Not the MVP, unfortunately, that trophy belongs to the best Quarterback in Football, and his name is Patrick Mahomes. Instead, Tua deserves another award, the NFL’s Most Improved Player.
I know the NFL doesn’t have that award, unlike the NBA. The NFL has Comeback Player of the Year, which just means the best player off an injury the year prior. There’s currently no award to recognize improvement and development by any singular player, but there should be, and here’s why Tua should be the recipient of the said award:
To demonstrate the improvement he’s shown, I have to contextualize this with his struggles that occurred before this year and how that’s changed this year.
It’s fair to say Tua had a tumultuous first two seasons; just ask about the previous regimen. Miami tampered in hopes of landing Tom Brady & flirted with Deshaun Watson while Tua Tagovailoa was still starting games for the ‘Fins, and his on-field play wasn’t doing anything to make those rumors go away.
In his rookie year, he finished with a QBR of 44.8 (26th in the league), and while you can say it was due to a poor surrounding cast – some of it was – Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with a QBR of 70.9 (5th). In EPA (Expected Points Added), a tool that measures the value of individual plays, Tua finished in 29th and Fitzpatrick in the 6th. By any helpful metric, Tua was a below-average Quarterback in an offense where a veteran Quarterback was also able to have success.
His second season featured an offense a bit more tailored to his skill set and one where he actually knew the playbook; the improvements were small but existent. He finished with a QBR of 55.7 (18th in the league) and finished 21st in EPA. Despite having the worst offensive line in the league by a wide margin, these improvements came. Miami had to rely on a simple RPO-heavy offense where Tua couldn’t move the ball downfield. He’s not without fault in this season, though, his decision-making was somewhat erratic, and his accuracy wasn’t always great.
Now, let’s see his numbers this year and where he ranks. His QBR currently sits at 83.1 (1st in the league), and he’s also 1st in EPA. His raw box score numbers have also improved dramatically; in 2020, he averaged 181.4 yards per game, which jumped to 204.1 in 2020, and now he’s at 283.1. That’s not all; he currently ranks 1st in the league in the following categories:
- Touchdown % (7.3%)
- Yards gained per attempt (9.1)
- Yards gained per pass completion (12.9)
- Passer Rating (118.4)
- Percentage of time sacked when attempting to pass (3.4%)
Of course, the offense around him is light years ahead of what it was in his first two seasons, but to go from a below-average quarterback statistically to ranking 1st in many critical statistics is practically unheard of in the NFL, no matter the situation.
Tua deserves a ton of credit for mastering the Shanahan offense in his first season, which shows improvement from his first season when he didn’t know the playbook and couldn’t adjust plays pre-snap. He’s seeing the field better and making quick decisions, as evidenced by the few sacks he’s taken; in the 2.5 games Tua missed, Miami took nine sacks, and in the 7.5 games he’s played, he’s only taken eight sacks. That speaks volumes about how well he’s going through reads.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that usually is when you get the ball out quickly, your average depth of target is short, which is what happened last year, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Tua is looking to throw downfield quickly, and having incredible playmakers on the receiving core has facilitated that process.
And yes, it’s true, he’s playing in a very friendly scheme for a QB, but that scheme has existed for decades, and only Matt Ryan has played it as well as Tua currently is (Matt Ryan won MVP that season).
Tua’s best qualities as a player have always been his accuracy and his anticipation, and this scheme is tailor-made for someone with those skills. He’s able to anticipate windows and has hit these windows with accuracy all year long. His improvements have also been apparent away from the football field; he’s taken on a more prominent leadership role this year as he was voted team captain for the first time in his career.
If there’s one area he can still improve upon is his much-talked-about deep ball, the underthrown balls have been a topic of much conversation, perhaps a bit much, but they are a weakness in his game right now. I don’t necessarily think it’s a talent issue, though, as there’s a tape of him hitting deep balls in stride, but his mechanics just seem to be off this year on those throws, he’s not really using his lower body to launch the throws, and they hang in the air. Still, that shouldn’t take away from how great he’s been elsewhere.
The stats Tua has put up this year are absurd, but the fact of the matter is he’s not the best player in the NFL; that honor currently belongs to Patrick Mahomes.
That said, no NFL player has improved as much from 2021 to 2022 as Tua Tagovailoa has, which is why he deserves to be recognized as the NFL’s Most Improved Player.