On a dreary Tuesday morning in the Boston area on this date October 20, 2020, news broke that changed not just the state of the New England Patriots, or the AFC East, but the entire NFL. Heading into a Week 7 bye, the Miami Dolphins have named Tua Tagovailoa their starting quarterback. Tagovailoa saw his first game action during a two-minute drill, in which the Dolphins handled the New York Jets with little to no opposition. The Miami Dolphins have been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback ever since the retirement of Dan Marino, and now there is optimism on South Beach, the cause of this optimism: It’s Tua Time.
During the 2019 NFL offseason, all we could hear from the rumor mill is what teams are “Tanking for Tua” and the hip injury that shortened the great Bo Jackson’s football career combined with a 60 TD and National Championship performance from the Bayou caused Tagovailoa to fall to the fifth-overall pick to Miami. Tagovailoa on an injury-shortened career set the college football record for the best career passer efficiency rating at 199.4. He also has college football’s best career passing yards per attempt in his career at 10.9. Tagovailoa also has Alabama’s single-season passing yards record with 3,966 yards set in 2018.
Short Term Outlook
Tagovailoa will take the reins for the 3-3 Miami Dolphins, who are riding their two-game winning streak and trailing the Buffalo Bills by only one win for the AFC East lead. The Dolphins will be finishing the 2020 season with a top-ten quarterback in terms of talent, now we will see if Tagovailoa is the real deal at the NFL level. The Dolphins offensive line is currently the 22nd ranked pass blocking unit according to Football Outsiders. They have an adjusted sack percentage of 7.4%. While we would like to see the rookie quarterback enter under better circumstances, the Dolphins offensive line is actually exceeding their expectations as they were ranked dead last by PFF heading into the season.
When looking at pass-catchers it is hard to see Tua benefiting from the transition of throwing to Alabama receivers such as Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle. In Miami, his primary targets will be Preston Williams, DeVante Parker, and Mike Gesicki there could be a transition in learning how to throw to these very different receiving types, All of his Alabama receivers were 6’1” or shorter and DeVante Parker is the shortest of the primary receivers at 6’3”.
The Miami rushing game has been surprisingly great, while the team added Jordan Howard and Matt Breida in the offseason, it is Miles Gaskin that has emerged as the lead back. On his 82 rush attempts so far Gaskin has put together a top-five success rate at 60%. He has also impressed in the receiving game as he is within the top 11 backs in defense-adjusted yards over replacement, yards over replacement, and defense-adjusted value over average.
From a fantasy perspective the pass catchers Williams, Parker, and Gesicki will take a bit of a dip in value playing with a rookie quarterback rather than gunslinging veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Do not sell these players in dynasty leagues based on a slight value dip. However, I believe Gaskin will see a more drastic increase in volume. Tagovailoa, as crazy as it sounds, is less mobile than the 37-year old Fitzpatrick. This opens the door for a significant uptick in check-down passes to Gaskin. Especially if the Dolphins design plays to minimize Tagovailoa’s injury risk with one-read plays and hot check-down reads. I believe this strategy will be used ad nauseam against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams in Tua’s debut as starting quarterback and continued through the remainder of the season.
Long Term Outlook
The Miami Dolphins have found their franchise quarterback, someone who they are comfortable leading the franchise for the next 15 years. This is clear that it is their opinion as well evident by passing on Oregon’s big-armed quarterback Justin Herbert to select Tagovailoa fifth-overall. The Dolphins also indicated that the tanking is over, spending a league-high $237 million on free agents this offseason. The Dolphins are poised to win-now in a Tom Brady-less AFC East.
Because of the advances in modern medicine, I do not believe that Tua is doomed to a shortened-career circa Bo Jackson. He is currently my dynasty QB11 and strong play this season could see him rise to as far as eighth. If the season were to end today, which is not a suitable way to view an early season, however in the face of an international pandemic it is worth some more value than traditionally, the Dolphins would hold the seventh and 14th picks of the first round in the 2021 NFL Draft. Thanks to an incredible receiver class the Dolphins could add dynamic receivers to their offense such as Ja’Marr Chase, Rondale Moore, Jaylen Waddle, or Rashod Bateman. In theory, they could add two top-tier receivers with these two first-round picks, though expecting that is not likely.
The rushing game of the Dolphins will become more efficient with Tagovailoa under center, and in theory, they will have more scoring opportunities. Although Gaskin is performing very well as the Dolphins lead back, his seventh-round draft capital from 2019 does not hold enough value to protect him from future acquisitions either by means of the NFL Draft or free agency. This is going to be a position that holds value for many years, but we do not have enough information to project who will fill that role over a three-year period. Selling Gaskin high this season on the basis of his performance could be a move that savvy dynasty players strongly consider making.
I do expect that the Dolphins add receiving weapons to surround the group of Williams, Parker, and Gesicki so it is hard to give any of those pass-catchers a significant long-term value increase. DeVante Parker will be 28 years old for the start of the 2021 NFL season, this is the age at which receivers start to decline in value. Parker would be a good player to sell based on his performance from the 2019 season to date compounded by the Tua hype. Gesicki seems to be the clear winner in this receiving group as he combines a high draft capital, ascending age-based development at 25 years old for a tight end, along with his past production and athleticism. Preston Williams is coming off an ACL injury in 2019 which has limited his production in 2020. Williams is a hold, as we must wait-and-see whether he establishes himself as an alpha receiver in Miami. A sneaky add is Lynn Bowden Jr. who was an analytical darling in the 2020 NFL Draft class but was traded from the Raiders who drafted him in the third round, to the Dolphins for a fourth-round pick in 2021. He could emerge as Miami’s swiss-army knife based on his versatility.
Overall, there will be a drastic uptick in long-term value across Miami’s skill positions because of Tua’s capabilities as a quarterback. However, the uncertainty on which players will actually experience this value uptick muddies the water. When in doubt in fantasy football, it is always wise to invest in the least expensive pieces until trends emerge.
Tua Tagovailoa Player Comps
At the NFL Combine Tagovailoa measured in at 6’0” and 217 lbs. with 10” hands. From a physical perspective, Tagovailoa has the body type of Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has proven to be relatively available, missing only three games in his career due to injury despite his usage as a rushing quarterback in Buffalo. From a body type movement perspective, Tagovailoa looks a lot more like a bigger version of Russell Wilson. The problem here is Tyrod Taylor runs a 4.55 40-yard dash, Wilson runs a 4.55 40-yard dash and Tagovailoa last recorded a 4.9 40-yard dash in high school.
I finally fell on a play-style comp for Tagovailoa and it’s a former first overall pick with a big arm. Like Carson Palmer, Tagovailoa has great short and intermediate accuracy, with an affinity for letting the deep ball rip. A Southpaw Palmer, Tagovailoa does not chop his feet in the pocket as much but he keeps his feet aligned to the read similar to Palmer. Palmer endured a number of contact injuries in his career, but proved his toughness and missed a limited number of games based on the injury type, which is what I expect Tagovailoa does as well. In conclusion, Tagovailoa is a Carson Palmer type of player with the body type of Tyrod Taylor and the superman type decision making in clutch situations or when a play breaks down of Russell Wilson or Cam Newton.
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