DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Tannehill beamed as he stood on the stage at the NFL draft in New York, holding a Miami Dolphins jersey with uniform No. 1, a reflection of his lofty status as a first-round pick.
The Dolphins finally made the quarterback position their top draft priority, taking Texas A&M's Tannehill with the eighth overall choice Thursday. He became the first QB selected in the opening round by the Dolphins since 1983, when they landed Dan Marino.
Miami fans clamored for a quarterback, and owner Stephen Ross supported the investment of a first-round pick in a passer.
"You have your chances of getting a franchise quarterback in the first round," Ross said. "Historically you see most of them come out of the first round. I always said once we can identify a franchise quarterback, let's go get him. And I think that's what we found."
Tannehill might have been a reach at No. 8. He started just 19 games in college after switching from receiver to quarterback, and last year he threw 15 interceptions while going only 1-4 against Top 25 teams.
But the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Tannehill received favorable reviews from his college coach, Mike Sherman, the Dolphins' new offensive coordinator. General manager Jeff Ireland said that while Tannehill lacks experience, his size, arm strength, toughness, intelligence and overall athletic ability make him a top prospect.
"I didn't take him with the eighth pick in the draft for him to be a backup quarterback," Ireland said. "I picked him to be a starting quarterback in this league at some point to have an impact on the team and help us win games and championships. That's the expectation."
Since Marino retired following the 1999 season, the Dolphins have started 16 quarterbacks, the most in the NFL. They unsuccessfully courted Peyton Manning last month, but Ireland said drafting Tannehill has long been part of the Dolphins' offseason strategy.
"This finalizes a plan we put in place several months ago when we started with the free-agency process and started preparing for the draft," Ireland said. "This solidifies the quarterback position. We wanted depth at the position.
"This brings a new young face in there. We're not going to make any predictions about when he'll start or what he'll do in his first year. But he's a competitor and he'll want to be the starter."
The incumbent is veteran Matt Moore, who exceeded expectations starting the final 12 games last year, when Miami went 6-10. Moore and veteran newcomer David Garrard are expected to compete for the starting job this year, which will give new coach Joe Philbin time to groom Tannehill for the job.
Tannehill said he'll try to learn from the veterans while competing with them as well.
"I want to be a great player someday," he said.
Ross said he's not counting on Tannehill to boost sagging ticket sales, and won't be disappointed if the rookie doesn't throw a pass in a game this year.
"What's going to energize the fan base is winning," Ross said. "It might take time for him to develop."
Tannehill said he was glad to be reunited with Sherman. Their relationship survived a rocky patch in 2008, when Tannehill was a redshirt freshman and Sherman moved him from quarterback to receiver.
"I definitely wanted to be playing the quarterback position," Tannehill said. "When he first sat me down and told me I was going to move to receiver, I told him I thought he was making a mistake and I was the best quarterback on the roster. He always says that was one of the funniest and best moments he had with me."
Ireland smiled when asked about the story.
"That's the competitor in him, and that's what you love about the kid," Ireland said.
Tannehill was the third quarterback drafted. Indianapolis took Andrew Luck with the first pick, and Washington took Robert Griffin III with the second choice. Tannehill was widely projected to be the Dolphins' choice, but he said he didn't know what to expect.
"I was in the dark," he said. "I was so excited to see the Florida area code pop up on the phone."
Tannehill was at the draft in New York when his name was announced, and within 30 seconds he was wearing a Dolphins cap. Chomping on gum, on walked onto the stage and shared a hug with Commissioner Roger Goodell, who handed him the Dolphins jersey.
"It takes my breath away," Tannehill said. "To see my name on the back of an NFL jersey for an organization like the Miami Dolphins, I couldn't be more excited. It's the moment of a lifetime."