How much improvement can be expected from Tua Tagovailoa after everything Dolphins put around him?


With the 2022 NFL season fast approaching, the South Florida Sun Sentinel takes a look at 10 storylines to watch for in a 10-part series ahead of the Miami Dolphins’ first day of training camp, which is set for July 27.

The Miami Dolphins made a statement this offseason entrusting the franchise’s 2022 hopes with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback.

They steered away from the pursuit of Deshaun Watson — or any other high-level quarterback — that surrounded the organization from the previous offseason through last year’s trade deadline. Although, if Tom Brady would’ve wanted to unretire in Miami and come to town packaged with Sean Payton as coach before former coach Brian Flores filed his lawsuit, who knows what would’ve happened?

Regardless of how we got here, the point is the Dolphins are giving Tagovailoa his chance at a third NFL season with the team after he’s had some ups and downs over his first two years.

It’s a tired sentiment at this point, but it truly could be a make or break season for Tagovailoa in Miami, especially with everything that has been placed around him. If the results don’t come to fruition now, it’s fair to believe they simply won’t.

Tagovailoa has been gifted elite receiving talent Tyreek Hill, who was a Pro Bowl selection in each of his six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Pair him with burgeoning second-year wideout and college teammate at Alabama, Jaylen Waddle, plus tight end Mike Gesicki and free-agent acquisition Cedrick Wilson in the slot. The offensive line should be improved from what Tagovailoa had in front of him his first two seasons. He should have a running game that can make the passing game easier. And, orchestrating it all, is an offensive-minded coach in Mike McDaniel who is coming into his first season leading a team with a mindset of supporting his young quarterback.

Tagovailoa is 13-8 in 21 starts over his first two seasons. Last year, he threw for 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His completion percentage went up to 67.8 after it was 64.1 as a rookie. His yards per attempt improved to 6.8 from 6.3.

What are some fair expectations for Tagovailoa?

You hear about a Year 3 leap for quarterbacks. Buffalo’s Josh Allen saw a tremendous uptick in 2020, his third season. Allen threw for 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions that year after he had 20 touchdowns to nine interceptions the year prior. That ratio is better than what was seen from Tagovailoa, but Allen’s bigger improvement came in his accuracy — where Tagovailoa is already solid — bumping up his completion percentage to 69.2 in 2020 from 58.8 in 2019.

Tagovailoa’s Year 2 quarterback rating was actually better than that of Allen in 2019, 90.1 to 85.3.

Allen and Tagovailoa are different quarterbacks. Allen has a big arm and running ability to boot, while Tagovailoa is four inches shorter and has to rely on his precision and anticipation on throws to be effective.

We don’t necessarily need to see Tagovailoa get up over 30 touchdowns next season. Such a number would put him in the top 10 if compared to last season’s league passing numbers. But if he plays a full season, 25 touchdowns while keeping the interceptions around 10 in a run-first offense will be a valued improvement.

As far as passing yards, a good marker may be 3,800. Jimmy Garoppolo last season posted 3,810 passing yards, which ranked 12th in the league. It’s a fair goal to set for Tagovailoa in the same McDaniel offense that Garoppolo played in.

Like Allen got in 2020 with Stefon Diggs, Tagovailoa added his star receiver to his playmakers this offseason in Hill. That alone should be enough to pay immediate dividends.

With the speed of Hill and Waddle on the outside, Tagovailoa also has to prove he possesses the arm strength to hit them when they get open over the top. He’s now three years removed from the hip injury that cut his college career at Alabama short in 2019 and may have been limiting the torque on his passes.

But there will also be an emphasis on creating opportunities for yards after the catch, so expect the passing game to still mostly play to Tagovailoa’s strengths in the short passing game but, ideally, with running lanes for the speedsters and then the occasional deep shot.

Merely staying healthy is the other important factor to Tagovailoa’s success. He missed four games, most of a home-opening loss to the Bills and the first half of a win against the Baltimore Ravens between injuries to his ribs and the middle finger on his throwing hand. Durability will be key in proving Tagovailoa can be a long-term answer.

The Dolphins also brought in a high-end backup quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who has 63 career starts to his name as he returns home to Miami. McDaniel wants Bridgewater to be part of a support system for Tagovailoa, but if it’s evident the results are not there for the Dolphins starter despite everything given to him, Bridgewater is capable of stepping in and taking over.

Such a scenario could mean the Dolphins revisit the Brady possibilities or use some of their 2023 draft capital to make a move for a quarterback next offseason. For now, however, it’s all on Tua.

Previously addressed

Can Dolphins get same production from Tyreek Hill in Miami?

Will Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer be able to prove he doesn’t need Brian Flores’ help?

In what ways can Mike McDaniel’s coaching style, offensive mind benefit Dolphins?

Can wide-zone scheme jump-start Dolphins’ run game?



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