2023 NFL Draft Watch List Quarterbacks

Summer scouting season is underway and it kicks off with the 2023 quarterback class. Here is Hussam Patels’ 2023 NFL Draft quarterback watchlist.

Summer scouting season is underway and it kicks off with the 2023 quarterback class. Here is my 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list.

Bryce Young tops the 2023 NFL Draft watch list for quarterbacks
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Top 5 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list

Bryce Young

Alabama’s Bryce Young is coming off a Heisman season and is looking to build off that, as he’s regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation at making throws out of the pocket and out of structure. 

Although, his draft stock may be hurt by his slight frame. Young looks more like a slot receiver compared to what a franchise quarterback is billed at.

Young led the Crimson Tide to a win in the SEC Championship game, becoming the only quarterback to beat the vaunted Georgia defense last season. In that game he was 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns. 

While the Crimson Tide ended up losing in the title game in the rematch against Georgia, Young showed throughout the season that he could play the position at a high level.

In the play above you see Young’s quick feet moving him to allow him a clean pocket. He throws a rope in-between two defenders outside the hash marks. 

His anticipation and touch at this level makes him one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and number one in this 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list.

C.J. Stroud

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in this class. He completed 72% of his passes in 2022. Stroud will look to build off what he did in the Rose Bowl game against Utah.

Stroud is accurate, aggressive, willing to attack the middle of the field, and reads the field extremely well as a passer.

Pre-snap, Utah shows single-high coverage in the defensive backfield. However, the post-snap reality does not match the pre-snap expectations. The Utes defense converts into a two-deep shell.

Stroud, after opening to the left side of the field, reads the rotation and throws to the post route to Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

He’s a smart signal-caller who is a natural leader with great instincts and the ability to quickly cycle through his reads. Which makes him the second quarterback on my 2023 quarterback watch list.

Tyler Van Dyke

There is excitement in the area around the Miami Hurricanes this season, mainly in part to new head coach Mario Cristobal. Tyler Van Dyke’s play last season is another big reason for that excitement.

In 2021, as a sophomore, he played in 10 games as he passed for 2918 yards on 326 attempts with a completion percentage of 62 for an average of 9.0 yards per pass, with 25 TDs. He also took 23 sacks while putting up a QB rating of 108.9. After the first year as starting quarterback, he earned ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This touchdown early in that contest is a good example of how well Van Dyke sees the field and throws with anticipation. He hits the post route for a touchdown on a switch concept, letting the ball fly as the receiver gets into his break.

Van Dyke is my third ranked prospect in this 2023 quarterback watchlist because of his processing skills. Also, he uses good technique, squaring his shoulders to the target and stepping into his throws

Will Levis

Kentucky’s Will Levis came from nowhere last year and is now looked at as a legitimate first-round talent. He has great physical gifts as well as good accuracy and a powerful, quick release. Levis also possesses a natural feel for the game

Levis offers a nice blend of size, arm strength, and toughness. In the pocket, he has a good feel to climb and avoid pressure — and also possesses enough athleticism to extend plays with his legs.

If he can work on ball placement issues, and lower-body inconsistencies with his mechanics, he’ll live up to the hype.

The Wildcat product has an elite quick-release coupled with fast processing skills which makes him an ideal for a condensed formation offense, similar to the likes of the Rams.

Tanner McKee

In his first year starting at Stanford, Tanner McKee showcased a handful of NFL traits. He has elite size for the position — standing 6’6″ and weighing 230lbs — and has the arm strength to match.

The Cardinals product’s accuracy is decent, but his ball placement is one of his best traits overall. McKee shows excellent accuracy on short timing routes to backs and receivers. He frequently places the ball in front of the receiver to lead them to potential yardage after the catch.

This completion against Oregon highlights two of his strengths: Aggression and ball placement. McKee is not afraid of challenging small throwing windows, and has no fear throwing over the middle. Couple that with accuracy, and McKee can have a solid foundation for the NFL.

He’s an intriguing pro prospect due to his obvious tangibles. McKee looks the part, possessing prototypical drop-back passer qualities, is a quick decision-maker, and has decent accuracy. He can easily transition into a pro-style offense which makes him the fifth prospect on this watch list.

