The Definitive Requirements for Tua Tagovailoa to Succeed in 2022

Tua Tagovailoa is entering the deciding year of his career, and he must improve in several key areas if he is to succeed.

There may be no more heavily debated and disputed player in the NFL than Tua Tagovailoa. Dating back to his first starts in college, he’s been analyzed to a degree few NFL prospects have ever seen. Many were sold on his “it factor” after his infamous game winning touchdown against Georgia in the National Championship. However, just as many were skeptical, and doubted his ability to lead an NFL offense.

This lead to heavy debate on his potential draft position, which reached it’s pinnacle when he suffered a career threatening injury against Mississippi State. Many still saw him as a top five pick, while others had him out of the first round entirely.

The former, however, was the only opinion that mattered when Tua was selected number five overall in 2020 by the Miami Dolphins. The team searching for their first elite quarterback since Marino took one of their biggest risks to date.

However, the divisiveness of Tagovailoa has only continued to grow. He has shown flashes of the quarterback many believe him to be, but has had just as many head-scratching moments. These have drawn out extreme takes and biases on both sides. Nonetheless, somewhere in the middle lies a quarterback with definitive strengths and weaknesses. It is with these that we can form the foundation of what can be built upon and what needs to be fixed in the most important year of the young quarterback’s career.

By many accounts, the most important quarterback traits are as follows: arm talent (strength and accuracy), anticipation, processing, pocket presence, and footwork. My goal is to evaluate where Tua Tagovailoa lies on each of these categories, and discover an attainable goal where I, and hopefully the rest of Dolphins media and fandom, can consider this season a success.

Arm Talent

Coming into the NFL, Tua’s strengths and weaknesses as far as arm strength and accuracy were well documented. Coming from the RPO-heavy Steve Sarkisian system, it was clear that he possessed elite short area accuracy and ball placement.

It was also clear that he wasn’t a premier deep ball thrower. While he could hit the open shot once in a while, he wasn’t going to hit the cover-2 hole shots at a rate similar to 2020 draft counterpart Justin Herbert. It wasn’t necessarily an issue, but a clear niche in which his game found itself.

However, the intermediate area is where the debate began. Despite Tagovailoa’s historically high efficiency numbers, there were serious questions about how inflated they were from a primarily one-read scheme. If Tua would have to read more of the field, would his accuracy take a major dip?

When combined with below average true accuracy between the 10 and 19 yard line, the results we would see in the NFL became telling.

Tua Tagovailoa has struggled immensely in the intermediate passing game since arriving in the NFL. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Tua’s passer rating on passes between 10 and 20 yards to the middle and right thirds of the field is significantly below average. However, when targeting the left third, his 118.5 rating dominates the league average of 89.2.

Tua Tagovailoa’s grid, per NFL’s NextGenStats.

This shows a clear area in which he needs to improve. Luckily, there is a visible path to doing so in the Mike McDaniel offense. McDaniel, along with his run-game prowess, has shown the abilty to draw up deadly play action looks. Specifically, boot concepts in which San Francisco’s playmakers would attack the intermediate zones.

The result: Jimmy Garoppolo was above league average in each of the intermediate thirds. It’s clear that Tua can do the same. He has the talent to do so, and it is crucial that he takes advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

Jimmy Garoppolo was above average to elite in the middle thirds of the field.

The goal: attain an above average passer rating in ALL THREE intermediate thirds of the field.

Anticipation and Processing

RPO-based systems are among the hardest to evaluate, due to the fact that so much comes off of one read. Typically, this would stray away talent evaluators, who haven’t seen the quarterback operate in a more complex scheme, but the clip that Tua was able to connect on was generational, and gave many hope that he could do it on a larger scale.

This would be crucial. Given Tagovailoa’s size and physical tools, he would have to be able to compensate with an elite football mind. However, since arriving in the league, he’s yet to demonstrate it.

Far too often, Tua stares down his first read, telegraphing where the ball is going, and allowing DB’s to make a play. Furthermore, when he gets to his second and third reads, he’s either too late or doesn’t trust what he sees. This oftentimes leads to sacks or turnovers.

Tua stares down a receiver and his arm doesn’t make up for the mistake.

It’s difficult to determine how Tua can get rid of these bad habits, and thus the “slow blinker” asterisk. Although, we can also understand that Tagovailoa has significantly better offensive coaching than he has seen to this point. McDaniel, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and new quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell all have a reputaition around the league as bright offensive minds. It’s likely that they can draw up plays to help cover this up.

However, Tagovailoa can’t be complacent, and must see things quicker. Whether it’s mental reps, more studying of the playbook, or simply just more live action, he must improve, and with the recent training camp clip that has surfaced, it appears that he has.

