Sunday, January 29 2023

By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

Tua Tagovailoa might be a mild-mannered quarterback. The Miami Dolphins star might not be the loudest man in the room. 

But the mere mention of his name — the mere categorization of him as a star — is enough to stir controversy.

Tagovailoa would never overreact. And yet everyone overreacts to Tagovailoa.

Will Tua Tagovailoa or Daniel Jones have a better season?

The Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and Giants’ Daniel Jones have new coaches and tons of expectations for 2022. Colin Cowherd predicts which QB will have the better season.

Let’s take a look at Exhibits A and B from the offseason. 

In May, the Dolphins posted a video of Tagovailoa throwing to receiver Tyreek Hill, who joined the team in a blockbuster trade this offseason and immediately signed a $120-million deal. In what was clearly a warmup period, Tagovailoa underthrew Hill on a long throw. Tua was wearing a bucket hat and shorts. No big deal. Ho hum. The guys were just getting in sync. That would have been the normal reaction, at least. Instead, NFL fans ripped him to shreds on social media, in part because the Dolphins quarterback has a reputation for a weak arm. 

Then in training camp, Tagovailoa went viral again, this time for a perfect 60-yard bomb to Hill in an 11-on-11 drill. Tagovailoa poked back at his detractors.

“I think people don’t think I can throw the ball far,” Tagovailoa said with a laugh Aug. 3 when asked why he thought the play got so much traction on Twitter. “I would say that’s the fascination. Like, ‘Wow! He can throw the ball!’ It’s hard to be in the NFL if you can’t throw the ball, right?”

In keeping with Tagovailoa’s career, the quarterback then faced a series of questions about the Dolphins’ tampering scandal when Miami owner Stephen Ross made attempts before and after drafting Tagovailoa to acquire legendary quarterback Tom Brady. Moments after brushing off external skepticism, Tagovailoa had to brush off internal skepticism. 

“I think the team is all in with me and all of the guys that we have now,” Tagovailoa said.

He has to keep saying it because few people believe it. He has to keep saying it because the Dolphins have said they’re committed to him, but have explored acquiring Brady and even reportedly attempted to trade for Deshaun Watson despite the allegations of sexual assault. 

Tagovailoa has never seemed secure in his standing with the team, not even in his rookie season when the Dolphins would pull him in the fourth quarter with hopes backup Ryan Fitzpatrick could serve as the closer to win games. 

The truth is that, at this point in his career, Tagovailoa is not elite. Perhaps he’ll grow into Top 10 production. For now, he is a middle-of-the-road option. He can get the job done, even if he doesn’t always get it done.

Can Tua be a franchise QB?

Colin Cowherd explains why he is confident Tua Tagovailoa can thrive in Mike McDaniel’s offense.

That’s why Mike McDaniel’s response to the now-iconic deep completion was fitting.

“What was my reaction? My reaction was they did exactly what I told them to do,” the Dolphins coach said with a laugh. “No, that’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last that they’ll connect like that. I was pumped because the exciting part to me was that Tua did it at the appropriate time. He wasn’t just throwing a long ball. He read the defense, and that’s what he felt, and he did it with conviction.”

Tagovailoa is a game-manager who follows the script. He doesn’t make the kinds of throws Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes attempt. They can get away with the passes that coaches instruct their players not to make, because they are uniquely gifted — two of the best throwers on the planet. Tua has to follow the rules. He operates within them. He doesn’t deserve criticism for that. But that playing style brings limitations. 

The criticism surrounding Tagovailoa’s deep game is grounded in statistics. But even there — it’s muddled. His average depth of target (7.4) was 35th in the NFL among quarterbacks with 150 attempts or more in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. His yards per attempt (6.8) was the 21st best in the NFL among passers with 150 or more attempts. Bottom line: he didn’t throw the ball downfield often. 

When he did attack the deep third, he was among the most efficient passers in the NFL. He completed 48.3% of his deep passes (20+ yards), which was third-best in the NFL behind the CardinalsKyler Murray and Chargers’ Justin Herbert.

But with the small sample size, it’s fair to wonder whether Tagovailoa can maximize the performance of the Dolphins’ receivers group, which boasts overwhelming speed from Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

McDaniel faced a question about whether he felt it was challenging to scheme around the receivers’ speed.

“It’s kind of like the difficulties — the guy who has three yachts has deciding which yacht to pick. No, there’s not difficulties with that. It’s very desirable. We’re very fortunate,” McDaniel said in a recent press conference. “I think that they’re not fast guys, they’re fast football players and that’s the coolest part about them and why we don’t really have issues.”

Tyreek Hill says Tua is “most accurate” QB in the NFL

Tyreek Hill was quoted saying Tua’s “fundamentals are on point,” and he was the “most accurate QB in the NFL.” Jason McCourty and Colin Cowherd evaluate Hill’s comments.

With Hill, Waddle and Cedric Wilson at receiver, Tagovailoa has the arsenal to succeed. No question. With McDaniel — one of the NFL’s most promising young coaches — the Dolphins quarterback should take leaps forward in his evolution as a quarterback. 

But even then, no one will agree about what Tagovailoa is — and isn’t. No one will dissect him with nuance. 

If he succeeds, he’ll be a product of McDaniel and Hill. 

If Tagovailoa flops, he’ll be a bust. 

And there’s something hilarious about the radioactive and erratic energy that surrounds a quarterback whose game is built upon steadiness and consistency.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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