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Where Dolphins’ Tagovailoa stands in key areas in first 16 starts compared with peers

·6 min read
Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com

Now that Tua Tagovailoa has completed what — until 2021 — had been a full season worth of games, how do his first 16 NFL starts compare with those of his peers?

To assess that, we compared Tagovailoa’s statistics in his initial 16 NFL starts (excluding the two games when he played off the bench) with the first 16 starts — not appearances, but starts — of the other 19 quarterbacks that could reasonably be ranked among the NFL’s top 20 non-rookie QBs.

(See the first category below — passer rating — for the full list of the 20 we evaluated.)

And Tagovailoa stacked up favorably in several key statistical measures, including top 10 in three of them.

Here’s where Tagovailoa ranked in five notable areas:

PASSER RATING

Tagovailoa’s 89.7 rating in his 16 starts would rank him 10th on the list of arguably the game’s 20 best active quarterbacks.

That 89.7 trails the first 16 starts for Patrick Mahomes (111.8), Ben Roethlisberger (105.2), Dak Prescott (104.9), Deshaun Watson (102.2), Russell Wilson (100.0), Justin Herbert (97.3), Joe Burrow (95.3), Lamar Jackson (94.4) and Aaron Rodgers (93.8).

If Tagovailoa’s two games off the bench — garbage time against the Jets last season and last month’s game against Baltimore — were included, his passer rating would be 90.5 for his career, which would still rank 10th on this list.

His first 16-start passer rating topped those of Baker Mayfield (88.9), Tom Brady (88.3), Matt Ryan (87.7), Kyler Murray (87.4), Kirk Cousins (81.7), Carson Wentz (79.3), Derek Carr (76.6), Ryan Tannehill (76.1), Matt Stafford (75.8) and Josh Allen (70.8).

Conclusion: That Tagovailoa has a career rating of 90 with a limited, injury-riddled receiver corps and a substandard offensive line bodes well for his future.

COMPLETION PERCENTAGE

Tagovailoa’s 66.7 completion percentage in his first 16 starts (it’s 67 percent if his two games off the bench are included) ranks second among these 20 quarterbacks, behind only Prescott (67.8).

Rounding out the top five: Herbert (66.5), Burrow (66.3) and Mahomes (66.1).

The bottom five: Allen (56.6), Stafford (57), Carr (58.1), Tannehill (58.3) and Ryan (61.1).

Conclusion: Accuracy might be Tagovailoa’s most special gift. Yes, the completion percentage might be lower if Tagovailoa threw deep more often. But he has been on target with deeper throws this season, completing 9 for 17 on passes that traveled at least 20 air yards; that’s second best behind Murray.

TOUCHDOWNS

Tagovailoa’s 21 TD throws in his first 16 starts is tied with Roethlisberger and Carr for 12th on this list of 20 — ahead of Jackson and Murray (20 apiece), Wentz and Ryan (16 apiece), Allen (15) and Tannehill (12).

Top three in this category: Mahomes (48), Watson (36) and Herbert (32).

But here’s the big caveat with this category and the two that follow: Tagovailoa exited one of his 16 starts (against Buffalo) with a first-quarter injury (fractured ribs) after attempting only four passes. He also was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half of losses to Denver and Las Vegas last season.

Perhaps he would be higher on this list (and the two below) if he played longer in those games.

Conclusion: The 21 touchdowns in 16 starts isn’t bad, but the Dolphins offense needs to score more points. A better offensive line and running game clearly would help Tagovailoa achieve that.

INTERCEPTIONS

Tagovailoa threw only 11 in his first 16 starts, which is tied with Ryan and Herbert for fifth fewest picks among these 20.

The only ones who threw fewer INTs in their first 16 starts among our group of 20: Prescott (four), Jackson (eight), Roethlisberger (nine) and Wilson (10).

The quarterbacks who threw the most picks in their first 16 starts from our group: Stafford (23), Cousins (22), Allen and Mayfield (19 apiece) and Watson (16).

Conclusion: Tagovailoa, in the Carolina game, avoided the one or two mistakes that somewhat tarnished some of his previous starts. He didn’t throw a pick in eight of his first 16 starts; he threw more than one pick only twice (two against Atlanta; three in the 2020 season finale against Buffalo).

If he can keep the interceptions to the five-to-eight range per year, that would give him a chance to potentially be considered a top-10 quarterback eventually.

PASSING YARDS

Tagovailoa’s 3,348 yards in his 16 starts would rank him 14th, barely behind Brady (3,360) and ahead of Tannehill, Carr, Jackson, Roethlisberger and Wilson.

But Tagovailoa would be higher if he had played more of that Bills game in Week 2 (or hadn’t been benched twice last season). Consider that his 209 passing yards per game would be 222.6 if the Week 2 Bills game were removed and just his other 15 starts were used to calculate this.

Mahomes (5,102), Herbert (4,673) and Mayfield (4,329) are top three in this category.

Conclusion: Tagovailoa has thrown for 300 yards in only three games: a win against Kansas City and losses to Buffalo (2020) and Jacksonville (this season).

He needs more big passing days to be considered a top-third of the league QB eventually. But he also needs a better cast around him and a good enough offensive line to give the staff confidence to call more vertical throws.

Quick caveat/postscript to our analysis: The four non-rookie quarterbacks omitted from our top 20 list who could make a strong case for the current top 20 are Jimmy Garoppolo,Teddy Bridgewater, Jalen Hurts and injured Jameis Winston.

Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Jared Goff,, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton and injured Fitzpatrick also were omitted from our top 20 of the best current non-rookie QBs.

Garoppolo (95.3) had a higher first 16-game passer rating than Tagovailoa — mostly because he produced significantly more passing yards (4,070) — but he made his first six starts over six seasons.

Winston was worse than Tagovailoa in his first 16 starts, producing an 84.2 rating, 58.3 completion percentage.

Bridgewater also was worse than Tagovailoa over his first 16 starts: 85.1 passer rating and barely more TDs (16) than interceptions (14).

Hurts, who made his 16th NFL start last Sunday, also hasn’t been as good as Tagovailoa over their first 16 starts. Hurts has a much lower passer rating (82.1) and completion percentage (57.8), though he has thrown for six more yards than his former Alabama teammate in their respective first 16 starts.

So the fact Tagovailoa’s first 16 starts stack up on par or better than many of his peers offers historical reason for optimism.

INJURY UPDATE

Running back Phillip Lindsay (ankle), tight end Adam Shaheen (knee) and cornerback Trill Williams (hamstring) were limited in Friday’s practice and are doubtful for Sunday’s home game against the New York Giants.

Safety Brandon Jones (ankle) and linebacker Jaelan Phillips (hip) were limited on Friday and are questionable. But Brian Flores said Friday that he expects Phillips will be able to play on Sunday.

Everyone else on the 53-man roster is available to play.

Receiver DeVante Parker and centers Michael Deiter and Greg Mancz practiced this week and could be activated from injured reserve by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Miami has one open spot on its 53-man roster.

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