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How Tua Tagovailoa can change his narrative with the Miami Dolphins in 2022

Hardly any other young NFL quarterback has been quite as polarizing as Miami Dolphins signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa. Expectations for Tagovailoa were quite high when he was selected at No. 5 overall by the Dolphins in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the second quarterback to come off the board that April behind only former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who was selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Obviously, these two have experienced different levels of success since making their NFL debuts, with Burrow already considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL by some while Tagovailoa faces much heavier scrutiny.

Tagovailoa saw action in 10 games in the first year of his career, completing 64.1% of his passes for 1,814 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. In 2021, he took a statistical jump in some regards, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio worsened as he completed 67.8% of his passing attempts for 2,653 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 picks.

It’s easy to get the sense that this isn’t all on Tagovailoa, though. After all, he did head into one of the NFL’s worst overall offensive situations from the jump. A quarterback is only one part of the puzzle that can’t fix everything, especially when there are issues up front or within the supporting cast around him.

Related: Ranking NFL QBs heading into 2022

Patience is a virtue and Tua Tagovailoa did what he could with what he had

miami dolphins qb tua tagovailoa
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that we’re very much in a “what can you do for me today” era with the NFL and its fan bases. There was a time when it was more common than not for rookie quarterbacks to sit and learn for at least one year before being asked to go assume the helm. Now, it’s become more of the norm for a passer with zero NFL experience to come out and take a hack at making a team rise from the ashes or make a major leap in his first season. Rarely does that work out.

There were also plenty of eyes on Tagovailoa after the success he had at the college level, finishing out his Alabama career with a 69.3% completion rate, 7,442 passing yards, 87 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions on 474 passing attempts.

Over that time span, he was named the CFP National Championship Offensive MVP in 2017 and was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018, accomplishing all of this while battling through injury and trying to bounce back from medical procedures.

It’s only Tua Tagovailoa’s third NFL season, but it didn’t help that two of the other quarterbacks from his draft class went out and had standout rookie seasons (though things obviously weren’t perfect for Burrow, who sustained a severe knee injury that required reconstructive surgery).

Looking at the stat lines alone, Justin Herbert, who was selected below Tagovailoa by the Los Angeles Chargers with the No. 6 overall pick, completed 66.6% of his passes for 4,336 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over 15 games.

Burrow had potential to be named Rookie of the Year before his season-ending injury, completing 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions over 10 games.

But putting the accomplishments and fortune of those two aside, Tagovailoa didn’t have a horrible rookie season. He was just in a tough position where comparisons comes into play.

The 2022 outlook for Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins had just four picks to their name in the 2022 NFL Draft, the lowest in the league. They utilized those equally between offense and defense, going defense-first by selecting Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall in the third round. They added just one non-quarterback in Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma before interestingly using their last pick to acquire a highly developmental quarterback prospect surrounded by injury concerns.

  • Round 3, Pick No. 102: Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia
  • Round 4, Pick No. 125: Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech
  • Round 7, Pick No. 224: Cameron Goode, EDGE, California
  • Round 7, Pick No. 247: Skylar Thompson, QB, Kansas State

So, what’s the deal for Tagovailoa as far as passing targets go? That’s not something really defined by the draft, as the Dolphins have a solid wideout in Jaylen Waddle, who totaled 104 receptions for 1,015 yards with six touchdowns as a rookie in 2021.

There’s also a lot of potential at the position with the acquisition of Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs and Cedrick Wilson Jr., who the team signed as a free agent back in March. This pair of nuanced route-runners should inject a new type of speed and electricity into the Miami offense and should open up a lot for head coach Mike McDaniel.

Tua Tagovailoa stats (2020-21): 66% completion, 4,467 yards, 27 TD, 15 INT, 88.8 QB rating

Hill is coming off of the best season of his career as one of the NFL’s most talented receivers. He finished out 2021 with 111 receptions (career high) on 159 targets with 1,239 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Wilson is equally coming off one of the best years of his career, though his numbers don’t pop off the charts the same way Hill’s do. Last year, he reeled in 45 receptions for 602 yards with six touchdowns. It will be interesting to see just how much of a role he plays and how much he builds off of that success in his first year as a Dolphin.

Tua Tagovailoa also has one of the league’s best tight ends at his disposal in Mike Gesicki, who had his best season last year in terms receiving yards (780) in 2021.

Looking at the offensive line, the Dolphins have made some improvements since they had one of the worst overall units — if not the worst offensive line in the league– in 2021. Pro Football Focus ranked the Dolphins offensive line last in the NFL, citing the 235 pressures it gave up, which is one of the worst totals in recent NFL history. The Dolphins have made offseason moves to better this, adding tried-and-true left tackle Terron Armstead and promising left guard Connor Williams.

Despite having to deal with last year’s OL blunders, Tagovailoa had the third-fastest average time to throw (2.53 seconds).

Instinctiveness and natural ability have always been things Tua Tagovailoa has had in his toolbox and have a lot to do with how much of a difference-maker he was at Alabama in a way that contrasts from the quarterback who took his place after he departed. This was noted by a former Alabama coach I spoke with ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

“Tua has a natural, quick release, can get the ball out and also create things,” he said. “Mac sees things quick and studied it and he gets it out because he makes quick decisions. Both of them were effective. Tua is as accurate as Mac… with a quick release, Mac made quick decisions to get it out of his hand.”

With Tagovailoa in a better position to succeed in 2022 so long as the offensive line shows substantial grow, the true evaluations that carry weight as to how effective he can be for the Dolphins in the future should start now, with some of the quickly drawn conclusions over the past two years to be taken with a grain of salt.