2023 NFL Draft Quarterbacks Honorable Mentions: 

Phil Jurkovec-Boston College, Spencer Rattler– South Carolina, Hendon Hooker-Tennessee, Anthony Richardson-Florida, Jake Haener-Fresno State.

Where does Lynn Bowden Jr. fit on the Dolphins roster?

Last year, Lynn Bowden Jr. did not play a single snap in Miami. Now, he can. The question is, what is his fit on the Dolphins roster?

With a new coaching regime in Miami, Lynn Bowden has a shot to make the roster, The question is, what is Lynn Bowden’s fit on the Dolphins roster?

Last year I wrote about how Lynn Bowden Jr, would be an X factor in Miami. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Bowden was placed on season ending IR.

Fit as a wide receiver

Currently listed as a wide receiver in Miami, Lynn Bowden Jr. played only 10 games his rookie season. Of those 10 games, Bowden started in four games for Miami.

Bowden played a big role for the Dolphins offense down the stretch in the 2020 season, catching 27 passes for 212 yards (7.9 avg.) in the final five games.

In the Dolphins offense, Lynn Bowden Jr. is a rare talent. He can line up out wide, in the slot, as a running back, or a wildcat quarterback.

Within this new Dolphins offense; however, Lynn Bowden Jr. is not the rarity. Receivers like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Erik Ezukanma can do everything Bowden does.

Frankly, the Miami Dolphins wide receiver roster is loaded with versatile talent:

  • Tyreek Hill
  • Jaylen Waddle
  • Cedrick Wilson
  • Erik Ezukanma
  • Preston Williams
  • Lynn Bowden Jr.
  • Cody Core
  • River Cracraft
  • DeVonte Dedmon
  • Braylon Sanders

While Bowden Jr. will see some snaps at receiver if he is kept on the roster, will it be enough to make a sizable impact?

In 2020, Bowden logged 9.6% target percentage when he was on the field. Player profile loggs it as the 99th best in 2020.

Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Cedrick Wilson are locked as the Dolphins first three receivers. Battling for the fourth receiver spot will come down to rookie Erik Ezukanma, Bowden, and Preston Williams.

Both Williams and Ezukanma are bigger than Bowden and can line up more on the outside. Williams has taken snaps at running back before. Ezukanma at Texas Tech did the same things Bowden did.

Financially, letting go of Bowden earns almost $1.04 million back to sign free agents in the middle of the season due to any injuries.

PlayerCap ChargeDead CapCap Savings
Erik Ezukanma$886,248$724,992$161,256
Lynn Bowden Jr.$1,038,128$0$1,038,128
Preston Williams$1,290,000$275,000$1,015,000

However, depth on the roster is like money, you can never have too much. Carrying more than six receivers on the roster is a necessity, especially in a pass-heavy league.

But…

Lynn Bowden Jr. as a running back?

We all know in 2020, the Las Vegas Raiders botched their plan for Bowden Jr. by slotting him as a running back. It never worked out.

But what if the Miami Dolphins tried it?

When the time comes Lynn Bowden Jr. will be a great case study in the value of versatility.

We’ve seen what Julian Edelman, Taysom Hill, Brian Mitchell, Antwan Randle-El, Hines Ward, and others back to Frank Gifford and Paul Hornung have accomplished, but staff matters.

This is where Lynn Bowden could thrive in an offensive staff and scheme assembled by Mike McDaniel.

Yes, we all have heard Mike McDaniel and his evolution of turning Deebo Samuel into an all-pro wideback.

Just the combination of running the ball and Bowden’s toughness minimizes the offense’s risk in the passing game.

A personnel of Waddle and Hill on opposite sides of the field with Bowden Jr. in the backfield will make defenses scratch their heads. There’s an advantage of lining him up in the backfield and as a running back.

Running Back Financials

PlayerCap ChargeDead CapCap Savings
Chase Edmonds$5,500,000$5,500,000$0
Raheem Mostert$1,936,765$1,000,000$936,765
Myles Gaskin$2,561,777$21,777$2,540,000
Sony Michel$1,750,000$850,000$900,000

Those are the four top guys at running back right now, and Gaskin has the least dead money and offers the most cap savings by far.

The Dolphins are also carrying Alec Ingold whose 2022 salary is fully guaranteed for a cap charge of $2,750,000 at fullback. Chase Edmonds and Alec Ingold are both locks for the roster.

