Following the first reports stating an “expectation” that the Pittsburgh Steelers will pursue QB Ryan Tannehill in free agency next month, I wanted to take a look at his stats with and without Arthur Smith, the recent decline of his play, and examine whether Kenny Pickett could make a similar jump with Smith calling plays.
Prior to coming to Tennessee, Tannehill was a middling quarterback with the Miami Dolphins, but in his first season in Smith’s offense he turned into a Pro Bowler and gave the Titans two seasons of high-level play. He helped lead the Titans all the way to the AFC Championship Game his first season there. Here is a look at some of his key passing statistics by year over the last several seasons:
|QB Ryan Tannehill
The 2019 and 2020 seasons were far and away the best two of his career in scoring production and adjusted net yards per passing attempt, and keep in mind he only started 10 games in 2019. Those were the only two seasons he spent under Smith. Ever since Smith departed for Atlanta, Tannehill’s numbers have been regressing. Some of that is due to his age as he approaches the end of his career. He also lost his top target, WR A.J. Brown, to a trade before the 2022 season. But there is no denying that Smith got the most out of him as a passer. He even won AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year in that first season under Smith.
The sharp decline in Tannehill’s ANY/A, culminating in a very rough 4.29 in 2023, suggests his days as a full-time starter are likely over. But the benefits of signing him go beyond his play. This will be the first new offense that Pickett has had to learn since getting drafted and a veteran presence like Tannehill, who understands how to find success in Smith’s offense, could help ease that transition in a big way. Here are Pickett’s first two seasons showing the same stats as above.
|QB Kenny Pickett
In 2018, prior to working with Smith, Tannehill’s ANY/A was 5.29, which is the exact same number Pickett had in 2023. Increasing Pickett’s by 3.23 in one season is probably too much to hope for, but Smith has proven that he can provide a huge boost to his quarterback as the play caller. Tannehill had more of a body of work as he had already thrown over 20 touchdown passes in three different seasons and over 4,000 passing yards in two seasons with the Dolphins, but the ANY/A stat was always hovering roughly where Pickett’s was in 2023.
If Pickett can make even half the jump that Tannehill did, then he will be in a much better spot with a much better career trajectory after his third season. He will have the benefit of solid weapons surrounding him in 2024, and the offensive line figures to be the strongest it has been in several seasons. Everything is setting up well to give Pickett one final chance to prove if he can—or cannot— be a long-term answer for the Steelers.