Tagovailoa, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, had an inconsistent rookie season. His lack of instant success made the former Alabama quarterback a lightning rod for criticism. But some of his most prominent critics need to take a step back and re-evaluate why they’re so difficult on the sophomore quarterback.
Tua Tagovailoa has been criticized throughout the NFL offseason
Taking a negative stance on Tua Tagovailoa became a common trend throughout the NFL offseason.
Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd frequently suggested the Miami Dolphins trade Tagovailoa to Houston for Deshaun Watson. Cowherd also said he believed the Dolphins should have selected Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL draft and parted ways with Tagovailoa, the fifth overall pick in 2020.
Pro Football Focus listed Tagovailoa as the NFL’s fourth-worst starting quarterback. Broncos starter Drew Lock earned the distinction of being the worst, with second-year Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Jets rookie Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in 2021, rounding out the bottom of the list.
Former NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who authored the list, suggested Tagovailoa fell for being too cautious as a rookie.
“It’s hard to adjust to the speed of the game as a rookie, especially when you don’t know when you’re going to be pulled for a savvy veteran [Ryan Fitzpatrick]. … Tua was exceptionally conservative last year, with only seven big-time throws all season. That’s not the worst thing, but he also had 13 turnover-worthy plays.”Bruce Gradkowski
Gradkowski ranked Fitzpatrick, who now plays for the Washington Football Team, as the league’s 19th-best quarterback for what it’s worth.
Tagovailoa’s critics need to remember what they thought about Peyton Manning
If Gradkowski wasn’t pleased with Tagovailoa being too conservative, one can only wonder what he would have thought about Peyton Manning’s rookie year.
Don’t forget that Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, threw 28 interceptions for the Colts that year. He threw multiple interceptions in 11 of his 16 starts, and the Colts finished 3-13.
Yet the roof didn’t collapse after Manning had a difficult rookie season. The era of instant gratification, especially in social media, means that we no longer want to give quarterbacks time to develop and prove themselves. Tagovailoa made his NFL debut less than a year after suffering a severe hip injury at Alabama.
Cowherd worked for KGW-TV in Portland during the fall of 1998. What did he think about Manning at the time? Gradkowski was a 15-year-old high school athlete in Pennsylvania that year. Did he think the Colts needed to draft Donovan McNabb in 1999 and ditch Manning?
No one will dispute that the media hailed Manning as a generational talent; Tagovailoa, even before the injury, didn’t fall into that rare category. But if Manning had his rookie season in 2020, would ESPN and Pro Football Focus have suggested the Colts trade him and try to draft Mac Jones? Think about how that sounds
The pressure is on Tagovailoa to prove his critics wrong
In his second NFL season, Manning showed why the Colts invested their future in the talented quarterback. He completed 62.1% of his passes for 3,135 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions while leading the Colts to 13 wins and the AFC divisional round.
The Dolphins would be thrilled if Tagovailoa can take a similar jump in 2021. Instead of cutting down on turnovers as Manning did, the Dolphins need their second-year quarterback to take more chances and not be so conservative.
However, we still live in the era of instant gratification. Tagovailoa could win 11 games and make the playoffs, but if he doesn’t shred defenses the way he did at Alabama, those pundits may still suggest the Dolphins invest a first-round pick on a quarterback in 2022.
Don’t expect the Dolphins to care too much about that outside noise if Tagovailoa asserts himself as the franchise quarterbacks. Talking heads will always talk, but they’re not the ones taking the field every Sunday.