for Miami than any other incoming passer.

Tannehill played collegiately at Texas A&M under new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who will use a West Coast-style system whose concepts Tannehill should find familiar. Yes, Sherman is being reunited with the quarterback whose uneven 2011 senior season contributed to his A&M firing. Sherman can only hope that a player with 19 college starts truly has the kind of upside that led to the skyrocketing of Tannehill’s draft stock.

Tannehill said he already noticed considerable self-improvement during his pre-draft workouts.

“I’ve been working on my footwork just being smooth, especially throwing to my left,” Tannehill said. “I think that was one thing I really focused on — using my legs, my hips and clearing my left foot out of the way to make accurate throws. I progressed a lot and feel 100 percent confident throwing to my left now.”

Statements like that show just how far behind Tannehill is when compared to fellow quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, who were the first two players picked Thursday night by Indianapolis and Washington respectively. That also means there is ample upside for a bright, mature 23-year-old who was athletic enough to play wide receiver his first 2 1/2 seasons at Texas A&M when unable to secure starting snaps under center.

“Of course I’m biased, but Ryan Tannehill is the best player in this year’s draft,” gushed Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who was one of his A&M teammates from 2007 to 2010. “He can do anything you ask him. He might not have had all the hype (Luck and Griffin) had at 1 and 2, but in my opinion, he can go in and do everything you ask.

“For example, he graduated with a degree in biology before his senior year. That says a lot about his character. He comes in and he works."

It was 29 years ago Thursday that Miami last used a first-round pick on a quarterback. That Marino selection worked out pretty well.

Nobody knows what Tannehill’s football legacy will be 30 years from now. No quarterback will succeed unless Ireland or his successor adds more offensive talent — especially at wide receiver and along the offensive line — by the time Tannehill is ready to assume the starting reins.

But at least the Dolphins finally have reason to feel good about the future at a position long their biggest weakness. That sure beats the despair that Miami fans would have felt had another top quarterback prospect slipped away in this draft.