Prior to the season, the NFL world was conflicted on Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s viability as a franchise quarterback. Even after his six-touchdown performance in Week 2, the world was still divided. Maybe it was just a fluke game. Hell, even I pointed out that bad quarterbacks have had games of that magnitude before. I was skeptical, but now that we are more than halfway through the NFL season, Tua has shown more than enough to prove that he’s not only a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but perhaps good enough to compete with the best in the league for years to come.
I could start this argument with Tua’s MVP odds, talking about how he went from long shot to top-five in the league behind only Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen. That’s weak though. We’ve seen Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Derek Carr have near-MVP seasons before. One good season does not guarantee future NFL success.
A much better determinator would be his analytics, and by golly, Tua’s advanced stats don’t just jump off the page, they grab you by the ears and scream profanities at you until you can’t deny Tua’s greatness anymore.
Let’s start with Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), a percentage measurement of a quarterback’s efficiency over an average quarterback. Tua’s is insane. He leads the league in that category. The second-highest mark belongs to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. His DVOA checks in at 25.2 percent. Third, is San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo — probably didn’t expect him; I’ll touch more on his presence here in a moment — with 25.1 percent. Fourth is Philly’s Jalen Hurts at 19.9 percent. With those figures in mind, what could you possibly assume Tagovailoa’s figure is, hmm? Maybe high-20s, low-30s perhaps? Maybe he blows everyone out of the water and hits us with a 40 percent DVOA. That would be something, right? Well, Tua’s DVOA currently sits at 51 percent, more than double Mahomes’ figure.
Now, that’s impressive, but while I’m writing this, I’m already sensing the doubts some of you readers may have. “Well, if Jimmy G is there, clearly something is wrong with this statistic.”
That’s a fair assessment, and the stat isn’t perfect. No stat is. Any quarterback who falls high on this list can attribute some of their success in this category to their head coach. After all, a quarterback’s efficiency can be heavily limited by a lack of creativity from the coaching staff. That’s probably the main reason Garoppolo comes in so high. Shanahan is heralded as a great offensive mind, and Garoppolo never has to throw the ball much under his watch. With Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel being a student of Shanahan, it only makes sense that both teams’ quarterbacks would be high up on the DVOA leaderboards. So, now you’re probably thinking: “Well, clearly it’s all McDaniel’s system then, just like how Shanahan’s system elevates Garoppolo.” Sure, that’s part of it, but if Tua was as bad as some people would make you believe, his DVOA would be much closer to Garoppolo’s than it actually is, not two times higher.
Now let’s move to Yards Above Replacement (YAR). Think of this statistic like WAR in baseball, a cumulative figure that attempts to crunch a player’s value into a singular number, or in this case, yardage total. It’s a cumulative stat meaning that the more pass attempts a player has, the more likely they are to have a higher figure. Tua is second in the NFL with 888 YAR, four fewer than the league leader Mahomes (892). Tua has missed 2.5 games.
Of course, those numbers change when we look at Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), which takes into account the quality of defense that each quarterback has played against. In that statistic, which is also cumulative, Tagovailoa leads the NFL, and it’s not all that close. His DYAR figure (909) is 48 points higher than Mahomes’ (861). The only quarterbacks to have a higher DYAR through nine games than Tua this year are 2004 Peyton Manning (MVP), 2006 Peyton Manning (third in MVP voting), and 2007 Tom Brady (MVP). That’s elite company, and once again, Tua has missed 2.5 games. I just want to reiterate that.
Even in regard to more traditional stats, Tua stands high above his competition. He’s first in the NFL in yards per attempt, first in average net yards per attempt, first in touchdown percentage, and first in QBR (purely a measurement of a quarterback’s play; Garoppolo ranks 23rd in that category by the way, just in case you weren’t convinced that McDaniel was covering Tua’s flaws). Those are numbers you can’t ignore, and if Tua hadn’t missed time with a concussion, he’d undoubtedly be the MVP frontrunner in my eyes.
I’ve seen a few comparisons between this Dolphins team and the 2016 Atlanta Falcons. That offense was so efficient and well-designed that dump-offs would routinely turn into 20-plus yard gains. And yes, there are bound to be similarities since Kyle Shanahan was that team’s OC and, like I said earlier, McDaniel is a Shanahan prodigy. So, I get the concerns surrounding Tua’s staying power post-2022 considering how Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan quickly fell off after winning the MVP in 2016. However, if Shanahan had remained in Atlanta, there’s reason to believe Father Time would’ve slowed down trying to catch up to Matty Ice. Tagovailoa is currently under contract through 2023 and given his rapport with McDaniel as well as receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins would be stupid not to extend him. McDaniel is currently locked up through 2025. It’s a match made in heaven and as long as they stick together, I’ve seen no reason why Tua can’t be considered elite in the very near future.