Watching Ryan Tannehill complete a perfectly thrown 75-yard touchdown bomb to Kenny Stills on Sunday served as another reminder of how Tannehill has gone from one of the league’s most erratic deep ball throwers to, statistically, one of the top-third.
Among passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air, Tannehill has gone from completing 31.7 percent of his attempts in his first four NFL seasons (79 for 249) to 41.5 percent (17 for 41) since then, a period of 14 consecutive games stretching from 2016 through 2018.
Factoring in credit for drops on long throws, Tannehill is top 10 in the league in deep ball accuracy over his last 14 games, in the company of Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, among others. Meanwhile, his overall accuracy has risen significantly, too, under Adam Gase.
Which transitions us to perhaps the single most important question of this UM season: Can Malik Rosier become an appreciably more accurate thrower, as Tannehill has, or this problem beyond solving?
Through two weeks — after the LSU debacle and the thumping of Savannah State — Rosier stands 118th of 127 FCS quarterbacks in completion percentage at 48.9. Last season, he was 112th of 125 at 54 percent. He hit seven in a row at one point Saturday, albeit against a severely undermanned opponent.
So can the accuracy suddenly improve? Tannehill, of course, was a first-round pick and far more talented than Rosier, so this isn’t the ideal comparison. For a more accurate gauge, I studied the non-senior quarterbacks who finished between 100th and 127th (last) in completion percentage in major college football in 2016.
What I found was encouraging, for those hoping Rosier is still salvageable.
Of the 11 non-seniors who were 100th or worse in accuracy that year, seven improved their completion rate significantly the next year, by at least three percentage points but in most cases, more than that. Three improved slightly, including Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Buffalo’s first-round pick in April.
Of the 11 starters, only one became less accurate the following year — Charlotte’s Hasaan Klugh.
Playing for Mark Richt at Georgia, Aaron Murray went from 59.1 to 64.5 to 64.8 percent.
So the idea that Rosier would suddenly improve after tinkering with his footwork and mechanics wasn’t an unrealistic pipe dream. There’s plenty of history to suggest this was realistic and remains so, despite skepticism among the fan base, some of whom booed him after a misconnection with Darrell Langham early in Saturday’s game.
But whether the improvement happens in Rosier’s case remains the most important unknown of this Canes season. Richt said Tuesday that he continues to believe Rosier can improve his accuracy.
“You throw the ball better when you’ve got a cleaner pocket, guys are running good routes,” Richt said. “You’re passing percentage is better when guys are making tough catches. It’s everybody. It’s not just him.”
Rosier, meanwhile, has identified a common theme when he’s inaccurate.
“One thing we figured out is sometimes when I miss I’m a little off balance and that’s the biggest thing,” he said Tuesday. “Coach Jon [Richt] really harped on the really good ball that I had was the [67-yard touchdown this past Saturday] across the middle to Jeff Thomas. He said, ‘just look at your balance, look at how your feet are set, look at how you’re body is positioned to throw.’
“He was like, ‘when you’re like that you’re accurate. When you’re all off balance you’re not.’ It’s as simple as that. Coach Jon is just kind of telling me it’s up to me to fix myself and if I’m conscious about it and I work on it then my [percentage] is going to go up.”
So what’s a realistic accuracy target?
“The goal is 65 percent or better,” Rosier said. “Accuracy and completion are two totally different things. You can throw a accurate ball the receiver drops but it’s still accurate but it’s not a completion. We go 65 percent accuracy and if you go above 65 percent completion we get a little Cane on the back of our helmets.”
In the meantime, expect Richt to give Rosier a lot of safe, shorter throws while mixing in deep balls to capitalize on UM’s wealth of skill position players. And Rosier is actually pretty good on deep balls, going back to last season.
Consider that all except one of Rosier’s eight completions Saturday were balls thrown eight yards or fewer.
The beautiful 67-yard strike to Thomas Saturday made him 5 for 13 on the season for throws of20 yards or more. Of more concern, in Rosier’s case, is exasperating inconsistency on intermediate routes. For the season, he’s 3 for 9 on passes thrown between 10 and 20 yards.
So Rosier has been better on deep throws than intermediate routes, which isn’t surprising with him.
Richt, meanwhile, reiterated that Rosier will remain the starter.
“Bottom line we’re going to play who we think gives us the best chance of winning,” Richt said. “If somebody else gives us a better chance to win, we’ll start them.”
COUPLE QUICK DOLPHINS NOTES
▪ Not onlydid the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills rank as the league’s best slot receiver when used there selectively the past two years, but Stills (along with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown) have a league-high 13 touchdowns over the past two-plus seasons on passes thrown at least 20 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
▪ Though Vincent Taylor has been made more impact plays than any Dolphins defensive tackle throughout August, his 18 snaps were fewest among defensive tackles Sunday, behind Akeem Spence (36), Jordan Phillips (31) and Davon Godchaux(29). Taylor had three stops and five tackles Sunday; he didn’t have a single missed tackle last season as a rookie.
Charles Harris played 23 of 69 defensive snaps, down from the 31 per game he averaged last year.
Here’s my Tuesday post with a lot more Dolphins fodder, including some very good news Sunday.
Here’s my Tuesday post with a lot of UM personnel tidbits.