Miami Dolphins’ second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has some new pass-catchers heading into the upcoming NFL season. Do these new arrivals improve Tua’s outlook for 2021?
After making significant moves in the offseason, the Dolphins are hoping two key players — Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller — will beef up the Miami pass-catchers, and help things “click” for their 2020 fifth overall pick. Waddle looks to bring a new level of explosiveness and big-play upside that fans witnessed at Alabama, while Fuller was on pace to shatter his career-best numbers prior to suspension in 2020.
The performance of these two could be vital for Tua Tagovailoa to take the next step.
Tua’s 2020 Season
Tagovailoa got his first taste of NFL action in week six as he took over on the last drive when the Dolphins were up 24-0 to the Jets. He then started from week eight on, after Miami’s bye in week seven. In his nine games as a starter, he accumulated 1,805 yards while adding 11 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. On the ground, he was able to add three touchdowns on 109 yards.
Another important note is that Tagovailoa was coming off a severe hip injury that he suffered during his senior season at Alabama. He may play even better this year, as more time has passed since his injury.
Keeping It Simple
With Miami’s defense proving to be one of the more solid units in the league, a simple game managing approach was essentially all that was needed. Tagovailoa stuck to this by not forcing the ball downfield and focusing on his short/intermediate targets. According to FTN Fantasy’s Deep Passing Stats, of quarterbacks with 150 attempts, Tua was 34th in deep pass percentage — only 8.4% of his attempts traveled at least 20 yards downfield.
One of the main things you noticed in Tagovailoa’s rookie year was his efficiency with quick reads on either run-pass options or shorter routes — his first read was targeted on 66% of his attempts. So, if you were the first read on a specific play, more than likely the ball is coming your way.
One aspect I will look for improvement in is his ability to read deeper route combinations. Having receivers like Fuller and Waddle, as both are great separators, we should expect Tagovailoa to work at providing more chunk plays than he did in 2020.
Miami was one of the teams with high draft capital who could have possibly take an offensive lineman. Top offensive tackle Penei Sewell was still on the board for their sixth overall pick, but they elected to draft Jaylen Waddle instead.
One of the things you will notice about Tagovailoa’s mistakes this past season was that they came when he was under pressure. Take the video below as an example. Under pressure on third down with seven yards to go, he tries to do a little too much by connecting on a deep ball. This led to his first career interception.
Tua’s first career INT goes to Tyrann Mathieu
— PFF (@PFF) December 13, 2020
The offensive line was not left unaddressed, as the Dolphins selected Liam Eichenberg, an offensive tackle out of Notre Dame, in the second round. A lot of line players from 2020 are returning in 2021. I believe the carryover can be a positive in the development of this unit going forward.
Using His Legs
Coming out of Alabama, Tagovailoa was an efficient playmaker when getting outside the pocket. This strength was put on display at times in the 2020 season. Here is a great example below of what he is capable of doing outside the pocket:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 15, 2020
Knowing Tagovailoa’s athleticism, I expect to see more designs to get him rolling out so he can make plays with his legs. He showed good accuracy when throwing outside the pocket in 2020. His 62.5% completion rate outside the pocket was good for seventh among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks, according to FTN Fantasy’s Throws Outside the Pocket.
New Pass Catchers
Tagovailoa showed flashes in 2020 that led some to believe he could put things together in 2021. While there were definite showings of things that need improvement, you have to like the situation around him. Let’s take a look at the weapons the Dolphins have set up to make Tua better this season.
Coming off of what would have been a career-best year, Fuller looks to regroup after a PED suspension had him out the last five weeks of the season. He comes into a Miami wide receiver room that has been hit or miss in years past. Predicting how Fuller will fit into this offense could be an important key in determining his fantasy value.
The deep ball has been Fuller’s calling card in his time with the Texans. His 4.32 40-speed makes him a threat to get loose behind the defense for monster gains. While Fuller was in Houston, he and quarterback Deshaun Watson connected on the deep ball time and time again. A lot can be done with not much volume. Fuller proved this by leading all pass-catchers with a minimum of 50 targets, by posting 11.8 yards per target in 2020.
Tua’s development in reading deeper route combinations will be a key for Fuller to thrive. Fuller is clearly a step up from other options Tua had as a deep ball threat in 2020. Establishing a connection with his new signal-caller will be very important, not only to Fuller but to fantasy managers curious about his scenario.
Watching highlights of Waddle at Alabama can get anyone excited about the potential upside he could possess, given his sheer athletic ability. Unfortunately, his final season in college was cut short due to an ankle injury. However, Waddle was still able to show off his talents previously during his time on the field.
