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Are the Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa for Real?

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The Miami Dolphins' victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season proved to be one for the record books, both on a team and individual level. The real headline was the record-setting performance by QB Tua Tagovailoa, who was nothing more than a deep sleeper in most fantasy drafts heading into this season.

For fantasy football managers, it now creates a huge dilemma, especially for those who viewed Tagovailoa as a game-manager and nothing more than a backup QB. With this breakout game, is he now worth adding as a long-term solution for those who now find themselves without Trey Lance or Dak Prescott? Is he the quarterback who will take a huge leap forward and become this year's version of Joe Burrow? Or is he bound to fall back hard with regression, beginning with a Week 3 contest against division rival Buffalo?

Obviously, two games are too soon to determine anything definitively but we'll take a stab at it anyway by examining both sides of the debate.

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Buying Miami's Offense (Tua 4 MVP!)

It was quite the weekend for NFL fans as three improbable comebacks occurred on the same day by Cleveland, Arizona, and Miami. The Dolphins' effort was the one that stands out most from a statistical standpoint, though.

The comeback was created almost entirely by a prolific passing game led by Tua Tagovailoa, who tied a franchise record with Dolphins legends Dan Marino and Bob Griese by throwing six touchdown passes in one game. Tagovailoa's 469 yards were the highest total of those three and rank fourth-highest in all-time Miami passing performances; it's not a shock to discover that Marino holds the top three spots on that list.

That puts Tagovailoa in elite company as far as the history books are concerned and has prompted some dramatic reactions. Miami's Super Bowl odds jumped from +4000 to +2500, Mike McDaniel is an early favorite for Coach of the Year, and Dolphins fans are ecstatic.

It is two weeks into the regular season, so every reaction is an overreaction to some extent. In this case, there are legitimate reasons to buy into the narrative that this offense can be elite.

First, the addition of Tyreek Hill can't be underestimated. Not only is this a passing league, but the impact a star receiver can make on an offense continues to grow. Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow would not have squared off in Super Bowl LVI if not for the presence of Cooper Kupp and Ja'Marr Chase.

Last season, the Dolphins were thin at wide receiver all year long behind standout rookie Jaylen Waddle.

Below is the list of top-10 receivers by yardage for the 2021 Dolphins. Note that only two of the top five are wideouts and Waddle is the only WR on this list still on the team.

2021 Receiving Leaders
Rec Rec Rec Rec Rec Rec
Player Pos G Tgt Rec
Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Jaylen Waddle WR 16 140 104 1015 9.8 6 74.3%
Mike Gesicki TE 17 112 73 780 10.7 2 65.2%
DeVante Parker WR 10 73 40 515 12.9 2 54.8%
Durham Smythe TE 17 41 34 357 10.5 0 82.9%
Myles Gaskin RB 17 63 49 234 4.8 4 77.8%
Mack Hollins wr 17 28 14 223 15.9 4 50.0%
Albert Wilson wr 14 39 25 213 8.5 0 64.1%
Isaiah Ford wr 13 17 12 161 13.4 2 70.6%
Salvon Ahmed rb 12 19 12 117 9.8 0 63.2%
Adam Shaheen te 12 16 12 110 9.2 0 75.0%
Team Total 17 599 404 3936 9.7 21 67.4%

The Fins didn't just improve their receiver room, they did an Extreme Makeover. They traded five drafts pick to acquire Hill and then signed him to a $120 million deal. They went further by signing WR Cedrick Wilson Jr., RBs Chase Edmonds, and Raheem Mostert, and using the franchise tag to keep TE Mike Gesicki. These complementary pieces would have already helped Waddle, the team's leading receiver a year ago, but getting the Cheetah a move that instantly made them a dangerous offense ready to contend for the postseason.

Hill was responsible for most of the damage done in that fourth-quarter comeback, accounting for two touchdowns of 48 and 60 yards respectively. He finished with 190 yards on the day and currently leads the NFL with 284 receiving yards. His teammate, Waddle, is third with 240 yards.

Tagovailoa may not be the only QB to see a massive spike in production following target upgrades. Early in the year, Jalen Hurts has become a prolific passer with A.J. Brown on board and Carson Wentz is tied for the league lead in TD passes now with Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen now that he has a trio of quality wideouts in Washington.

