Tagovailoa only had a nine-game audition in a very obscure first year in Miami. He was taken out of mid-game, named the starter, and then supplanted by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With the fate of the Dolphins firmly in Tagovailoa’s hands, let’s explore all about his surroundings in Miami and identify what he needs to do to take the next step as a quarterback.
How Tagovailoa has improved since being a prospect
These positive developments in the game of a quarterback are remarkable because they indicate the distinct possibility of future growth.
Basically, like everyone else, I was very high on Tagovailoa as a prospect. He was my QB2 prospect and No.3 in the 2020 category. However, I was not “he’s the next Russell Wilson” in love with him, mainly because I saw him as “incomplete” due to the quality of his. situation in Alabama. His raw score was the sixth highest in the class. My addition of position propelled him to third place. Here is what I wrote about Tagovailoa before the project:
For as advanced as I think Tagovailoa is drifting in pocket and knowing where to go with football, for all intents and purposes, before his injury, his 2019 campaign in Alabama was a snap thanks to the incredibly comfortable environment provided by a litany of first-round picks around him on the offensive line and on receiver.
He provided tiny glimpses of Heisman’s Alabama winning quarterback. But that would be sheer fabrication identifying any clear area in which Tagovailoa has improved since his time in Alabama.
The dolphins had been tanking for Tua for a while, and they did a good job building around him. Especially at the level of the receiver. DeVante Parker’s talents were supercharged when Adam Gase was fired – shocking, right? While he hasn’t been able to rekindle the magic of his 1,200-plus-yard season as of 2019, he doesn’t fit the perimeter. Will Fuller, the often injured but elitist deep threat, was signed in free agency.
While not yet established as a high-volume slot target, lightning-fast Jakeem Grant has reached career highs in all fields in 2020. Preston Williams has flashed healthy as that rebounder on the outside. And my # 1 in the 2021 category, Jaylen Waddle, was selected at # 6 overall. He has some legitimate Tyreek Hill tendencies on the pitch.
Then at the tight end is Mike Gesicki, an emerging star who catches the passes at what has become an incredibly heavy position in the NFL. The super-springy target caught 53 passes for 703 yards with six scores in 2020 while ripping the souls of many defensive backs in jump-ball situations along the way.
Is this receiving group an elite? It depends on your definition. But there is no doubt about its depth or collective speed and diversity of skills.
Now along the offensive line there is more uncertainty. Tagovailoa was only pressured 29.1% of the time last season, a relatively small number. However, it depended more on the passing philosophy of the Dolphins and Tagovailoa in rushing out. According to Next Generation stats, his expected aerial yard average was 7.7, the 14th lowest out of 41 qualified quarterbacks. And he released the ball in under 2.5 seconds on 57.9% of his attempts, the seventh highest rate among qualifying.
Blocking has been improved over what was unsurprisingly a porous unit during tank. It still didn’t come close to being great. Ravens center Matt Skura has been added in free agency. He’s not a star but should offer more stability on the inside than Miami had recently. In the second round, the experienced Liam Eichenberg of Notre-Dame was selected. He has guard / tackle flexibility but is athletically limited and needs to get stronger.
Unless the talented but raw Austin Jackson takes a massive step forward in the sophomore year, and it could happen because he spent a full year in the Dolphins’ strength and conditioning program, the offensive line of Miami still gives me a slight pause on the development of Tagovailoa.
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Last year, the Dolphins took the unconventional route by hiring Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator, having been out of the league since the end of the 2016 campaign. His rapidly spreading attack helped limit the blows absorbed by Tagovailoa as a rookie, but that just wasn’t a vertical threat enough to make the Dolphins’ attack consistently considered a serious threat.
After relieving Gailey of his duties, Brian Flores stayed outside the box, hiring co-offensive coordinators – George Godsey and Eric Studesville, to share playing duties for Tagovailoa’s second season in the NFL. Studesville has no experience of NFL game calls. Godsey is a follower of Bill O’Brien and called plays in 2015 with the Texans, but those responsibilities were revoked in early October 2016.
Of course, we also don’t have any schematic philosophies that we can study before we launch the attack on Miami in year 2 of the Tagovailoa experiment.
Improve your weaknesses
In all nine competitions we have seen Tagovailoa, beyond a propensity to control him quickly, he was mostly ineffective under pressure. On plays where the pocket wasn’t clean, the No. 5 overall pick completed just under 44% of his throws at a tiny 4.7 yards per no touchdown attempt and two interceptions. His accuracy percentage on those throws ranked 36th out of 39 qualifiers.
