Photo via Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports
Going under center, being out of the shotgun, bootlegging on the rollout, darting in the scramble and sidewinding around the edges.
No matter the play, the fate remained the same.
Everything was working for Tua Tagovailoa this past weekend.
The 22-year-old Hawaiian’s performance in the desert against the Arizona Cardinals was definitely a beloved sight to see for winning-craved Miami Dolphin fans. Over the course of the contest, the left-handed signal-caller slung for 248 yards on 20 of 28 attempts. To cap off the air assault, Tagovailoa tallied two passing touchdowns. Then, of course, there was the rushing prowess, where Tagovailoa grounded for 35 yards on seven attempts. The movement inside and outside the pocket did not come without its warts, though, as Tagovailoa was sacked three times for a loss of 27 yards. The physical play did not phase the young quarterback, though, as Tagovailoa and his Dolphins were able to head back to the Sunshine State with a 34-31 victory.
Although the numbers might not be electrifying, Tagovailoa has shown his upside that swayed Miami to draft him fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Through three games played (two games started), Tagovailoa has compiled a 65.4 completion percentage (Cmp%), 350 passing yards and three passing touchdowns for an overall quarterback rating of 103.8.
Again, not eye-popping numbers. Given the fact that Tagovailoa is still less than a year removed from undergoing right hip surgery, though, these numbers begin to stand out a little bit more. After all, Tagovailoa has put up the production while getting hit. Through three games played, Tagovailoa has been sacked four times for 30 yards lost.
Health for Tagovailoa will always be the million-dollar question as the season continues to head into its last half. When will the training wheels be taken completely off of the youngster? Would Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores do the unthinkable and pull Tagovailoa at some point in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in order to keep the rookie healthy?
While it is practically certain everyone knows the answer to that question, Tagovailoa’s production has been much better when digging deeper.
How? Well, let’s take a look.
In total, eight first-round quarterbacks have thrown for more than 300 yards and started two games during their rookie season: Randy Duncan (1960), Greg Landry (1968), Chris Miller (1987), Trent Dilfer (1994), Steve McNair (1995), Michael Vick (2001), Paxton Lynch (2016) and Tagovailoa as it stands currently. Of the eight, Tagovailoa currently leads in Cmp% and is tied in touchdowns with McNair (three). Additionally, Tagovailoa’s 103.8 quarterback rating also leads the group, with the next highest coming from McNair (81.7). Lastly, Tagovailoa currently does not have an interception to his name, while the remaining seven do.
To bring everything to a crescendo, only two rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round, threw for at least 300 yards and started two games went on to win both of their starts: McNair against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills and Tagovailoa against the Los Angeles Rams and Cardinals. McNair, however, threw right-handed. Tagovailoa throws left-handed.
Is this to say that Tagovailoa is already well ahead of the other quarterbacks? Of course not. Tagovailoa has yet to play more than three games. Small sample sizes are most definitely a factor. Injuries certainly are, too, especially given the injury history of Tagovailoa.
However, the numbers and areas do show a potential quarterback that can replicate precisely what he did in college. Even if Tua does not start another game this season, he has already shown it.
Should he start more games (as he likely will), well, his performance against Arizona is simply a prologue of what is to come.