Again, depth is money- but you become smart with money. Unless there’s an injury in camp at the position or Gaskin has a strong training camp, it will be hard justifying his cap charge as a running back.

The Miami Dolphins currently have the fourth-highest positional spending at the running back position. This is where Lynn Bowden Jr. comes into play.

The Dolphins can carry Bowden as the fifth running back on the roster while also stacking the deck at wide receiver on the roster.

Positions are given based on a core scheme. In contrast, the league is moving towards position-less football on offense and defense with players becoming more versatile.

NFL teams make roster and personnel changes each game based on the opponent and matchups dictated. There may be more receivers on a game day roster one week, more running backs another week, and potentially two fullbacks the week after.

This may be the most logical option of getting a talented and versatile player like Lynn Bowden Jr. on the field.

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Why Chase Edmonds will have the biggest impact in the Miami Dolphins running back room

The Miami Dolphins signed Chase Edmonds in free agency this year and he will have have the biggest impact in the Miami Dolphins running back room

The Miami Dolphins signed Chase Edmonds in free agency filling a pressing need at running back. Chase Edmonds was the first signee for Mike McDaniel, and for a good reason.

Chase Edmonds fit in Miami

With Mike McDaniel as the play-caller in Miami, his offensive scheme is centered around the outside zone running game. Edmonds, while in Arizona did indeed play with zone blocking but in an inside zone scheme.

“The flow of the backers is different because in inside zone, it’s more slow to fast, where I can pitter-patter my steps,” Edmonds said. “Outside zone here, it’s kind of like you’re riding a wave. Once you hit that wave, you’ve got to hit it and go. I’m getting used to that. I’m getting my feet under me. I’m taking pride in that journey, that challenge of fine-tuning it.”

Chase Edmonds on the outside zone scheme

While all zone blocking concepts are the same, the way the running back finds gaps are not. Chase Edmonds does bring that experience into Miami, especially to help quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Some of Chase Edmonds most explosive plays came on RPO concepts that Miami will be running at lengths.

Running the Ball

Arizona routinely ran bubble screen RPO’s where it’s an inside zone option.

In the play above against Detroit, Edmonds takes the ball and finds a crease on the left side of the line exploding for a first down.

The most intriguing part of this play is the design itself, the threat of the quarterback keep. Tight end Zach Ertz executes an H-back arc block on this play. Ertz motioning from right-to-left leaves the EDGE untouched and climbs second level.

If the EDGE rusher were to crash on Chase Edmonds, Kyler Murray can keep the ball and run around the edge with Ertz blocking for him. Furthermore, if the linebacker was also focused on Edmonds, Murray could throw the ball to Zach Ertz.

With Chase Edmonds, the Miami Dolphins can utilize this same concept on different designs. After all, the did something similar like it last year.

Chase Edmonds intangibles is exactly what the Miami Dolphins need out of their running back room this year.

In a zone running scheme, running backs should have fast feet to move quickly around blocks, vision to see gaps open up before a block is made and short area burst after running through the hole.

Edmonds brings all of that to Miami, here’s a play that demonstrates his skills.

Edmonds finds the crease, using quick footwork behind the offensive line to get into the hole and gains 11 yards. He swiftly reads and reacts to the blocks in front of him

Given his experience, vision, footwork and burst, Edmonds is a near-ideal fit for the rushing offense McDaniel implements.

Catching the ball

Chase Edmonds is capable in the passing game, and a serviceable blocker. He has the potential to be an every-down back even though he has been limited in his usage during his tenure in Arizona.

With 96 catches for 713 yards the last two seasons, and no sacks allowed on 132 pass blocking snaps the last three years, Edmonds has demonstrated the ability to play on all three downs.

In Arizona, Edmonds was used in the receiving game as a slot receiver and used effectively in the screen game. As a result of Edmonds skillset, routinely, Arizona utilized his quickness against reacting linebackers in short areas of the field.

Mike McDaniel, as the play caller in San Francisco produced three top 10 run-after-catch players in 2021, this bodes well for Chase Edmonds in Miami.