Waddle, known for his unbelievable athleticism, will play right into Tua’s strengths as a passer. It’s not like we haven’t seen these two have a connection before. Yards after the catch is what makes Waddle so dangerous — it was not uncommon to see him take a short pass around the line of scrimmage for a massive gain.
I expect the Dolphins will utilize Waddle’s versatility and use him in a variety of ways. They can design quick-hitting plays to get him in space to make a play and use his speed to work deeper down the field. He, like Fuller, will be a valuable weapon in helping Tagovailoa improve his reads on chunk plays in 2021.
Alabama's Jaylen Waddle is ridiculously explosive with better lateral agility/short-area quickness than Henry Ruggs — should explode in a featured role in 2020. pic.twitter.com/wBFdIUtFnL
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 13, 2020
Returning Pass Catchers
DeVante Parker went into the 2020 season having finally put things together in 2019, where he caught 72 balls for 1,202 yards and 9 touchdowns. Playing 14 games in 2020, Parker’s reception rate was nearly identical to what he posted in 2019. However, the difference was that he was catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, whereas Tua was under center for half of the 2020 season. Fitzpatrick offered upside for his pass catchers due to his more aggressive approach.
In his time with Tagovailoa, Parker still saw a good target share — 24 targets in three full games. A lot of people will want to point out the week 17 shootout with Buffalo, in which Parker had 14 targets with Tagovailoa at quarterback. The anomaly here is that Buffalo was out front the entire game and Miami let Tagovailoa throw the ball 58 times. In a normal scenario, throwing the ball at that rate is not in the game plan for the Dolphins.
Parker’s upside takes a hit with Tua at QB, as we have seen a significant difference in his outcomes the last two seasons. Along with Fuller and Waddle, I think this receiving unit has the ability to push Tagovailoa to develop as an NFL quarterback.
Unlike Parker, there wasn’t a noticeable difference for Mike Gesicki whether Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa was at quarterback. He had a similar target share and yardage total between the two quarterbacks. Gesicki, who is known for his ability to come down with contested catches, can still be a go-to target as the offense approaches the endzone. In 2020, he was second on the team, behind Parker, in endzone targets with 11.
— Onward State (@OnwardState) December 6, 2020
Look for the fourth-year tight end to still offer some touchdown production with Tagovailoa’s precision touch when the Dolphins get around the goal line. Working in the middle of the field, specifically with short/intermediate targets, is going to be where Gesicki spends the majority of his time. Considering the three other receiving options above, fourth in the pecking order for targets is likely what we can expect for Gesicki in 2021.
Attacking this Dolphins passing game in fantasy football drafts is going to come down to getting value according to their ADP.
Using the IDP Guys July ADP, Tagovailoa is currently the QB16 in drafts, putting him in backup quarterback territory. Pairing Tagovailoa with another QB who has a safe weekly floor could be a viable option heading into fantasy drafts. He is being selected so late in drafts that it would not be hard to part ways if the start of the season doesn’t look promising. Don’t be afraid to take the second-year quarterback in hopes of a potential breakout season.
Will Fuller might be the best value in drafts right now, at least to me. His current ADP of WR44 (138th overall) provides a place for fantasy managers to exploit. A deep-ball connection between the two could help Fuller easily pay off that draft price. Though Fuller will have to miss week one due to his 2020 suspension, we could look back after the 2021 season and realize Fuller was the piece that helped Tua develop the most.
Fantasy managers like to look at exciting young wide receivers in drafts, and according to early ADP, Waddle is an example of this. The IDP Guys ADP has Waddle going off the board at WR28 (70th overall). I would advise some caution when looking at Waddle around this price of WR3/Flex territory. Having him as a bench option early in the year gives time to see his report with Tagovailoa.
Does he have the upside to live up to that draft price? Yes. However, history shows rookie wide receivers might need a little time to adjust early on in the season.
The additions of Fuller and Waddle are causing managers to forget about DeVante Parker. He is almost an afterthought in drafts with an ADP of WR62 (245th overall). It is hard to see him contributing significantly unless something were to happen to Fuller or Waddle. He is a late-round dart throw in hopes he can still provide value.
Gesicki, who could need to still see touchdown production, is being drafted as TE9 (136th overall). Waiting and drafting him as your starting tight end is not a terrible option for drafts. I think other tight ends, being taken after he is drafted, offer more upside at a lower draft price.
Tua Tagovailoa is a popular option for a quarterback who could see a significant year two jump. Seeing how the newest pass catchers are used to helping him get to that point will be important to monitor once camp starts and we approach preseason games. Draft price will be important when considering drafting anyone in this Miami passing attack.
Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @blakeponson and @IDPGuys. You can read more of my work here at idpguys.org, and check out other NFL Offensive articles for the upcoming fantasy football season. Stay tuned for more content!