Tua Tagovailoa is one of the most controversial names in the NFL and fantasy football. The two ends of this polarizing conversation can be boiled down to the haters and Tuanon. When the fantasy football community is so divided on a player, it means one thing.
Both sides of this debate have the chance to be perfectly correct or catastrophically wrong. Those who are correct will have gained a massive advantage with their decision to draft Tagovailoa or not. He is poised to be a significant value play at ADP or a candidate for the largest bust of 2022. So, how do we decide how to prioritize Tagovailoa in 2022?
To understand him, we need to look back on his injury history, understand his supporting cast on offense, and assess important passing stats and how they compare to other prominent quarterbacks.
A Look Back
Before digging into the advanced stats and narratives around Tagovailoa, let’s put his first two NFL seasons in perspective. Looking back at his final college season, many will recall he suffered a significant dislocated hip against Mississippi State in 2019.
Tagovailoa then missed the remainder of the 2019 season after undergoing hip surgery. He did not return to the field of play until his first NFL snap in Week 6 of 2020. Tagovailoa then made his first start against the Los Angeles Rams following Miami’s bye week. After that, the starting role for the remainder of the season. During that time, Tagovailoa completed 186 passes for 1,814 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging just over 200 yards and a touchdown per game, per Pro Football Reference.
Tagovailoa had another injury-riddled season last year. He went down in Week 2 against Buffalo and then missed Weeks 3 through 6. Later, Tagovailoa played minimal snaps in that odd game versus Baltimore, before missing Week 9 and then starting the rest of the season. With a host of injury troubles, he ended as QB31 and QB25 in the past two seasons, respectively.
Accounting for those missed games, he was QB21 Weeks 8 through 17 in 2020 and QB19 Weeks 11 through 18 in 2021. Overall, Tagovailoa performed as a mid-tier to low-end QB2 when healthy.
A Deeper Look Back
With all that in mind, the dominant narrative around Tagovailoa is that he does not throw deep passes. The typical conclusion then is that he has no ceiling as a fantasy quarterback. There are both truths and misconceptions to this narrative.
The fact that Tagovailoa typically throws short passes is true. In 2020, he ranked 27th in average depth of target (aDOT). In 2021, he was 36th in aDOT, per PFF. This fact is riddled with two primary misconceptions.
Misconception #1: aDOT Limits a Fantasy Quarterback’s Upside
First, when assessing Tagovailoa’s aDOT, it is important to compare him to some very notable quarterbacks. In 2020, he had a higher aDOT (8.0 yards per attempt) than Justin Herbert (7.8 yards per attempt). One of the primary differences between Tagovailoa and Herbert in 2020 was the sheer number of pass attempts. Tagovailoa attempted nearly twice as many passes as Herbert. Herbert ended as QB9 in 2020.
In 2021, Tagovailoa had an aDOT of 7.4 yards per attempt. Patrick Mahomes had an aDOT of 7.6 yards per attempt, tied for 31st in aDOT. Yet, he was the fourth-best fantasy QB in 2021.
We can clearly see that aDOT alone is not the best metric for correlating fantasy football performance. There are many reasons quarterbacks may have a low aDOT, scheme being one of them.
Misconception #2: Tagovailoa’s aDOT is Based on His Shortcomings
While Mahomes is definitively a top-3 quarterback and Tagovailoa still has plenty to prove, the talent surrounding them has contributed to their disparate fantasy production.
One of the primary differences between 2021 Tagovailoa and Mahomes is the offensive line play surrounding them. Miami had the worst offensive line in terms of pass blocking according to PFF, who gave them a 51.8 pass-blocking score. Compare this to Kansas City Chiefs, who had the sixth-best pass blocking offense, graded at 76.9.
So how do teams respond to poor offensive line play? One simple solution to a lackluster offensive line is to emphasize quick game schemes, where offensive plays are designed to get the ball out as quickly as possible. To that end, Tagovailoa’s average time to throw (TTT) of 2.53 seconds tied for third in 2021, behind only Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.
With a rapid TTT, receivers have a minimal amount of time to get down the field. Because of this, fantasy production increasingly relies on yards after the catch (YAC).
All of these factors led to fewer chances taken down the field. Tagovailoa only had 29 pass attempts greater than 20 yards, ranking 30th in the league. On those throws, PFFs adjusted completion percentage ranked him the most accurate quarterback. In this metric, which accounts for dropped passes, Tagovailoa came in at 55.2%. Now, he has increased talent with the likes of Tyreek Hill, who is known to beat receivers over the top for deep passes.
The offensive weapons surrounding Tagovalioa provide important context for his 2021 limitations. He had two primary receiving targets throughout the season – Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki. DeVante Parker and Will Fuller V dealt with injury and personal dealings throughout the season. This left Tagovailoa to pass to the likes of Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford, and Preston Williams.
Compare that to the talent of players around Mahomes, who had a similar aDOT, but had the sixth-best pass-blocking offensive line in the league. He was also throwing to players such as the aforementioned Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, and Byron Pringle.
A Look Ahead
Tagovailoa’s injury history is incredibly relevant when projecting his 2022 season. If he misses time again in 2022, it likely solidifies the narrative that he is an injury-prone quarterback. Let’s look at Tagovailoa’s 2021 stats. If we project out by accounting for the number of pass attempts by Jacoby Brissett (his backup), we see an interesting outcome.
Brissett had 225 attempts in 2022. Adding those to Tagovailoa’s total would have ended him with 613 pass attempts. That would have placed Tagovailoa sixth in total pass attempts.