This clip shows Tua hitting Tyreek Hill in stride for a one handed catch and a touchdown. However, the catch isn’t the surprising part. When Tagovailoa releases the ball, Hill is still covered, and hasn’t found the soft spot in the coverage. Despite this, Tua showed more faith in his eyes, and put it in the perfect spot for his receiver to catch it. This is exactly what we are going to need to see more of, and it’s promising that it’s showing in camp.

Tua Tagovailoa puts this ball on the money in camp.

The more film study, time with receivers, or mental reps Tua runs himself through, the more benefits he will reap. His mentality towards the game must improve. Thus, his play on the field will be a strong indicator of if it has.

The goal: know the situation like the back of your hand.

Pocket Presence

If there is one trait that has been an overwhelming positive in Tua Tagovailoa’s game since being drafted, it’s his ability to sense and evade edge pressure. Miami’s offensive line has been frustrating, to say the least, but Tua has largely been able to subdue those struggles with great pocket movement.

Tua evades edge pressure, steps up, and makes a strong throw.

Much of what makes Tua potentially great is how he is able to maneuver edge pressure. It is when that pressure comes up the middle, however, that we begin to see the common problem that becomes his biggest flaw.


Robotic: a term often thought of in a negative connotation, but is one of the most common positive descriptors of Tua’s game. In clean pockets, his mechanics are as consistent as they come. His feet follow his eyes, and often lead to smart, quick decisions. However, it is when defenses send pressure through the A and B gaps that his footwork sees a significant drop off.

This is a common issue among young quarterbacks. It’s hard for any human being to maintain strong footwork with 300 pound men being pushed into their knees. However, many of those quarterbacks don’t take the brunt of the blow to their arm strength in the way Tua does.

Due to the arm strength concerns mentioned earlier, Tua needs his feet to be in line with his throws. He doesn’t have the arm of a Mahomes or Josh Allen, who can make off platform plays with ease. However, he creates several by fading on throws with A-gap pressure, which often lead to poor results.

Tua fades on a throw, and thus it’s incomplete.

This will be the hardest habit to break, and has been something few are able to achieve. However, it may be the most crucial to Tua’s success. While Miami worked on their offensive line this off-season, it still isn’t perfect. There will be plays where teams are able to get into his lap, but he can’t crumble. He has to be able to sit in and make a strong throw, or get out of the pocket, as he has successfully done in the past.

Tua Tagovailoa evades the interior pressure and makes a solid throw.

Tua has shown development in this area, but if he is to become a successful quarterback, it must become a strength, rather than his biggest weakness.

The goal: sustain success at the sight of interior pressure.

The Bottom Line on Tua Tagovailoa in 2022

The most divisive quarterback in the league is going into the deciding year of his career. Stories like this are what the NFL is made of, and while many believe Tua’s fate is set in stone, it’s far from the truth.

There are attainable goals, some more difficult than others, that in my eyes, can correlate to a successful 2022 season. If Miami’s quarterback is able to improve in the key areas I outlined the questions will begin to fade. The noise of bringing in his replacement will become a calming silence, and most importantly, the Miami Dolphins will reach heights unseen in decades.

This is it. This year we will see what the heralded franchise savior is made of. The mountain is steep, but the journey of climbing it will be all so satisfying if Tua Tagovailoa reaches it’s summit.

The Miami Dolphins Coaching Staff is All-Star Caliber

The Miami Dolphins have just finalized their coaching staff for the 2022 season, and there are quite a few big names on their list.

Miami Dolphins Coaching Staff

Shortly after hiring new head coach Mike McDaniel, the Miami Dolphins got to work on putting their coaching staff together.

They opted for continuity on defense, keeping coordinator Josh Boyer, who helped lead an opportunistic young unit over the last two seasons.

However, the additions they have made and the group they have assembled has been nothing short of star-studded. Mike McDaniel has combined a group of young, ascending minds with accomplished veterans mixed in. It’s clear that McDaniel is looking for a collaborative effort, and these assistants are sure to bring something to the table.

Frank Smith – offensive coordinator

With Josh Boyer being retained, McDaniel only had one coordinator spot to fill. This role means something different for Miami, as McDaniel announced that he would be calling the plays. Miami needed someone who could be a collaborative mind instead of a play-caller.

With those factors taken into consideration, Miami chose Los Angeles Chargers run-game coordinator Frank Smith.

Smith has an accomplished past, leading one of the NFL’s most exciting run games, led by Austin Ekeler. Complementing one of the league’s best young quarterbacks-Smith’s work helped LA finish fourth in total yards.

Frank Smith has an extensive resume.