With more defenses playing two-high coverage at an alarming rate, it’s important that teams have pass-catchers that can make defenders miss underneath and gain yards after the catch. Last year, Edmonds averaged 7.9 yards after the catch and used as an underneath option.

Chase Edmonds’ Efficiency and EPA

There is another component to the Edmonds news that makes sense from Miami’s perspective.

Efficiency. The emphasis is through EPA, expected points added. Basically, it measures the expected points of a play. 

The average rushing EPA per play last season? A negative number.

However, contextualizing Edmonds rushes, He is one of those rare running backs who was efficient last season.

According to charting data from Sports Info Solutions, Edmonds had an EPA per rushing attempt of 0.08. That placed him fifth overall among ball-carriers with 100 or more rushing attempts last season.

Head Coach, Mike McDaniel values this extremely in his running back room. It’s something he speaks to at lengths in media pressers and believes in his scheme

The value of the running back position — what value do you put on anywhere from a third to a half of the plays on a given offensive season? You got to realize running backs, collectively… you have about 300 to 400 some touches, so it’s incredibly valuable, but there is a more diverse way of finding them. From a historical perspective, there is rookies, second-year players, mid-to-late-round [draftees] that have more success at that position than some others. But it’s…of paramount importance. We just have a concrete skill set that we found that can really flourish in a zone-blocking system.

Mike McDaniel on running back value

In Chase Edmonds, McDaniel now has that zone-blocking fit, as well as one of the league’s more efficient backs from a season ago to help bolster the Miami Dolphins rushing attack.

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Does running the ball set up the pass?

Running the ball to set up the pass is an age old adage where your father and grandfather told you how to play football, but does running the ball really set up the pass?

Running the ball to set up the pass is an age-old adage where your father and grandfather told you how to play football, but does running the ball really set up the pass?

Traditionally, when an offense executes a successful run for a significant chunk of yardage, an opposing defense will attempt to compensate by bringing additional defenders into the “run box.” The more bodies in the way of the run, the more likely it is for the run to be held short. 

However, if more defenders are in the box, that means there are fewer players to defend passes away from the box, so the passing game has greater opportunity to get the ball further down the field. 

The NFL evolves every decade moving onward towards something unique but building on basic concepts. We’ve witnessed the fall of the I-form power football in the ‘70’s, to rise of the West Coast offense in the ‘80’s, Run ‘N Shoot and K-Gun in the ‘90’s, Spread and Shotgun offenses in the early 2000’s to the RPO revolution in the 2020’s.

Ultimately, this has come as a result of the NFL’s purposeful rule changes and schematic breakthroughs that have led to its desired impact: more touchdowns. In turn this led to running the ball much less.

EPA on running the ball to set up the pass

A study done by Sean Clements, who is now a data analyst for the Baltimore Ravens, found that establishing the run early in NFL games does not open the passing game later in games.

Through a boxplot Clements made, it’s found that there is little correlation between running the ball early and at a high volume increases the yardage obtained on passing plays.

The next emphasis is through EPA, expected points added. Basically, it measures the expected points of a play. 

In a graph made by Ben Baldwin, the number of expected points decreases as the number of rushing attempts increases. Contrary to the belief running the ball will help to set up the pass and score.

If that were the case, then we would expect to see higher EPA as the number of rushing attempts increases.

How the modern era has discontinued running the ball to set up the pass

From 2015-2020 passing on first down has averaged a 7.6 YPA, yards per attempt, while running the ball gained 4.3 YPA.

Per sharp football stats, 30.4% of pass attempts on first down have ended up moving the chains. However, only 12.8% of running plays have picked up another first down. In 2020, NFL teams ran the ball on 50.3% of their first-down plays in 2020 and passed the ball on only 49.7%.

In 2021, NFL offenses averaged 7.4 YPA passing on first down compared to 4.2 YPA rushing.

Even the most run-heavy teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans had higher YPA’s on first down compared to running the ball. San Francisco had an 8.9 YPA passing and 4.4 YPA rushing. Tennessee had 7.2 YPA passing and 4.2 YPA rushing.

Yet, 20 of 32 NFL teams, run the ball on first down gaining minimal yards compared to easily moving the chains to score. So what gives?

How two-high coverages has stopped running the ball to set up the pass

As a result of the modern NFL, many offenses are trigger-happy and defenses have had to respond with swift actions.

