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It’s not often that I want to be wrong. But I really wanted to be wrong about Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. According to fan voting for the Pro Bowl, I am wrong.
Tua garnered more votes than any other player in the NFL. But I think the fans are the ones who got this one wrong.
AFC quarterbacks I would vote ahead of Tua: Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson and Trevor Lawrence.
Overrated out of college
As a lifelong Dolphins fan, I was not excited when Miami selected Tua with the #5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
At the time, I worked at ESPN on The Paul Finebaum Show, which airs on the SEC Network. I had watched nearly every game Tagovailoa played at Alabama. And I was never impressed. Call me a hater.
Yes, he put up video game numbers. But that was mostly due to having four first-round picks playing wide receiver and an offensive line better than any in the country.
No one threw a better quick slant than Tua, and Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle routinely took those to the house.
Not to mention, Alabama also featured Damien Harris, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs and Brian Robinson — all NFL starting running backs — on that 2018 team when Tua lit the world on fire.
Add in the fact that Tua suffered some gruesome injuries throughout his career, including a particularly awful hip injury, and the hype didn’t match the product.
But Miami needed a quarterback, so they selected Tua.
2022 appeared to be Tua’s coming out party
After two rather pedestrian seasons with the Dolphins to start his career, Tua seemed to figure it out in 2022 — at least according to most NFL people.
To me, Miami’s success has had far more to do with bringing in two of the fastest players in the league — Tyreek Hill and Tua’s former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle — and hiring a head coach with a forward-thinking approach to offense.
McDaniel knows that his quarterback lacks arm talent and he plays to his strengths. Get the ball to really good football players like Hill and Waddle and get out of the way.
But people glossed over the fact that Miami’s five-game winning streak where Tua really shined came against Pittsburgh (without TJ Watt), Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Houston.
Chicago and Detroit are statistically (EPA/play) the worst defenses in the league. The other three are in the bottom 10.
Since then, Miami has lost three straight. Those losses have come against the 49ers, Chargers and Bills. The Chargers defense isn’t special, but the other two are. And in those three December games, Tua completed 49.5% of his passes.
Under 50% for a three-game stretch is unquestionably bad.
Tua is a serviceable NFL QB, but will never be elite
I am not saying that Tua is a bad NFL quarterback. He most certainly is not. But he’s not Top 10 and he never will be. He understands his limitations. He has gotten much better at avoiding the big mistakes that cost him dearly in his first two seasons.
Tua knows how to get the ball to his best players and his coach does too. He is the perfect encapsulation of a very good game-manager. The Dolphins could probably win a Super Bowl with him if everything went right.
But if they end up paying him like an elite quarterback, the Dolphins will regret it. Tua needs help all around him. He will never be an elite quarterback who elevates mediocre talent around him. He needs elite talent around him to elevate his mediocre arm.
He has the intangibles of an elite QB, but not the arm talent. And that’s OK!
But it’s not “leading vote-getter for the Pro Bowl” stuff. That implies that Tua is an elite NFL quarterback.
He is not. He never will be.
I wanted to be wrong. But, alas, I am not.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