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Facts, Myths, and Rumors: Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL Path, Part Two

Tua Tagovailoa's NFL Path: This is part two of a four-part series about facts, myths, and rumors: Tua Tagovailoa's NFL path.
Tua Tagovailoa's NFL Path

This is part two of a four-part series about facts, myths, and rumors about Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL path. The series lists myths and rumors followed up with the facts.

Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL Path of Facts, Myths, and Rumors

Myth: Tua can’t throw deep or downfield is a myth. It is only another part of the list of myths, and rumors that have been part of Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL path.

Fact: The statement that Tagovailoa can’t throw downfield is false. The fact that he doesn’t do it that often is true. Throwing a very good deep ball was one of Tagovailoa’s listed strengths on several scouting reports. His most infamous throw was a 41-yard bullet to Devonta Smith to win the College Football Playoff National Championship. One of Tagovailoa’s deepest throws for the 2021 NFL season was a 65-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins.

There are a few reasons that Tagovailoa doesn’t throw as many deep balls as other quarterbacks. One of those reasons is that Tagovailoa missed five games in 2021. As a result, he didn’t throw as many passes as other NFL quarterbacks. Two quarterbacks in Tagovailoa’s draft class that was among the top deep-ball passers in the NFL last season were Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Herbert threw 672 passes and Burrow threw 520 passes. Both Herbert and Burrow had at least 132 more opportunities than Tagovailoa to throw deep passes.

Tagovailoa Specializes in the Intermediate Pass

Another reason Tagovailoa doesn’t throw as many deep passes is that he doesn’t have to. Tagovailoa was one of the most accurate passers in the NFL in 2021. He had the seventh-best completion percentage (67.8%) and was tied as the fourth-best on-target passer with 80.1% for the 2021 NFL season. If a defense gives Tagovailoa five yards then he will beat that defense with those five yards all game.

Despite the intermediate pass narrative around Tagovailoa, it isn’t false. Tagovailoa’s style has always been to win with the short pass. What threw many fans off was that the expectation was different from who he was as a quarterback. Tagovailoa was great as a quarterback in college. However, that wasn’t because he was throwing multiple deep passes every game. Fans that expected Tagovailoa to throw several deep passes each game didn’t follow him in college. Tagovailoa specialized in the short intermediate passes. The short passes outnumbered his deep passes tremendously. However, he did throw the deep pass significantly more in college than he has in the NFL. When he did, all of them made highlight reels.

Some of Tagovailoa’s games in 2019 detail how he relied on the short pass to win. In Tagovailoa’s first game of his 2019 college season, he threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns. There were no deep passes in that game and 268 of those yards were yards after the catch. Tagovailoa threw for 444 yards and five touchdowns against South Carolina. The longest touchdown of that game was a pass from Tagovailoa to Henry Ruggs for 81 yards. However, the actual pass was only about 12 yards in the air with most of the yards by Ruggs on that touchdown being yards after the catch.

Tagovailoa Depends on His Accuracy

Tagovailoa depended on his accuracy and receivers to turn short passes into long plays. Those yards after catches were necessary for Tagovailoa to succeed. That is relevant in Tagovailoa’s NFL career. What is significant, is for the past two seasons the Kansas City Chiefs led the NFL with the most yards after the catch. Those two Chiefs teams were led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who had at least 4,700 passing yards during each of those past two seasons. That is why it was a shock to many fans when they heard Dan Orlovsky on ESPN’s Get Up earlier this year say, “Patrick Mahomes threw the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage the most last year in the NFL.” On Mahomes’ team was speedster Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Dolphins this off-season, and contributed to those Chiefs YAC totals.

Interestingly, every NFL quarterback that led the league in passing yards the past five seasons needed yards after catches to succeed. For the past five seasons, all NFL passing leaders have been on teams that had top 15 YAC totals for the season. What many fans don’t understand is that once the receiver catches the ball, the yards after the catch have nothing to do with the quarterback. So, the quarterbacks on teams with the top five YAC numbers had half of their passing yards that had nothing to do with their quarterback play.

Tagovailoa’s Criticism Lacks Context

An out-of-context example of Tagovailoa’s criticism about YAC totals is the instance of Herbert. Again, that is part of the list of myths and rumors that have been on Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL path. Many fans have been critical of Chris Grier for drafting Tagovailoa instead of Herbert. That criticism has stemmed from Herbert passing for over 4,000 yards his rookie season and over 5,000 yards last season. But without the second and fifth-best YAC totals in the NFL the past two seasons, Herbert wouldn’t have the passing yard totals he has. For context, Herbert completed 2,627 air yards and added 2,387 YAC yards for his adjusted 5,014 passing yards in the 2021 season. While Herbert’s Chargers had the fifth most YAC totals in the 2021 NFL season, Tua’s Dolphins had one of the worst YAC totals, ranked 26th out of 32 teams.

Many of Tagovailoa’s explosive deep passes at Alabama were when the score was close or when Alabama was behind. Some of Tagovailoa’s most infamous deep shots, being to Devonta Smith in a National Championship game, Jerry Jeudy in a National Championship game, and Smith against LSU were all passes made when Alabama was trailing. It’s not that Tagovailoa can’t throw the deep pass. He can and he does. Out of his draft class, he ranked second in the accuracy of throws of ten yards or more. Halfway through the 2018 college season, Tagovailoa had a 66.7% completion percentage of passes that were 20 or more yards.

Sports Media Look For Ways To Criticize Tagovailoa

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, he had an interesting stat about Tagovailoa in a January 2021 article, titled “What advanced data shows about Tua’s rookie season: What he did well and what he didn’t.”  In that article, Jackson wrote about three significant stats during Tagovailoa’s rookie season.

Jackson stated that out of 29 attempts of passes of at least 20 air yards, three drops from those passes was the highest drop percentage of that stat among NFL quarterbacks with at least 29 attempts. Secondly, the completion percentage of passes of 20 plus air yards was better than the Cincinnati Bengals 2020 number one draft pick, Joe Burrow’s. While Tagovailoa was 10 for 29, Burrow was only 9 out of 48 attempts. Thirdly, the Dolphins were among the worst in the NFL for receivers to be able to create separation.

Despite being an accurate quarterback, the sports media has even found ways to criticize Tagovailoa’s accuracy as well. Some sports analysts on sports shows have sarcastically stated that anyone can be just as accurate by only throwing short two-yard passes. The truth is, accuracy from the short passes has carried over to when he threw deep passes. Tagovailoa was second in the NFL in 2021 with the highest completion percentage on passes of 20 or more yards at 48.3%. Therefore that criticism isn’t plausible.

Follow the next articles of this series with more facts, myths, and rumors that traveled with Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL path.

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