Defenses have adapted as time has passed. This time to coverages that include a large base of two-high safety shells.  Two-high coverage means both the strong safety and free safety defend the deep end of the field, with each responsible for a section that runs to each boundary.

Thus leaving the middle of the field open, the main purpose of two-high is to prevent explosive plays in the deep third of the field and not allow big plays.

Some NFL offenses and high-profile quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes have struggled against two-high coverage early on because they struggled to take what the defense gives them.

In 2018, the highest amount of two-high looks faced by any quarterback in the league was 42%. Eight weeks into the 2021 NFL season, only five teams faced two-high safeties less than 40%.

The key to beating two-high coverage? Running the ball. Two-high is not the perfect scheme to use a majority of the time as yards can be gained in the intermediate passing game and the running game.

Due to the nature of defensive backs lined up well outside the box, offenses often have a light defensive body count in the box to go against. This opens up numerous lanes for running backs.

How passing the ball has set up the run

Running the ball does keep the defense honest and it can be noted on second and third down. YPA on rush attempts increases to 4.4 on second down and 4.5 on third down.

The success rate of it gaining five or more yards is 50% on second down and jumps to 53% on third down. 

Passing on second down yields a 6.9 YPA with a 47% success rate, on third down passing results in 7.2 YPA with a 37% success rate.

First down has become the most successful passing down to move the chains and get drives started for offenses with a 54% success rate.

The most successful offenses in the NFL have potent passing attacks and have the most success by passing the ball on first down and converting it five-plus yards or past the sticks.

1st down situational Pass:Run Ratios

Buffalo, San Francisco, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and the Los Angeles Rams all have 8 or more yards per attempt passing coupled with being over a 54% success rate.

Respectively, each team’s YPA on running the ball increases on 2nd and 3rd downs.

Second and Third down Pass:Run ratios

As the NFL continues its passing revolution, gone are the days of running the ball to set up the pass. With the league running two-high shells almost 50% of the time, the NFL offense has adjusted to throwing the ball more on early downs to gain more yards. Thus, able to run the ball effectively when needed to be.

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Tua Tagovailoa and Play-action passing

Play action passing has become a staple of explosive NFL offenses. Here’s how Mike McDaniel will bring that to Miami and help Tua Tagovailoa.

Tua Tagovailoa has become a hot topic this off-season from pundits deciding if this would be his make-or-break year. Additionally, a recent article from PFT’s Mike Florio detailed that free agent acquisition Tyreek Hill had low expectations for Tua.

The third-year Dolphins quarterback has received the most criticism from the media, fans and throughout last season, even players. One man is here to change that narrative – new head coach Mike McDaniel.

How Mike McDaniel will help Tua Tagovailoa

The big thing is what new head coach Mike McDaniel wants to do. McDaniel comes from the Shanahan coaching tree, the ever glorious wide-zone, bootleg, play-action world with Kyle Shanahan that has made Jimmy Garrapolo, Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins successful in the NFL.

Mike McDaniel with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay utilized 12 personnel mainly in their time with the now Washington Commanders. McVay now utilizes a spread concept using 11 personnel to maximize his players skill sets. Kyle Shanahan uses 21 personnel to maximize his offensive players skillset and utilizes the pistol formation.

McDaniel is able to use a combination of the two but put his spin on how he can maximize his players skill set; mainly, Tua Tagovailoa.

The easiest way to explain the offense McDaniel has helped culture through the past couple of years is to break it down into two parts. It’s a wide zone run scheme paired with a west coast offense passing scheme. 

In terms of the west coast passing scheme, it involves a lot of play action passes that can be deadly with a good running game. It is comprised of a lot of slants and crossing routes.

This is a perfect offense for Tua Tagovailoa. It truly does maximize everything he does well, while limiting the things he does bad. Tua will be asked to make quick reads, and throw the ball primarily to the middle of the field.

Slants, crossing routes, screen passes, and dig routes are gonna be the bread and butter of this offense’s passing plays, and Tagovailoa excels at those routes

Play-action passing

This off-season the hottest name is Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who understands the the vast superiority of the play-action pass.

Simply put, play action is the easiest way to scheme quarterbacks more time and create big plays downfield.

