The category that Tua Tagovailoa led all NFL quarterbacks. And ESPN’s Darnold/Tua debate

Barry Jackson
·4 min read

A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Tuesday:

After pouring through pages of data, we’ve found a category that Tua Tagovailoa led all NFL quarterbacks in 2020:

Fourth quarter completion percentage.

Tagovailoa completed 76.9 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter: 50 for 65.

That’s a byproduct of strong fourth quarter work in wins against Arizona and New England and a loss to Kansas City and late-game production in Buffalo’s season-ending blowout of the Dolphins.

Drew Brees was second in that fourth quarter completion category at 76.2 percent.

Tagovailoa was eighth in the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating at 110.9, behind Brees, Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.

Tagovailoa had a better fourth-quarter passer rating than Aaron Rodgers (108.5), Russell Wilson (93.5) and Baker Mayfield (91.9), among others.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, also led the league in one category: percentage of passes completed on first and 10, at 75.4 percent (89 for 118). Seattle’s Wilson was second at 74.9.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reiterated this week that Watson will continue to push for a trade from Houston, and the former head of the NFL players association said the Dolphins make the most sense as a destination.

Domonique Foxworth, the former NFL cornerback and NFLPA president and now an ESPN analyst, predicted Watson will be the Dolphins starting quarterback next season.

“That’s the obvious team he can go to,” Foxworth said. “They have the draft picks. They have the young quarterback [to trade]. They have a great defense which is important. They would have the better quarterback [than the Buffalo Bills].”

Schefter reiterated: “Make no mistake about it, Deshaun Watson wants out.”

Watson has a no-trade clause, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen suggested he would approve a trade to the Dolphins.

The Texans are expected to try to convince Watson to stay, and it’s unclear if they will call his bluff if he remains adamant about a trade.

In an ESPN podcast with Field Yates, both of ESPN’s draft analysts — Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay — said Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is better than Tagovailoa and thus should command a higher draft pick in return if neither is included in a Watson trade.

But that wouldn’t necessarily be the case, because Darnold is potentially two years away from unrestricted free agency while Tagovailoa is potentially four years away.

Asked if he has more confidence that Darnold or Tagovailoa will become a great quarterback, McShay agreed with Kiper, saying: “I’m going Darnold too.”

The statistics don’t support that. Darnold, through three seasons and 38 starts, has a 78.6 passer rating with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions.

Tagovailoa, through one season and nine starts, has an 87.1 passer rating with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Yates then noted that Kiper and McShay hold Darnold in higher regard than many NFL people do, and both draft gurus agreed.

McShay said if Miami dealt Tagovailoa (but not in a Watson trade), “you are probably going to get a first round pick, late first is what I’m guessing at this point. Or maybe a second.”

As perspective, the Dolphins gave Arizona second- and fifth-round picks for Josh Rosen, who was picked five spots later than Tagovailoa and had a much worse rookie season than Tagovailoa.

On a potential Watson trade with Miami, Kiper said: “We know Tua is OK. The arm has to get a little stronger. That’s a team more ready to win now than the Jets and better overall personnel where maybe they feel they can give up those draft picks.”

A veteran NFL scout said if he were Miami and didn’t get Alabama’s Najee Harris in the draft, he would be perfectly content with North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, believing there’s not a huge drop off.

“Williams has instincts, toughness, is one of the best tackle breakers in this draft,” the scout said. “ACC defenders bounced off him like a pinball machine.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Williams forced the third most missed tackles of any running back over the past two seasons (131), behind only Clemson’s Travis Etienne (134) and Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson (132), and ahead of Harris’ 128.

Though nothing is final and evaluations are ongoing, we expect the Dolphins to move on from backup safeties Kavon Frazier and Clayton Fejedelem. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill figures to look for more playing time in free agency; his role diminished as the season went on.

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