Having two All-Pro caliber wide receivers will help any quarterback but we should also give Tagovailoa his due credit. He is completing 71.1% of his passes after doing so on 67.8% of passes last year despite inferior talent outside of Waddle.

The other major addition that Miami made in the offseason, which could have even more significance than Hill, is their new head coach. Mike McDaniel brings an offensive-minded focus to the team as opposed to former head coach/current DC for Pittsburgh, Brian Flores. It was obvious that Flores was never a fan of Tagovailoa, wasting no time in pulling him after a mistake and never really collaborating with him on or off the field. Miami's upper management wisely chose to find a coach who would be in Tua's corner and design the offense to his strengths. It's already paying big dividends and they should only continue to get better as the season progresses.


Selling Miami's Offense (It's a Fluke!)

Many are referring to it as the "Baltimore Breakdown" and claiming the numerous injuries to the defensive secondary left Dolphins receivers wide open. This is a bit misleading because while the Ravens were battling injuries during the practice week, both starting CBs, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, were active all game.

The Ravens' defense did allow the most passing yards in the league last year, so the matchup definitely had something to do with Miami's success in throwing the ball. Game script also worked in Tua's favor after the Fins were down 28-7 at halftime. Tagovailoa attempted 50 passes on the day and they only ran the ball 17 times, none of which came in the red zone.

It is also easy to forget that while the Dolphins are 2-0, Tagovailoa did not put up big numbers in the first game. He threw for 270 yards and one touchdown against the Patriots. Over the first two years of his NFL career, Tagovailoa averaged 194.2 passing yards per game. This one performance definitely inflates his numbers.

He may have been held back by a conservative gameplan last year but he also might have been saved by it. His high completion rate was largely due to the fact he was 31st among QBs with 6.9 Air Yards per Attempt. He only threw 10 interceptions but had 24 Interceptable Passes according to PlayerProfiler. Even so, a 16-10 TD-INT rate isn't any better than Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, or the guy he replaced in Miami, Ryan Tannehill.

Despite the lofty numbers this year, he threw two picks in the first half of the Baltimore game which is a big part of the reason the team fell behind big in the first place. Tua is prone to bad throws at times and working behind a still-mediocre-at-best offensive line may lead to more pressured throws, sacks, and turnovers when they face better defenses down the road.

To that end, they will be tested in Week 3 when they face a Buffalo defense that has smothered the Rams and Titans, two playoff teams from a year ago that each finished 12-5. They follow up with a road game against the defending AFC champs in Cincinnati. The schedule softens shortly after but this may be the worst possible time to spend up or buy into Tua and the Fins offense.



Tua Tagovailoa has been one of the most-criticized young quarterbacks in the league and there may be a logical reason for that. Recently, a series of threads has been circulating on Twitter showing why people may intuitively mistrust a left-handed quarterback due to cognitive dissonance. We are so used to seeing right-handed passers that we don't assume someone who moves and throws the opposite way is "doing it right."

Just for kicks, check out this set of flipped videos.

It is clear that many will be quick to dismiss his Week 2 performance as an outlier. It's too soon to say that it isn't. He probably won't put up 300+ yards on a regular basis because the running game hasn't been very good and defenses may start adjusting to defend the perimeters more tightly. They could also be a Tyreek Hill injury away from looking scarily similar to last year's offense.

While there will always be doubters, Tagovailoa has a great chance to build on his success with another solid outing. The way this offense has moved the ball with ease has been encouraging and he has two players that can rip off a huge play at any given time. There will be more boom weeks in the near future, although likely not to the same extent as Week 2.

Miami has an extremely favorable schedule from Weeks 5-12, making Tagovailoa a realistic QB1 target in fantasy leagues. That makes him the ideal replacement for those who expected Trey Lance to be their starter all year long. The concern is that he then gets three tough matchups in Weeks 13-15 against the 49ers, Chargers, and Bills, all of which come on the road.

Trusting Tua with your playoff fortunes would be a true test of faith. If he is among the league passing leaders at that point and this offense keeps rolling, he might warrant holding onto. Realistically, he is a high-priority for any fantasy team that doesn't currently have a top-10 QB in tow but it wouldn't be the worst idea to trade him for Deshaun Watson by Week 10 just before their bye week when Watson is set to make his return shortly after.

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