Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is entering some dangerous territory early in his second NFL season. As time rolls on and Tagovailoa continues with average-at-best play, the term “bust” will be attached to the former Alabama QB’s name like velcro on a pair of sneakers. Once a player’s name is associated with that word, it can be nearly impossible to shake.
Injuries have plagued Tagovailoa dating back to his time in Tuscaloosa. A major hip injury and subsequent surgery forced an early end to Tagovailoa’s career with Alabama in November of 2019. Tua also suffered two high ankle sprains while in college, both of which required surgery. A fracture to Tua’s throwing hand while playing for the Crimson Tide also sent Tagovailoa under the knife.
The injuries haven’t stopped for Tagovailoa during his time in Miami either. As a pro, he’s quickly solidifying his existing reputation as an injury-prone player. Tagovailoa is already on the Dolphins’ injured reserve list, having his ribs fractured during the team’s Week 2 loss to the Buffalo Bills. This injury will keep him sidelined for at least three weeks, and he’ll be eligible to return in Week 6 when the Dolphins play the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Seems like the perfect game to ease him back in slowly. Or even the following week against the Atlanta Falcons in Miami.
One thing is for sure, the injury bug we hear so much about is getting fat on the flesh of Mr. Tagovailoa. But even when he’s playing, his performance hasn’t come close to living up to his draft position. You’ll recall the Dolphins drafted Tagovailoa fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, one spot ahead of Justin Herbert. Herbert, by the way, only won Rookie of the Year honors with the LA Chargers while breaking rookie passing records. No big deal there.
Now, while Tua’s injuries are significant, we can’t outright blame players for the bad luck involved. Players can be held accountable, however, for what they say publicly. For example, Tua became the Dolphins’ starter in Week 8 last season, and after a 3-0 start he made some noteworthy comments about his transition from college to the professional game:
“I expected it to be a lot harder,” Tagovailoa told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. “Not that it’s not hard.”
Tagovailoa ended his rookie season with a 6-3 record, but those wins weren’t necessarily because of his performance. Tagovailoa passed for 181.4 yards per game and a QBR of 52.5 for the season. Tagovailoa’s average passing yards per attempt is, well, below average. That 181.4 mark is well below last year’s league-wide 240.2. I’m sure the Dolphins didn’t draft him that high for this type of production. In Miami’s Week 1 victory over New England, Tagovailoa passed for 202 yards, completed 16/27 passes with 1 TD and 1 INT. Nothing special by any means but the Dolphins have a pretty good team around Tagovailoa. And the Patriots are in the process of retooling themselves. So again, the Dolphins are winning games despite Tua’s performance, not because of it.
But where is the blame to be placed in this situation? I feel like Head Coach Brian Flores and the Dolphins have done a decent job of building this team over the past couple of years. But I have to blame the team. Even with a 6-3 record as Dolphins starting QB, Tua would have been better served had he been allowed to sit and learn for most of the 2020 season. The entire season would have been great, especially when we factor in the hip injury Tagovailoa was recovering from.
However, I don’t think he will be the QB to take Miami where they want to go. If the Dolphins were completely onboard with Tua, they wouldn’t have shown interest in a trade for Deshaun Watson, or any other QB for that matter. In the AFC East, the time is now to take hold of that division and place it in a stranglehold. The Bills did it in 2020, and the Dolphins had hoped to make significant strides toward that in 2021, but this latest Tagovailoa injury is another setback to the team’s plans.
Under the best circumstances, Tagovailoa seems destined to become an average to below-average NFL QB on his best day. I don’t think it will matter how much talent the Dolphins can surround him with. From his weak arm down to all the injuries, I don’t see Tua being a perennial pro bowler and certainly not an All-Pro. It’s far more likely he’ll become a journeyman QB than an elite one in the NFL. And when you’re picked fifth overall in the draft, there’s a word for that: “Bust.”