Now, if we assume Tagovailoa maintained his 6.8 yards per attempt, he would have ended 2021 with 4,168 yards, which would have placed him tenth, just ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Additionally, Tagovailoa’s touchdowns per attempt would have led to 25 total touchdowns.
Those numbers would have raised Tagovailoa to an upper- to mid-QB2 ranking, serving as a solid backup or a prominent starter in two-quarterback leagues.
Miami personnel upgrades
Let’s then consider the personnel upgrades in Miami. First off, have I mentioned Tyreek Hill? As in, the Tyreek Hill? He brings some much-needed spark to the Miami offense. Additionally, Mike McDaniel, the new head coach for Miami, has brought in a slate of dynamic running backs who will amplify the run and pass game.
For these purposes, I want to highlight the offensive line improvements in Miami. First, there is McDaniel, who is known for his ability to unlock offensive lines. But it doesn’t stop there.
Miami signed former New Orleans left tackle Terron Armstead, who has been an above-average player in the league for nearly a decade. Armstead has some injury concerns after missing time last season and is getting up in age. Despite that, PFF still graded him 17 points higher in 2021 than the highest graded Miami lineman. Plus, Miami could use that veteran presence to develop this young, offensive line.
Because of this, I expect the entire Miami offense to take a step forward this season, with increased competence on the offensive line and an overall upgrade in skill position players.
So how do we value Tagovailoa?
Back to the original question. Is Tagovailoa a major value at ADP or is he poised to be the biggest bust of 2022? Assuming he remains healthy, a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season is well within the range of possibilities. Add in 150 rushing yards and three rush touchdowns (approximately his 2021 performance) and Tagovailoa would end just behind 2021 Kyler Murray, rounding out the Top 12 fantasy quarterbacks, and locking in a solid floor.
In redraft leagues, Tagovailoa is worth targeting at the end of the quarterback run. He could also be a prominent backup if you target the Top 5 quarterbacks early. For dynasty, I’d wait until closer to the QB20 range because of his injury history. In Superflex leagues, he’s a must-have as at least a second quarterback.
Tagovailoa is set to continue as one of the most controversial names in the NFL in terms of his on-field performance. Who will be right at the end of the season: The haters? Or Tuanon?
A Look Inside the Miami Dolphins
Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to focus on one player, but we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Austin focuses on Tua Tagovailoa in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the Dolphins. This list is prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse
Chase Edmonds: Edmonds has been the 1B in the Cardinals backfield the last couple of seasons. He came to Miami on a two-year deal before Miami added two other RBs via free agency. Are we following the money with Edmonds and expecting him to be the “lead” back in 2022? With few durable options behind him, the fantasy community is on the Edmonds train as his ADP currently sits at RB34. Hardly a risky investment for a potential top 15 RB who was arguably the best zone-blocking RB in the league. – Josh Hudson
Raheem Mostert: We know how electric Mostert is with the ball in his hands. He’s one of the fastest players in the league. The problem? Mostert has played in only nine of 33 possible games the last two seasons. He’s topped only 150 touches in a season once (151 touches in 2019), and he just turned 30. Mostert is a literal dart throw in drafts for that first series where he averages 10 yards a carry and misses the rest of the season. – Josh Hudson
Sony Michel: Michel carried the load for the Rams through the latter part of the season after Akers tore his Achilles and Darrell Henderson proved he’s not a durable featured back. Michel is a former 1st round pick, so he has the draft pedigree to suggest he can be productive if given the opportunity. With so many options available to Miami, someone isn’t making the team. Michel is nothing more than a late-round Best Ball target and someone to keep an eye on with waivers in your redraft leagues. – Josh Hudson
Myles Gaskin: Gaskin looks to be the odd man out after new head coach Mike McDaniel brought in not one, but three RBs to potentially take his job. He ran behind arguably the worst offensive line in football last season, and still managed to finish as the RB25 in fantasy. I don’t expect Gaskin to just go away, especially with the durability concerns of Mostert. But I also don’t expect him to be a viable fantasy contributor this season. – Josh Hudson
Tyreek Hill: The big fish, as it were, is expected to shoulder a large load for what is hopefully a revamped Dolphins offense. He’s had over 100 targets and 1,000 yards in four of his last five seasons. People make a big deal about Tua Tagovailoa’s inability to throw it deep, but this article helps prove that’s just propaganda. Expect Hill to utilize his ability after the catch and continue to put up WR1 numbers in 2022. – Josh Hudson
Jaylen Waddle: The electric rookie was primed for a huge 2022 before the team acquired Hill in a trade from the Chiefs. So how does Waddle fit into this offense opposite Hill? The 49ers gave us the blueprint of how they utilized Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. This makes Waddle a better option as a Best Ball target simply because he’ll lack consistency. I still expect a top 25 finish by year’s end because McDaniel will want to get the ball into his hands. – Josh Hudson
Mike Gesicki: Will Gesicki end up being the odd man out in this offense? Playing on the Franchise Tag, Gesicki wants to prove he’s deserving of a long-term contract. HC Mike McDaniel comes from a system that made George Kittle into a star. The biggest difference between Kittle and Gesicki? Blocking. Kittle is arguably the best in the league. Gesicki is arguably the worst. (Gesicki ranked 82nd out of 88 TEs in run blocking grade, per PFF.) I still expect Gesicki to finish 3rd on the team in targets, but his current price of TE12 feels like you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. – Josh Hudson
We hope you enjoyed our look at Tua Tagovailoa for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here if you’re preparing for your dynasty drafts!