At the heart of it all is the outside zone run, a very popular run concept in the NFL today. Not only is it effective, the play action off outside zone affords the quarterback more time than a normal dropback when passing.

The biggest question heading into the 2022 NFL season is if Miami’s new offensive line can block decently for Tua. Play-action passing provides Tua more time to maneuver the pocket and throw the ball down the field.

More and more teams are beginning to buy in to this line of thinking, for instance, with the play action rate in the NFL in 2018 reaching 24%. Expect the Dolphins to be one of them.

Per PFF, Tua Tagovailoa has a 80.3 grade on play-action passes and the offense as a whole has a 82.3 grade. In other words, when there’s a successful fake, he usually makes magic happen.

Flood Concept

A staple of the 49ers offense McDaniel is from is using the fullback or tight ends to condense across the formation, kick out in a split zone concept that allows for cutbacks, and take advantage of overflowing defenses. 

This play action flood concept aims to put the flat and deep third defender in conflict

With the 49ers run game’s reputation and established tendencies, this leaves the window open for play action off of it.

This play action flood concept aims to put the flat and deep third defender in conflict. If #33 stays deep under the corner by Dwelley, QB can hit the 10 yard dig route to Emmanuel Sanders or dump it down to Juszczyk in the flats. If #33 comes up, QB can throw one over his head and in front of the FS occupied by the skinny post ran by Deebo Samuel.

The beauty of play-action is that it can create simple reads and make them even easier.

Mike McDaniel and Kyle Shanahan did an amazing job of giving Garoppolo easy reads and setting him up for success by scheming guys open and allowing for easy completions.

Boot-action and roll-outs in play action passing

Bootlegs are nothing new. Yet the rebirth of the outside-zone-then-boot idea has led to one specific change: the boot-action is no longer a specific down-and-distance call.

It’s no longer about moving the chains on third down, or bluffing on early down to steal ten yards. The boot-action and roll-out has become the go-to way for the league’s most prominent offenses to hit explosive plays.

The NFL is a league of explosives. Hit as many as you can; stop as many as you can. That’s it. In the passing era, that’s the entire ball game.

I believe this may be the key to unlocking an explosive Miami Dolphins offense.

How it works

Bootleg passes have several advantages, but one major disadvantage: they only attack one side of the field.

All play-action bootlegs are built around the same principals and are designed to achieve the same goals. These plays use misdirection to confuse defenders.

In other words, they look like running plays, slowing the pass rush and drawing linebackers close to the line of scrimmage to open passing lanes.

The run action also slows the pass rush, and the movement of the quarterback forces defensive linemen to change their pass-rush angle.

Finally, play-action bootlegs usually move one side of the field with receivers while putting the quarterback in position to execute short, easy throws.

The use of the boot has steadily trickled up across the league. The quarterback, offensive line, and running back are set up like it’s outside zone. Everyone kicks one way. It looks like outside-zone.

However, only the quarterback keeps the ball, rolls to the outside, away from the pass-rush, and then surveys the landscape.

Traditional boot-action concepts are built like any old “flood” concept: there’s a deep route, an intermediate route, and a short route.

In the modern game, with almost all just about quarterbacks mobile enough to be a perimeter threatthe quarterback is his own option. If nothing is open, he can run the ball himself.

Usually that quarterback rolls, opens up his hips and fires to a receiver swooping across the field. The defense bites one way, the ball is thrown the other way.

How a “flood” bootleg pass works

How Mike McDaniel can utilize Boot-action and Play-action passes to help Tua

By many, Tua Tagovailoa is seen as a one-read quarterback who is heavily reliant on RPO’s.

While it might be true that the Dolphins led the league in RPO passes down the field, many forget about Tua’s play-action game. Per Pro-Football reference, Tua Tagovailoa had the 11th highest play-action pass attempts (113).

Play-action passing with Jimmy Garrapolo

Assuming RPOs are considered play-action, the San Francisco 49ers had a 31% play-action usage in their pass attempts, with Jimmy Garoppolo accounting for 147 passes on 441 pass attempts.

Most of the 49er’s play-action passes in 2021 came from under shotgun compared to the usual Shanahan system. The quarterback under center, him turning and handing off or throwing a play-action pass or bootleg.

The play-action pass from under center in particular was the staple of the Shanahan offense.

