Is Tua Tagovailoa Worth Adding From Waivers? (2020 Fantasy Football)
It’s Tua Time, dear reader. After months of uncertainty surrounding whether he would play at all, we finally saw him take his first snaps last week. And on Tuesday, the Miami Dolphins announced that Tagovailoa would take over as their starting quarterback in Week 8.
Dolphins have a bye this week. When they rerun the next week for a home game against the Rams, Tua Tagovailoa will be their starting QB. https://t.co/NVc3Kc0GfG
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 20, 2020
So what should we be expecting from him fantasy-wise? Will he be a QB1 or just a streamer? We don’t have much in the way of professional stats or film to work with, but I’ll break down what we do know. Before we get too lost in the details, I will say that Tagovailoa is absolutely worth a speculative pickup this week — if you have the roster space.
After making some impressive plays in his freshman season, Tua Tagovailoa beat out Jalen Hurts for the starting job at Alabama heading into 2018. In 15 games, the then-sophomore threw for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns, and six picks. He was completing 69% of his passes, and he added 190 yards and five scores on the ground. Coming into 2019, he looked like the consensus first overall pick.
He was even on pace to top his impressive 2018 before he went down against Mississippi State. In nine games, He had thrown for 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns, and three interceptions with a completion percentage of 71.4%. He’d only totaled 17 rushing yards, but he’d also scored a pair of touchdowns.
Tagovailoa grades well in stats that translate to the NFL. FiveThirtyEight did an excellent writeup on how completion percentage over expected (CPOE) is the stickiest stat to consider when drafting quarterbacks, and Tagovailoa routinely beat his expected production. Tagovailoa also ranked highly according to ProFootballFocus’ five most important metrics for rookie passers, all of which center on accuracy.
So what’s the argument against Tagovailoa? PFF points out that he occasionally makes poor decisions, and there are lingering concerns about his ability to stay healthy. While health is a real concern, poor decisions can often be a boon in fantasy football, as interceptions often force signal-callers to pass more frequently — remember Jameis Winston? That’s not always the case, of course, but interceptions are less of a hindrance in fantasy than in real life.
State of the Offense
At 3-3, the Miami Dolphins are playing a lot better than they did last season. They’ve taken down the Jaguars, 49ers, and Jets, and they played the division-leading Bills close in a 31-28 loss back in Week 2.
The credit doesn’t belong to just one player or unit, but the Dolphins wouldn’t be this good without an improved offensive line. They rank 15th in pass blocking and have an adjusted sack rate of 6.3%, which is a touch below the league average (6.5%). Last season, they ranked 28th and had an adjusted sack rate of 8.6%.
With better pass-blocking, the Dolphins have attempted 33.17 passing plays per game, which ranks as the sixth-fewest in the league. Through six games, the Dolphins have the third-slowest offensive pace, behind run-heavy offenses like Baltimore and San Francisco.
These are not good things for Tagovailoa. While the two slower offenses have given us fantasy-relevant quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger), the teams with fewer average passing attempts only produced fantasy-relevant quarterbacks if they could run (Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff).
Of course, the Dolphins could modify their offensive approach somewhat with Tagovailoa under center. While I don’t expect major changes from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, I’m interested to see how Tagovailoa’s accuracy will translate into this scheme. Before getting benched, Fitzpatrick was completing 70.1% of his passes. That marks a new career-high for him, and it’s almost ten percentage points better than his career average (60.7%). If a relatively inaccurate passer like Fitzpatrick looked that good in Gailey’s scheme, I’m even more excited about what Tagovailoa could do.
The Dolphins have a pair of tough games after their bye, but then they’ll get two easy ones afterward. They take on the Rams in Week 8, and Tagovailoa could struggle against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey in his debut. The Rams are giving up the 13th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks so far.
Then he’ll get Arizona in Week 9. The Cardinals have been even better against quarterbacks — they’re giving up the eighth-fewest points to the position. That said, they could regress a little bit now that Chandler Jones is done for the season.
But Tagovailoa has a pair of great matchups in Weeks 10 and 11. The Dolphins will play the Chargers (third-worst) and Broncos (ninth-worst) through those two weeks, and they’ll get the Jets and Bengals afterward.
It may take Tagovailoa some time to hit his sky-high fantasy ceiling. However, he’s a fantastic player to stash in 2QB leagues, and he could put together some great late-season performances to help you secure a playoff berth. Just don’t expect him to be a miraculous cure-all at quarterback — he’s just a high-end QB2 for me at this point.
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