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3 Tua Tagovailoa stats that define QB’s first 17 NFL starts

Matthew Arrojas

It took a little over a season-and-a-half, but Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa finally has a full 17 games under his belt as a starter. 

That run hasn’t been uninterrupted, but it at last gives Dolphins fans a full season’s sample size they can work with to evaluate their second-year quarterback. Even with some of those starts including relief efforts from backup QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jacoby Brissett, the former Alabama Crimson Tide passer now has over 500 career pass attempts.

So, what can we gleam from all those dropbacks over two seasons? Here are a few of the stats that help define his first 17 games as a starter. 

Related: Sportsnaut’s ranking of NFL QBs for 2021

Average time to throw for Tua Tagovailoa: 2.49 seconds

miami dolphins' tua tagovailoa sacked
BILL INGRAM /THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let’s preface the discussion of Tagovailoa’s quick game with a chat about the Dolphins’ offensive line. 

Last season, Miami’s pass block win rate (51%) ranked 27th in the league, according to ESPN Analytics. This measures how often a line can sustain a block for at least 2.5 seconds. In 2021, Miami’s win rate (45%) currently ranks dead last. 

Long story short: Miami’s line has struggled in pass blocking since Tagovailoa’s rookie season. 

That’s all important when looking at his extremely limited time to throw. This year, he ranks third in fastest time to throw per dropback behind only Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, according to Pro Football Focus.

Because of the team’s poor offensive line play, it’s tough to tell whether this is a bug or a feature. Is he passing so quickly because he’s an ultra-fast processor (like Brady) or because his arm isn’t strong enough for his offensive coordinator to draw up long-developing routes for him to hit (like Roethlisberger). That question might not be solved until Tua Tagovailoa has a viable offensive line to stand behind. 

Another important thing to note about Miami’s offense and it’s time per throw is how often it uses run-pass options (RPOs). Benjamin Solak of the Ringer noted that over 18% of Tagovailoa’s pass attempts this season have been off of RPOs. The next closest percentage is Colt McCoy at 12.2%. 

Related: Sportsnaut’s Week 14 NFL power rankings

Completion percentage over expectation: 2.5%

Cleveland Browns, Tua Tagovailoa
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been touted about Tagovailoa’s exceptional completion percentage this season (70.9%), which ranks him second in the league behind Kyler Murray

A preferable way to measure a quarterback’s accuracy in most situations is completion percentage over expectation (CPOE). This statistic takes into account tight window throws and depth of target to determine how often a QB is able to complete passes above or below the expectation of an average quarterback.

In this statistic, Tua Tagovailoa boasts a respectable 2.5% over expectation, according to RBSDM.com, over the last two seasons. That’s good enough to rank him 18th among 43 qualifying quarterbacks since the start of 2020. He ranks fourth among 36 qualifying quarterbacks in the 2021 season, which shows exceptional growth within an offense that doesn’t ask him to make many throws deep downfield. 

Among QBs with a positive CPOE since 2020, only Drew Brees and Jared Goff have a lower average depth of target, per RBSDM

Still, when Tagovailoa does pass deep (20 yards downfield or longer), he’s been accurate. Per PFF, his deep completion percentage (52.9%) is second-best, again behind only Murray, this season. However, only 7.3% of his attempts have been deep passes, the third-lowest rate in the league.

Turnover worthy play rate: 3.4%

Tagovailoa generally isn’t considered a QB who puts the ball in harm’s way very often. That’s largely because he’s thrown just 11 interceptions on over 500 attempts, but Dolphins fans who watch him every week know he has a penchant for forcing the ball when he shouldn’t. 

In reality, he’s gotten lucky when it comes to turnovers. Per PFF, Tagovailoa has a turnover worthy play rate of 3.4%. It’s not egregious, but it shows that he has benefitted from dropped interceptions plenty through his first 16 starts. 

So far this year, his rate is the 17th highest in the NFL. His rate has dropped from 3.7% last year to 3.1% this year, so he’s shown great improvement in this area of his game. 

His struggles have largely come while under pressure. According to PFF, he has the second-highest turnover worthy play rate in the league while pressured this season behind only Roethlisberger. When not under pressure, he has the lowest rate among full-time starters. 

This day and night difference can also be seen in Tagovailoa’s splits with and without play action. 

Per PFF, Tua Tagovailoa has the highest turnover worthy play rate in the league when Miami isn’t using play action (5.7%). When not under pressure, his rate (0.7%) is fourth-best. 

If Tagovailoa is ever to become elite, he’ll need to improve in both these areas.