Frankly, Tagovailoa’s struggles against pressure shouldn’t have been entirely surprising. Not because he was horrible against the pressure in Alabama, but simply because he didn’t have much experience with the pass-rushers hitting him in college and he’s an average athlete for the quarterback position by today’s standards in the NFL.
In 2019, before his injury with the Crimson Tide, Tagovailoa was pressured on just 22.2% of his folds and he wasn’t necessarily effective against the pressure.
Slightly faster processing and showcasing the deft pocket-moving skills he exhibited in Alabama will be integral to Tagovailoa taking the next step as a passer in 2021.
Much more surprisingly, Tagovailoa was not sharp as a razor when kept clean, and we know that going without pressure is more stable year on year. His 67% yards-per-attempt average ranks 34th, his 7.2-yard average depth ranks 27th, and his adjusted 79.2% completion percentage ranks 22nd. However, he threw 11 touchdowns for just three picks, a solid ratio.
When Miami’s offensive line protects well, Tagovailoa needs to be surgically precise and make good decisions on a regular basis.
More aggression downstream from the second-year quarterback will likely have a positive ripple effect on the Dolphins’ offense and provide Tagovailoa with more uncluttered passing lanes below and at the intermediate level. And while the long ball is of course more likely to create splash plays for the attack, instances where downstream passes are used are rare. Tagovailoa was revered as a prospect due to his intelligence and 0-19 yard ball placement.
Strengthen your strengths
Although the pattern is taken into account, Tagovailoa managed to avoid sacks in 2020, when many young quarterbacks tend to hang on to football for too long, resulting in pressure, which leads to layoffs. His 6.5% layoff rate was lower than any chosen first-round quarterback from 2018-2020 who played as a rookie alongside Justin Herbert and Baker Mayfield.
Sacks greatly reduce the chance that an attack will score a hit. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, before the 2020 season, NFL teams were averaging one touchdown in 24.5% of their workouts that did not include a sack. When a layoff occurred, that figure dropped to 7.2%.
Therefore, Tagovailoa’s quick trigger is a subtle weapon. And of course, it helps smooth out some cracks along the offensive line. While the Dolphins shouldn’t aim to be obsessed with the short passing game or expect it to produce very different results in 2021, allowing Tagovailoa to meticulously move the football on the pitch with quick throws does not. cannot be an expelled philosophy. the offense as a whole.
Even in 2019 in Alabama, Tagovailoa’s 8.8-yard average goal depth ranked 73rd among college football quarterbacks. He is no stranger to the quick pass offense.
And the addition of Waddle makes the Dolphins more capable of YAC. So there is more advantage in a high percentage pitch made in the first or two seconds after Tagovailoa caught the snap than in his first season.
Of course, a larger sample size of rookie year Tagovailoa would have provided a better indication of his performance going forward.
We all know that a strong supporting cast is essential for a young quarterback. And adding reception skills with aggressiveness, once considered absurd, is now common. Ask the Buccaneers. The Dolphins have built a pass-catching contingent that will take a “what if” layer away from their season-ending Tagovailoa assessment.
The offensive line has been invested, I’m just not in love with who they have up front. Skura wasn’t great in Baltimore. Jackson has had a volatile rookie season. We barely saw anything in 2020 from pencil left guard Michael Deiter, and he was a turnstile as a rookie. Robert Hunt started a solid rookie tackle campaign, and now he’s bumping inside to keep.
In short, this is a group with a lot of young bodies that have yet to prove themselves and have not had a sparkling debut in their limited action careers.
As is the case with most quarterbacks moving from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NFL, things will slow down for Tagovailoa as a rooted Dolphins starter in 2021. And the talent infusion at the level of the receiver will help him see more open receivers more frequently.
But I’m not sure I predict a Tagovailoa breakout with so many unanswered questions along the offensive line. And blocking matters more to Tagovailoa than to other young quarterbacks, because as we saw in 2020, he has medium arm talent and is just an average athlete for the job, so his improvisation advantage. is minimal. Due to his precision and intelligence, Tagovailoa will make progress in some areas, but while the Dolphins are certainly a strong contender for the playoffs, I expect the organization to have a very difficult decision regarding their future. at the end of the season.