Tua Tagovailoa is at a crossroads. Just 5 games into the 2021 season, and approaching only his 12th start for the Miami Dolphins, he has still has a lot to prove.
If you’re a Tua stan, or a Tua hater, this article isn’t for you. No offence to you, but this article is for those who don’t pretend they can know what will happen in the future. It’s not for those who find it more important to be right, than to see reality.
If you’re still with us, congratulations, you are the real Dolphins fans. And you understand that as of now, Tua Tagovailoa is at a crossroads. I’m not advocating that we cut bait on the 2020 fifth overall selection any time soon, in fact I wouldn’t even consider the overall evaluation of Tua before the end of the 2022 season.
But we need to start seeing the promise that led to Tua being declared the Miami Dolphins franchise QB. So what do we need to see from Tua over the remaining 12 games of the 2021 season?
TUA TAGOVAILOA NEEDS TO SHOW HE CAN STAY HEALTHY
Now I get it, injuries can happen to anyone. But they happen an awful lot to Tua Tagovailoa in a really short span of games. Even as a Dolphin he has now missed 4 games through injury while starting 11. It’s not a good look, but what’s worse was that was one of the major knocks on him coming out of Alabama.
And whether fair on him or not, he’s a smaller QB and the injury prone moniker is there because he’s, well, injury prone. He needs to show he can break that trend, because you can’t be a franchise QB if you miss nearly a third of your starts.
TUA TAGOVAILOA NEEDS SOME WOW PLAYS
In his time as Miami’s starter, Tua has had positively one great game. At Arizona in his second start he showed us what he could be, what he can be. Since then we have seen very little.
This isn’t about winning games, or doing crazy things. This is about that moment when you see the QB lay that perfect pass into a tight window, or launch the ball to the back of the end zone where only his receiver can catch it.
Watch Trevor Lawrence make 1 or 2 of those throws every game. That’s what we need to see. Now some of you will think “But Lawrence is throwing a lot of interceptions” which is fair. But you expect those to come down as rookies learn.
But the wow plays are the ones that make you realise a QB has that something special. PFF call them Big Time Throws (BTT). In his rookie season Tua had seven BTT’s and one so far this season. That’s 8 in 11 starts. Trevor Lawrence has 7 through 5 starts.
And just in case you think a comp with one of the best arms we’ve seen in a while isn’t fair, Tua’s 2020 BTT total of 7 ranked him 37th in the league. And with only 2.3% of his throws being in this category, well that would rank him 55th. So wow plays are very much needed.
TUA TAGOVAILOA NEEDS TO SHOW US SOME VERTICALITY
Forget the short game, the bubble screens, and the dump-offs to the backs. Forget the five yard routes to Waddle. Tua Tagovailoa needs to show us he can consistently push the ball down the field. I know it’s the popular thing to blame it all on the OC’s, but the plays are there on the field. The QB’s just aren’t pulling the trigger.
It’s not all on the QB’s obviously (it is a team sport, after all), but to help the line, to help the backs, and to help himself Tua has to push the ball down the field more. The Dolphins routinely face 8 men in the box for the simple reason defences don’t fear the ball over the top.
In the 2020 season Tua Tagovailoa attempted only 29 passes of 20+ yards in his 290 pass attempts. That 10% deep-ball rate ranked him 29th in the league.
That rate won’t cut it for the Dolphins. This isn’t Alabama and receivers won’t routinely be wide open deep. Tua has to show us he can still make those plays.
He doesn’t have to do it all. He doesn’t have to win every game. He has to show us growth, and a little more of that ceiling we are all hoping he can reach in the years ahead.