Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over/undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some pros and cons on where those players are regarded in fantasy circles through these long days of summer leading into the actual starts of training camps and actionable news.
Week 1 Age: 23.5
Contract: Signed through 2023
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, Tagovailoa is a strong example of how rookies with premiere outlooks as prospects retain value despite struggling with initial output. Tagovailoa’s current overall ADP (123.1 overall and QB16) has largely remained intact versus his ADP of 127.6 overall and QB12 post-draft a year ago.
Miami made a controversial change over to Tagovailoa after their Week 7 bye last season and the results were a complete mixed bag.
On one hand, Miami posted a 6-3 record in Tagovailoa’s nine starts, but on the other hand, they also pulled him from two games during that span while the rookie found his bearings. Outside of the mixed results, it also did not help the imprint of Tagovailoa’s rookie season that Justin Herbert was selected one pick afterward, won the Rookie of the Year Award, and set a rookie-season record with 31 touchdown passes.
Tagovailoa managed just 6.3 yards per pass attempt (37th) with 11 touchdown passes (29th) as he averaged 15.0 points per game over his nine starts, which would have been 27th at the position over the full season. Going under the hood a bit, however, here is how Tagovailoa’s performance compared to his rookie quarterback cohorts from 2020.
2020 Rookie Quarterbacks with 100 or more Pass Attempts
Tagovailoa’s average depth of target and yards per completion are the lowest here while his yards per pass attempt are only ahead of Jake Luton, but look Tua’s rookie season per pass attempt and dropback compared to someone such as Joe Burrow, and the gap between the two is much tighter than the perception of each of their rookie seasons. Burrow just dropped back a ton of times per game to carry his counting stats over Tagovailoa while the rate stats were similar. They should likely be much closer than the current public perception.
Entering an offseason with no workouts and coming off a major injury, we did not even know if Tagovailoa would play as a rookie. But at the end of the day, Tagovailoa played much like we would expect a rookie NFL passer to play. We are still left questioning how much Alabama’s supreme talent depth at receiver played a role in elevating Tagovailoa as a prospect after he entered the draft ranking in the 99th percentile in career yards per attempt (10.9) and TD/INT ratio (7.9:1) while he’s in the 96th percentile in completion rate (69.3%) for all prospects since 2000.
Without fully excusing Tagovailoa’s own play, the talent gap he had at Alabama in context of collegiate programs versus what the Dolphins surrounded him with in 2020 in context of NFL talent was night and day. Factor in injuries to some of the better options that Miami had on their roster and this was Tagovailoa’s 2020 target distribution.
Tua Tagovailoa 2020 Target Distribution
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||35||27||77.14%||212||7.85||0|
Tua’s top receivers on the season were Mike Gesicki (29 receptions), Lynn Bowden (27), DeVante Parker (23), and Jakeem Grant (21).
This offseason, Miami has emphasized getting Tagovailoa speed and players who can get open. First adding Will Fuller via free agency (3.0 yards average separation in 2020). Prior to suspension last year, Fuller had career-highs with 4.8 receptions and 79.9 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Fuller still has to serve one more game on that suspension last season to kick off 2021, but his addition gives Tagovailoa a significant separator at the position and a tutor to Jaylen Waddle, who Miami took with the No. 6 overall selection in the draft.
A year ago, DeVante Parker was ahead of only A.J. Green in average separation target (1.7 yards) and Mike Gesicki was next ahead of only those two (2.0 yards). Preston Williams was at just 2.1 yards.
Jaylen Waddle is expected to make an impact as a slot receiver in the Dolphins offense, supporting a unit that struggled to create separation from the slot last season.
Dolphins pass catchers ranked 28th in the NFL in average target separation from the slot in 2020 (2.8 yards).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) April 30, 2021
There is a reason that above the rim players such as Parker and Gesicki truly broke out with a hyper-aggressive passer such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and it should not be a surprise that Fitzpatrick outplayed Tagovailoa with these passing options.
We also have the impact that Tagovailoa was way behind the learning curve last season, something he fully acknowledged recently.
Tua: I wasn’t comfortable calling plays. I just rode with the play even if I knew it wasn’t going to work I was going to make it work…Clarifies: I didn’t know the playbook really good and that’s on no one but me. Playcalls were simple when I was in pic.twitter.com/qT1z8gd8aW
— Brendan Tobin (@Brendan_Tobin) May 26, 2021
Tua’s Real Potential Fantasy Problem
While everything so far is putting into context Tua’s rookie season ups and downs and the improvement the team has made in providing more weaponry for a year-two jump in production, the real issues he has moving forward solely for fantasy purposes is the depth of the position. Tagovailoa profiles as more a purgatory fantasy scorer in the context of the position, similar to someone like Baker Mayfield — players that are more than capable of QB1 games, but are more often better real football starting quarterbacks than consistently starting fantasy ones. On a weekly basis, neither their passing or rushing floors are safe.
Like Mayfield, Tagovailoa is not a zero in the rushing game and can use his legs a bit (Mayfield ran a lot more in college as well), but he also is more passing-driven than someone constantly knocking down the Konami Door for fantasy output that is carrying the top of the position. Tagovailoa gave us three fantasy games of 35, 24, and 28 yards surrounding single-digit yardage on the ground in his six other starts. His 4.9% scramble rate per dropback ranked 16th in the NFL while he had just 12 designed rushing attempts.
Even factoring in coming off injury, Tagovailoa was not a major rusher in college even though he is still sprinkling in some rushing and is not a signature statue pocket passer. If Tagovailoa is going to fall into this archetype of fantasy scorer, we will need more than a year two improvement across the board to still elevate him out of the streaming, lower-end QB1 bucket of options for fantasy that is better served as a QB2 on rosters. There is also nothing wrong with that as well even in the context of 1QB dynasty rosters while 2QB and SuperFLEX formats continue to gain popularity.
In dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league in which he is valued per owner. I am largely in lock-step with the community that Tagovailoa’s rookie season has left him a bit undervalued and anticipate significant improvement in 2021 given the resources around him and having his normal NFL offseason to work with.
But I also do believe that Tagovailoa does end up more of a matchup-based fantasy option that is better served as a QB2 on your roster — one that will turn in a few QB1 seasons and have pockets of QB2 production, but largely remains a QB2 in per game output. With that, I have him as QB16 in Dynasty formats.
That archetype of quarterback still has plenty of value to rosters, but in leagues where I have Tagovailoa, I am interested in listening to offers of someone buying him with the perception that he is a yearly QB1. As an example, I would fully flip Tagovailoa for someone such as Justin Fields if that gamer were higher on Tagovailoa as a prospect and is down on the Chicago landing spot.
When buying Tagovailoa from anyone looking to just get out, I am trading for him under the notion that I am buying a true QB2 or am buying back years with a similar archetype of quarterback such as a Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan if the Tagovailoa gamer is higher on those older assets for immediate return.
Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as a guideline pending which side you fall on.
Market 2020 Rookie Pick Value: Early/Mid-First (1.04-1.06)
Market QB Value Targets: Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan
Market RB Value Targets: Najee Harris, Ezekiel Elliott, Antonio Gibson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Market WR Value Targets: Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen
Market TE Value Targets: Darren Waller
Market 2020 Rookie Pick Value: Early/Mid-Second (2.03-2.05)
Market QB Value Targets: Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan
Market RB Value Targets: Michael Cater, Zack Moss, Melvin Gordon
Market WR Value Targets: Gabriel Davis, Darnell Mooney, Kadarius Toney, Denzel Mims, Robby Anderson
Market TE Value Targets: Cole Kmet, Mike Gesicki, Evan Engram