Shanahans usual way is not the best play-action system for Tua, neither for Jimmy Garropolo.

2021 became the year where, with McDaniel’s help, Shanahan changed his philosophy.

From Week 8 onward, the 49ers were exclusively in shotgun instead of under center.

Per Sharp Football stats, the 49ers were in shotgun on 67% of all passes in 2021, coming in at 13th overall of all NFL teams, an increase from 20th in 2020.

When asked about the change from under center to shotgun, here’s what McDaniel had to say:

“Well, Jimmy’s a lot more decisive in the gun. He likes to see it while he’s delivering tight window throws… minimizing pass exclusive situations, which on first and second down, you can do if you have the threat of (run out of gun). And we’ve just kind of evolved. Kyle in 2019, really started noticing that and put pressure on us to evolve. And every week you figure out different ways to do some of the same things, maybe a couple of wrinkles.” 

Mike McDaniel

Jimmy Garropolo’s efficiency and decisiveness went up towards the middle weeks of the NFL season, a huge part in driving San Francisco to the playoffs.

This is not something new to Mike McDaniel. As an offensive assistant with Washington, McDaniel and Shanahan took the league by storm by utilizing read-option plays to capitalize RGIII’s effectiveness in the run game.

Play action passing with Tua Tagovailoa

Similar to Jimmy Garropolo is Tua Tagovailoa. We’ve seen how decisive Tua can be in no-huddle, up-tempo, shotgun based offense. It’s one of his biggest strengths.

In the play seen above, the Dolphins are in a condensed 11 Personnel formation with Isaiah Ford motioning to the right side of the field.

Jaylen Waddle runs a “go” route and looks to be Tua’s first read. Tua identifies the bracket coverage on Waddle and shifts towards Devante Parker, his second read.

Tua moves LB Rashaan Evans with his eyes and holds him towards Waddle. This creates an opening to fire a pass down the middle to Devante Parker on a post route.

This is the type of play-action sequence Tua is successful at.

New Play-action sequences for Tua Tagovailoa

One of the most used play-calls used by the San Francisco 49ers under Mike McDaniel was the “DRIFT” concept.

 It is a quick-hitting play that hits in the zone vacated by linebackers flowing toward the run action.

The run fake draws up the linebackers and opens the zone behind them for the quarterback. This most basic of play-action of concepts opens some of the biggest throwing lanes in any offense

I do expect this “DRIFT” concept to be utilized for the Dolphins offense in 2022, especially for Tua Tagovailoa.

How the RPO gives a boost to play-action passing

Per PFF, the Dolphins had 63 downfield RPO’s thrown beyond three yards, which was the highest figure since 2016.

These downfield RPO’s generally enhance a teams play efficiency in the run game, giving a boost to play-action passing.

In addition, the 2021 Dolphins RPO system was generally a “one-read” system as plays were meant for one person.

This will change as McDaniel brings a different philosophy in terms of RPO’s and improvements along the offensive line.

It all starts with a concept called “WANDA”.

The biggest difference is that if the football is not given to the running backs as the quarterbacks first read, the running back himself can become another outlet instead of pass blocking.

By providing another read to the quarterback, the running back runs a “wheel” concept giving another downfield passing threat if the blocking is solid.

The threat of the pass will open up running lanes for running backs in RPO’s and Tua in play-action passing concepts.

Fortunately, Miami signed running backs in Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds who have ample experience in this type of offense.

Will these play-action passing concepts work?

“One thing I know about you is you have the ambition to be great. My job is to coach you to get all that greatness out of you”

These words were uttered by Mike McDaniel in his first phone call to Tua Tagovailoa.

McDaniel has success with quarterbacks with similar skill-sets like Tua, however the young man must put in the work to silence his critics and improve.

 

“What I’ve seen is a skill set that I’m familiar with, that’s very successful in this offense, you’re seeing a very accurate passer that receivers love to catch footballs from — tight spirals and accurate throws, which are huge for run after the catch and YAC yardage. What that means for an offense is if you have people who can run after the catch, that’s an outstanding skill set for him.

Mike McDaniel on Tua Tagovailoa

It’s time for Mike McDaniel to tap into Tua’s skillsets and Tua to put in the work to make the Miami Dolphins offense successful in 2022.

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