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Is Tua Tagovailoa the Answer in Miami?

Tua Tagovailoa - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins used the fifth overall pick to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tua started nine games for the Dolphins as a rookie. He was 6-3 as a starter, though that includes a win over the Raiders in which he was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He ended the season with 11 touchdowns and five picks, completing 64.1 percent of his passes. He also added 36 rushing attempts for 109 yards and three touchdowns.

But there were definitely times when Tagovailoa looked overmatched. He had three games with under 100 passing yards. He never threw for more than two touchdowns in a game.

The Dolphins will pick third in this year's draft thanks to owning the Houston Texans' first-round pick, so could they give up on Tua early and draft whichever of Zach Wilson or Justin Fields slides to third? Will they make a blockbuster deal to acquire Deshaun Watson? Or is Tua the long-term answer at quarterback for the Dolphins and an underrated fantasy asset for 2021?

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Arm Strength

Before his hip fracture, Tua was the toast of the league when it came to QB prospects. "Tank for Tua" was a common refrain on Twitter. The left-hander was expected to be an impactful player in the NFL for a long, long time.

And guess what: he still can be, even if his rookie year numbers weren't at the level that many were hoping. I do think that we needed to reassess some things with the lefty passer.

The biggest concern I have with Tua is arm strength. That was already a big knock on him coming into the league, as he hadn't really done a lot of deep stuff at Alabama. And his 2020 numbers seem to confirm some of that concern. Per PlayerProfiler, here are some concerning rankings for Tua:

Stat Rank
Yards Per Attempt 6.3 30
Adjusted Yards Per Attempt 5.8 29
Air Yards Per Attempt 7.9 17
Deep Ball Completion % 36.40 24

Not great! Especially when racking up yards is an important part of being a fantasy-relevant quarterback. But even fantasy aside, if Tua isn't doing deep, it limits what Miami can do. Being able to stretch the field can really open up a lot of things on the underneath side.

But Tua can throw the ball deep sometimes:

This is a legitimately good throw! Maybe the issue isn't necessarily that his arm strength is an issue, it's just that he hasn't gotten to a point post-hip injury where he can comfortably and confidently make these plays on a consistent basis. I'm not ready to write Tua's arm off yet, because there are flashes there.


So, Should The Dolphins Draft A Quarterback?

Well, if Tua has serious question marks in that sense, does that mean the Dolphins should use the No. 3 overall pick on one of Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance?

No, I don't think so.

Because while there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Tua's ability to execute passing plays at a high level, he also didn't get a very fair shake this year. His -7.17 supporting cast efficiency ranked 26th. His protection rate ranked 23rd. He didn't have a great run game to take the pressure off of him. There was just, like, no YAC from his receivers. We really need to see what Tua can do with better weapons.

Here's the biggest thing Tagovailoa has going for him: he was second among all QBs in accuracy rating. He throws a well-timed, well-placed ball; he just isn't really throwing the ball vertically like you might like him to.

If the Dolphins can trade for Deshaun Watson, great. But we know that Tua is an accurate passer who can win games, and I think he proved enough this season to justify his spot over the mystery of a rookie QB.

Tua should also have some better movement next year when it comes to scrambles and designed runs. He had 36 carries -- 21st among quarterbacks -- for 109 yards but did find the end zone three times on the ground.

He showed some good vision on this touchdown run, for instance. And in college, he was a lot more willing to absorb some contact and do some power running, something I expect to see more of in the future.

So no, Miami doesn't need to treat Tua like he's Josh Rosen. Go into 2021 with him as your starter. Give him another year to show why you picked him so high in the first place.


2021 Fantasy Outlook

So, what should we expect from Tua in 2021?

I guess I'd sum it up like this: improvement, but not a monumental improvement.

Even if he shows an increased willingness to throw the deep ball, the Dolphins are unlikely to have the personnel to allow him to make a huge leap.

Tua will be better. His accuracy will remain and will be mixed with more high-upside plays.

He also won't have the threat of Ryan Fitzpatrick breathing down his neck. Let's not ignore the fact that the Dolphins benched Tagovailoa twice late in games for Fitzpatrick, since they thought he gave them a better chance of winning. Tua will get those chances in 2021, which improves his overall fantasy outlook.

He should be considered a mid-range QB2 next year, with the upside to finish as a low-end QB1 if he makes the kind of leap that he's entirely capable of making. Don't overdraft him, but if he falls below his ADP, be ready to snatch him up on draft day.

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