Sophomore Superstars: Tua Tagovailoa
The next player who I believe will have a potential breakout season is Dolphins quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa who did not live up to expectations last season after being drafted with the 5th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now with the Washington Football Team, the Dolphins have officially handed Tua the keys to the offense.
Let's start by looking at Tua's 2020 stats:
10 Games Played
186 Completions on 290 Attempts 36 Rushes
64.1% Completion Percentage 109 Yards
1814 Passing Yards 3 Touchdowns
11 Touchdowns and 5 Interceptions
We can go a little deeper into the stats and see that Tua was On-Target on 74.2% of his throws and had an average depth of target (aDOT) of 8.0 which to many fans, including myself is a little surprising. His top three targets were Davante Parker (11.0 aDOT) who had 23 receptions on 44 targets with a passer rating of 76.6, Mike Gesicki (10.6 aDOT) who had 29 receptions on 42 targets with a passer rating of 104.1, and Lynn Bowden Jr (4.7aDOT) who had 27 receptions on 34 targets for a 68.1 passer rating. So based on these numbers we can assume that Tua was best when targeting his big-bodied receivers in the intermediate levels of the field, right? When we look into the next stats that statement will look very wrong...
Well, let's go even deeper into his stats and look at his Passer Rating and On-target percentage to the different levels of the field.
Passer Rating On-Target %
Behind LOS: 103.1 Behind LOS: 88%
0-9 Yards: 97.4 0-9 Yards: 84%
10-19 Yards: 69.1 10-19 Yards: 54%
20+ Yards: 76.7 20+ Yards: 45%
So now based on these stats, Tua was at his worst when targeting his receivers in the intermediate levels of the field where he had a passer rating of 69.1 and an on-target percentage of 54% which was 11% lower than the league average of 65%. At all other levels of the field, he was near or above average with his on-target percentage with targets behind the LOS at the 2nd worst in his stats at 6% lower than the league average. Both 0-9 yards and 20+ yards, Tua was above average with his on-target percentage.
Lastly, Tua came out with a statement saying that he did not know the playbook well enough as a rookie to be able to make the correct checks and alerts that he needed to, often having to stick with a play knowing that it wasn't going to work or that he was going to have to make it work. This is most likely the reason why many people believed that the coaches didn't open up the playbook for him and why there were multiple times that Tua was pulled for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, most famously in the Raiders game in week 16 where Fitzpatrick led a comeback for the Dolphins.
Now let's discuss why I believe Tua will be able to take the next step forward with the Dolphins.
The first and most obvious is that he should be much more comfortable in this offense as it will be his second year and he should be much more confident at the LOS where he will be able to have full control over what he is doing in terms of checks, audibles, and alerts whether it be in terms of routes or protections.
Next, is Tua will not have to deal with the fact that he can be pulled at any moment for Fitzpatrick and he can play loose, comfortable, and confident in the system. He shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes as every NFL quarterback does and he should instead do everything he can to learn from every little mistake he does.
One often overlooked issue with Tua is the fact that he was coming off of a brutal injury in his last season at Alabama where people were unsure of if he would ever be able to play again. He was back on a football field in much less than a year and although he looked close to the same, the mental aspect of coming of an injury like that is extremely difficult but after a full season of practicing and playing in the NFL, Tua should be back to form in regards to his injury.
Now well get into the fun part. The Dolphins went out and added one of the best deep threats in the NFL in Will Fuller, and arguably the best, most electric receiver in this draft class in Jaylen Waddle. Last year, Fuller averaged 16.6 yards per reception and averaged 3.0 yards of separation when thrown to so he will help with Tua not having to throw into tight windows. Waddle and Tua were former teammates at Alabama and when targeting Waddle, Tua had a PFF grade of 90.2, had a 74% completion percentage, and a 137.9 passer rating. Waddle also brings in an electric athlete who is a great route runner and can win/separate at all levels of the field which will again help Tua. Also, considering Waddle did the majority of his damage either behind the LOS or 10+ yards down the field, he should significantly improve Tua's ability to attack the intermediate levels of the field.
Last we'll take a look at the offensive line. Last year they were one of the worst in the NFL, but it was expected when you consider three rookies played over 700 snaps. It can be expected that this unit will improve simply due to experience and being in the same system for a second year. Austin Jackson, Soloman Kindley, and Robert Hunt all played significant roles last year and should again this year, hopefully at a slightly more effective rate. The addition of Liam Eichenberg, someone who is a plug-and-play type right tackle, should help make this unit better along with the overall improvement of the rookies. This unit simply needs to be a top 20 offensive line as there aren't many defenses who will be able to consistently cover the weapons that the Dolphins can put out there every play.
In the end, I believe Tua's growth needs to happen if he wants to be the quarterback of the future for the Dolphins and I think it will happen for the reasons listed above. With the additional weapons, the second year in the system, and the overall improvement of the offensive line, I see Tua taking the next step to becoming a franchise QB.
*stats according to PFF