Published: Apr 23, 2012 5:17 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 24, 2012 6:31 AM EDT

MIAMI (AP) - When it comes to quarterbacks, the Miami Dolphins too often pass.

They could have had Drew Brees in 2001, or Aaron Rodgers in 2005, or Matt Ryan in 2008. All were drafted in the first round after the Dolphins made their pick, and all became Pro Bowl QBs.

Meanwhile, the position remains unsettled in Miami, despite more than a decade of shopping for a franchise quarterback. It's bizarre that while the search has sometimes smacked of desperation, the Dolphins haven't used a first-round pick to select a QB since 1983.

That could change Thursday, when Miami has the No. 8 overall pick. The Dolphins' shrinking fan base will be rooting for general manager Jeff Ireland to take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The move makes sense: Shouldn't a team devote a first-round pick to a quarterback every few years?

"I can't say for the years in the past," says Ireland, who has been with the Dolphins since 2008. "I think there are times that you should try to go after one. But I certainly don't feel like you should be pressured into doing that, either."

Tannehill might be a reach at No. 8. He started just 19 games in college, and last year he threw 15 interceptions while going only 1-4 against Top 25 teams.

But with the fans clamoring for a quarterback, there might be pressure as well from owner Stephen Ross, who has come under fire this offseason for failing to woo Peyton Manning or coach Jeff Fisher to Miami.

And maybe the Dolphins are overdue to gamble on a quarterback. The last time they took one in the first round, it worked out: The choice was Dan Marino. The only team that has gone longer without picking a QB in round one is the New Orleans Saints - and they have Brees.

Last week Ireland said he had settled on a preference with his first pick. Tannehill is among more than two dozen players the Dolphins interviewed in depth, and his coach at Texas A&M happened to be the Dolphins' new offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman.

"He's a great kid," Ireland says. "He's smart. He's tough. Got a good family background. A lot of good things about Ryan."

Since Marino retired following the 1999 season, the Dolphins have started 16 quarterbacks, the most in the NFL. The incumbent is Matt Moore, who exceeded expectations starting the final 12 games last year.

But the Dolphins are still shopping. After they failed to land Manning, were outbid for free agent Matt Flynn and briefly courted Alex Smith, they signed veteran David Garrard to compete with Moore.

And they remain in the market for a young passer. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be long gone by the time their turn to draft comes, and it's possible a team ahead of Miami will take Tannehill, too.

In that case, the Dolphins will likely select a quarterback in the later rounds, where their track record is not good. They used a second-round choice on a QB three consecutive years in 2007-09. John Beck was a washout, Chad Henne a disappointment and Pat White a bust.

New coach Joe Philbin knows quarterbacks - he worked with Rodgers and Flynn as an assistant in Green Bay. And he believes there's talent to be found at the position in the later rounds this year.

"It looks like there are some excellent prospects," Philbin says. "There are some very intriguing guys."

With the Dolphins trying to rebound from a 6-10 season, they need a lot more than a quarterback. Also on the shopping list are a No. 1 receiver, right tackle, pass rusher and safety.

The multitude of needs leaves Ireland little margin for error. The Dolphins have eight selections, including four of the first 73, with consecutive picks early in the third round.

"Certainly your second-, third- and fourth-round picks, those guys need to be either starters or significant role players," Ireland says. "I'm maybe stubborn enough to think I can hit on every single one of them."

It's an especially important draft for Ireland, a survivor from the Bill Parcells regime despite growing fan disenchantment. Miami has finished below .500 each of the past three years, and a succession of offseason misfires and misadventures prompted a small group of protesters to gather last month outside team headquarters.

Ireland actually had a better year in 2011 than many in the organization. Newcomers Moore and Reggie Bush exceeded expectations, first-round pick Mike Pouncey became a solid starter, and Ireland resisted fan pressure to acquire quarterback Kyle Orton, who went on to have a poor season.

The GM's draft results have been mixed, and some of the decisions were influenced by Parcells and coach Tony Sparano, both now departed. Jake Long and Vontae Davis were solid first-round choices, and more than half a dozen other players became starters.

"If you can be 50 percent in the draft over a period of time, you've done pretty good," Ireland says. "I think where we were when we started to where we are now, we've done a pretty good job of adding some talent to this team.

"Certainly I'm not saying I hit on every single one, because I haven't. There's no doubt about that. Some I have taken some risk on and hit. And some I have taken some risk on, and didn't work out so good."

If Ireland is in a risky mood Thursday, a quarterback might finally be the Dolphins' first-round choice.