From the moment I saw him throw that miraculous winning touchdown pass for Alabama in the National Championship game against Georgia, I knew quarterback (QB) Tua Tagovailoa was special.
Sure, scouting quarterbacks is about the arm strength, the mechanics, the poise, and all that, but it is also about the players who can make big plays in big games – and that is the moment I knew that Tagovailoa had what it takes.
A couple years later in the first round of the NFL Draft (fifth overall), the Miami Dolphins took a gamble on Tagovailoa, who was coming off a catastrophic hip injury. It was the same type of injury star running back Bo Jackson suffered and never recovered from when it came to football
I had a feeling however, that Tagovailoa would bounce back. And sure enough, he did, but the controversy surrounding him has not. This past off-season there has been even more noise and chatter surrounding Tagovailoa than the winds from a category five hurricane. First, at the conclusion of the season, his teammates “supposedly,” were doubting if he was the one who could lead this team and before you knew it social media was buzzing about the possibility of the Dolphins’ dealing for QB Deshaun Watson.
I have never been one for noise and I have cared even less about politics. From the time I first started scouting when I was 17 years-old and was mentored by Tony Razzano’s book, Secrets of an NFL Scout, he taught me that the film does not lie. So, I decided to que up all 362 plays (about 5-7 hours worth of time of film study) of Tagovailoa on NFL GAME PASS and I took a look for myself.
Let me start by saying wow.
Tagovailoa did not look like a rookie QB. As Bill Belichick always liked to say, “We are in a bottom line business,” and last year, the bottom line was Tagovailoa’s record was 6-3. The Miami Herald even pointed out his first year numbers were far better than Josh Allen’s and the Manning brothers and even John Elway’s statistics Operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation, Tagivailoa’s body language said he had full command of the offense and of the pocket. I was impressed most of all by his ball placement – and do not even get me started about the number of dropped passes by Miami’s receivers, which greatly contributed to countless “incompletions.” It was downright alarming to me how many catchable passes they just could not manage to catch.
While some franchises seem to be blessed with decades of one superstar QB after another, Miami has waited for decades to find a suitable replacement for Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino. However, the Dolphins have finally done it – the Dolphins have their next dynamic franchise QB and his name is Tua Tagovailoa.
It always amazes me how little patience people have in general, whether it be fans, coaches, front offices or the media have with rookie QB’s. History shows us it is a tremendous adjustment for most, if not all of them to make the jump from college to the NFL. I will never forget when I had the opportunity to sit next to the legendary sports agent, Leigh Steinberg, on a plane ride and we got to talking about QB’s. Steinberg is also now Tagovailoa’s agent and he also represents Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes. “Quarterbacks are like a fine wine; they take time to develop,” Steinberg said. That is a scary thought for Miami opponents, because of how good Tagovailoa looked as a rookie.
And what is even more frightening is the addition of wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in this past draft (both he and Tagovailoa played at Alabama and already have an established chemistry working together). Prior to the draft, I stated Waddle was the best pure football player in the 2021 NFL Draft and he had the best YAC (yards after the catch) I have seen in 40 years outside of legendary superstar receivers Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Gary Clark. That does not bold well for Miami’s opponents either given the fact their offense features many short receiver screen passes and slants – many of which will find Waddle’s sure hands this season and beyond. Waddle is going to greatly help Tagovailoa make a huge jump this season – a jump I am predicting will land the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game.
QB #1 Tua Tagovailoa 6’0″ 216 pounds
Grade: B (Good player, but not elite; he’s good enough to win with)
Athletic left-handed QB with a good arm and excellent ball placement who has strong intangibles. He operated nearly exclusively out of the shotgun formation with Miami, except in short-yardage situations when a QB sneak was the play-call. Showed command of the offense from the pocket. Demonstrated good ball handling skills and a convincing play-action fake. Has a rhythm about him that keeps the offense moving. He is not a running QB by nature, but he can slide around effectively in the pocket and throw while rolling out. Tends to take sacks and not throw the ball away when the pressure overwhelms him – especially pressure straight up the gut. Can struggle with accuracy under heavy pressure when rolling out and trying to make something happen. Good runner – can pick up yardage. Good arm strength to make throws at all three route levels (short, intermediate and deep). Tends to be most comfortable working the (his) left side of the field and the middle. Able to lace it in against man and has a real knack for finding the soft spots in zone. Showed he can thread it in between several defenders when he just lets it fly and does not try to aim or steer the ball. Gets into trouble when he tries to force throws or aim and steer throws. Sometimes tries too hard. Tends to work the short to intermediate route levels and is best down the left sideline deep. Needs to develop more consistency deep overall and in the red zone when he is forced to operate in tighter quarters. He has the it factor which will carry him through everything.
As my NFL scouting mentor, Lionel Vital, who is now the Dallas Cowboys Director of College Scouting taught me – if you have a quarterback, you have a chance. Miami has a chance.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.