The Miami Dolphins are officially giving the future a chance. First-round pick Tua Tagovailoa was named the team’s starting quarterback on Tuesday morning, and Dolphins fans will get a more extended glimpse of its franchise signal-caller after Tua played in the final minutes of this past Sunday’s game.
But, is this really the right move for Miami?
Miami’s defense has been vastly improved this season, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has helped the offense get points on close to 48 percent of its possessions.
In fact, Fitzpatrick had been on a decent run in the past few games. The grizzled veteran tore up the San Francisco 49ers for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzpatrick threw a pair of interceptions on Sunday against the Jets, but he also threw three more scores.
Despite Miami’s current position and Fitzpatrick’s veteran leadership, however, the Dolphins are still making a switch at quarterback.
Is the franchise putting Tagovailoa in a position to fail?
Let’s start with the hype regarding Tua.
Tagovailoa was practically the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft entering his junior year at Alabama. The Hawaiian’s performance did nothing to change that notion, as Tua threw for 2,840 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns against just three interceptions in his first nine games.
But Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury in a game against Mississippi State in November, rendering his status somewhat uncertain ahead of the draft.
Although Joe Burrow eventually supplanted Tua as the top prospect, he showed encouraging signs in pre-draft workouts, with some evaluators praising his upside and suggesting he would be the better long-term player in comparison to Burrow.
This notion rang true enough for the Dolphins to select Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick this past April.
Now, Miami will entrust Tua with the remainder of the 2020 season, one in which the Dolphins have a legitimate chance to reach the playoffs. Fans will be hungry to capitalize on a weaker division and somewhat gettable schedule in the next few weeks. In order to do that, Tua will need to show out from the start.
Is that really fair to Tagovailoa? Upside is one thing, but taking over for a veteran leader in Fitzpatrick with the weight of the season on your shoulders is an entirely different challenge for Tua.
Will the O-line hold up?
The Dolphins had one of the worst offensive lines in football last year, but that unit has held fairly steady to start the year.
Fitzpatrick was sacked 10 times through the first six games, which is a respectable number. Additionally, the offensive line ranked 15th in pass protection and adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.
But there are multiple considerations here. For starters, the Dolphins have faced some weak pass-rushing units in recent weeks.
The Seattle Seahawks have struggled to generate pressure all year. Although the San Francisco Niners would usually boast one of the top pass-rushing corps in the NFL, Nick Bosa’s early injury and Dee Ford’s continued absence has had a major impact on the Niners defense. Meanwhile, the Jets have a weak group up front.
Things will get harder for Miami’s offensive line, starting with a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. Los Angeles Chargers EDGE Melvin Ingram might be back for the team’s Week 10 showdown with the Dolphins, which would make things tougher on Miami. Then the Dolphins get a tough Denver Broncos front in Week 11.
There is also this element: Tua is used to playing behind elite offensive lines at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide routinely churn out top linemen. Jedrick Wills was a top-10 pick this year, and guys like Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly also hail from Alabama.
How will Tua react to pressure up front? He is not assured the same kind of protection he was at Alabama, when he could mostly sit in the pocket and pick apart opposing defenses.
Tagovailoa is mobile and can move around in the pocket, but can he scramble away from bigger linebackers and ends? How will the hip hold up?
These would seem to be pretty valid questions for the Dolphins going forward.
No running game
The Dolphins could lessen the burden on Tua with a strong run game.
But Miami hardly possesses a good rushing attack. The Dolphins rank 22nd in rushing yards and 26th in yards per carry (3.8). They would rank even lower if not for Myles Gaskin having success against a weak Jets front.
Speaking of Gaskin, he is about the only one to have success in the backfield. The Jordan Howard signing has proven to be an abomination, while Matt Breida is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry after the Dolphins acquired him from the Niners this offseason.
Tagovailoa will be under immediate pressure to create with his arm and his legs. Perhaps he is up to this challenge. But it is hard to ignore the Dolphins’ lack of a run game will place an early spotlight on Tua to thrive.
The Dolphins are asking for quite a lot from their rookie quarterback, especially given he is not yet removed from a serious hip injury, and now takes over for a franchise starving for a playoff berth.
This is not meant as a knock on Tua. He could certainly be a difference-maker under center. Justin Herbert has certainly looked pretty strong in Los Angeles.
At the same time, the Dolphins do not have the same kind of weaponry as the Chargers.
Fitzpatrick had done a tremendous job of grinding out wins in the last two years in a less-than-ideal situation. It is hard to ask a rookie to accomplish something similar, regardless of his talent level.
Miami will hope Tua can sustain the team’s momentum. But the Dolphins are asking for a lot from Tagovailoa when all is said and done.