His success also extends to positional coaching. Smith also took on the offensive line coaching role with the Chargers and was one of the primary forces in the development of Rashawn Slater, who was one of the NFL’s best tackles in his rookie season. During his tenure with the Raiders, he also helped develop Darren Waller, where he was the tight ends coach

Darrell Bevell – QB/passing game coordinator

The Dolphins have made it clear that Tua Tagovailoa will be their starting QB in 2022, and his development is crucial. Unfortunately, Tua didn’t take the step forward many hoped for, and most of the blame has gone to the coaching staff. Miami’s unit was inexperienced and needed some change to maximize their young signal-caller. Thus, they went after one of the most experienced and successful coaches available and hired Darrell Bevell.

Bevell has a strong track record of working with quarterbacks, the most prominent of which has been comparison for Tua Tagovailoa. In addition, Russell Wilson, who Bevell worked with for seven years, blossomed into an elite QB with Bevell as the OC. In that stint, he garnered love and respect from players, along with credit for the development of a star.

Darrell Bevell has been around the league.

He also has experience with other top-tier quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Matthew Stafford, which may translate to Tua’s development.

Wes Welker – WR coach

Of Miami’s assistant coaching hires, three were formerly with the franchise as players, the first of which being Wes Welker.

Along with playing at the highest level, Welker was the 49ers’ receivers coach last season. Working with a strong unit, he was pivotal in the development of Deebo Samuel, who became a force in 2021. He also oversaw the improvement of Brandon Aiyuk and the rest of the receiver group.

Wes Welker receives praise from Deebo Samuel.

Deebo mentioned Welker had a significant say in helping with game plan installation and has a strong mind in the passing game. It seems that Miami brought him in for help with their young wide receiver group and to be another brain in their collaborative game plan sessions.

Jon Embree – Assistant HC/TE coach

McDaniel wasn’t shy in taking some of his colleagues away from his former team. Along with Wes Welker, the Dolphins snagged 49ers tight ends coach Jon Embree.

As with many on McDaniel’s staff, Embree has shown the trait of being able to teach and develop players. Notably, George Kittle, renowned as one of the best tight ends in the league, has stated how important Embree was to his growth as a player. Embree also helped get big seasons out of Jordan Cameron and Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.

George Kittle praises Embree in an Instagram post.

It’s clear that McDaniel wanted teachers, and he’s taken those who have taught some of the best in the game. Miami has a young, talented tight-end group led by free agent Mike Gesicki. If anyone is going to get the best out of them, it can be Embree.

Matt Applebaum – OL coach

The Dolphins made the offensive line a chief need of their coaching search. Following poor performances throughout 2021, it was clear that the room needed a new leader. So Miami brought in Frank Smith (run-game coordinator) and Matt Applebaum with that in mind.

Although having little experience at the NFL level, Applebaum has been one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport. His work at Boston College has been impressive, generating a unit that produced multiple All-ACC talents, along with three intriguing prospects in this upcoming draft. Among those is guard Zion Johnson, who projects to be a first-round pick and now has a connection in Miami’s building.

Matt Applebaum led a great Boston College OL group.

Matt has an evident knack for developing talent, and that’s precisely what Miami will look for him to do. Miami hopes he can maximize their talent by using significant draft capital on the line over the last two seasons.

Former players make return as members of the Miami Dolphins coaching staff.

Although Miami opted for continuity on their defensive staff, they weren’t afraid to bring in a few familiar faces. Along with Wes Welker on offense, former Dolphins players Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain were hired as defensive assistants.

Madison and Surtain were a dynamic duo, securing the backend of some of Miami’s elite defenses in the 2000’s. Madison snagged 38 interceptions throughout his career and made four consecutive Pro Bowls for Miami. Statistically, Surtain was nearly as productive, grabbing 37 picks and making three Pro Bowls of his own.

Pat Surtain and Sam Madison are back in Miami.

Since their playing days, each has done impressive jobs at different levels of coaching. Madison helped revamp a Kansas City Chiefs secondary featuring Tyrann Mathieu and developed young cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Surtain was the head coach of American Heritage, a prestigious high school in Plantation, Florida.

The two former Dolphins will work with a duo very much like their own. Byron Jones and Xavien Howard have led one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL. Their work has essentially put Miami’s opportunistic defense over the top. So much of Miami’s aggressiveness wouldn’t be possible without such a great back-end, and that group will now be coached by two of the best corners in Dolphins history.

The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins Coaching Staff

Unlike the last few regimes, Mike McDaniel is putting together a list of familiar names and faces. Whether they have worked with him previously, developed talent elsewhere, or even played in the aqua and orange, this Miami Dolphins coaching staff consists of big name after big name.

The games aren’t played on paper, and assembling a staff is only the beginning. However, as we begin Mike McDaniel’s first offseason, it seems that the Miami Dolphins are starting strong.