NFL Pre-Draft Scouting Report of Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa: Matt Waldman’s RSP Sample

Matt Waldman’s RSP shares his sample scouting report of Miami Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa, the top-graded passer on his board in 2020

Tua Tagovailoa’s Pre-NFL Draft Scouting Report

The report below is the draft profile from the 2020 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, the most comprehensive NFL Draft and Fantasy-Dynasty publication of its kind available for rookie prospects at the skill positions. Entering its 18th year of publication, Matt Waldman’s RSP is one of the most purchased cross-checking resources for NFL scouts, according to college recruiting directors like SMU’s Alex Brown, who meets with scouts weekly.

For more samples from past publications, here’s a page with a list of links

To learn more about Matt Waldman’s RSP and how to purchase it, here’s the pill that will take you down the rabbit hole.


Ranking: QB1

Player: Tua Tagovailoa

School: Alabama

Height/Weight: 6-0/217

Depth of Talent Score: 85.4 = Starter: Starting immediately with a large role and learning on the go.

Better Than Burrow?

If Tagovailoa didn’t suffer a hip injury that required a long rehab and lowered his Durability grade, the difference between him and Burrow on the RSP’s board would have been greater.

Regardless of whether the difference is 0.4 or 1.2 points, both players are in the same tier and both are worth early consideration for NFL teams and fantasy players. If if these players were viritually tied, personally, I would prefer Tagovailoa.

Stylistically, I compared Tagovailoa to a combination of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. It wasn’t surprising when Tagovailoa told the media at the NFL Combine that he models his game after these two great talents

He’s the superior arm talent to Burrow and he has underrated improvisational talents that I think we’ll see more of in the NFL than we did at Alabama. Burrow’s arm strength has a greater chance of hurting him long-term than Tagovailoa’s hip injury.

Keep in mind that I’m contrasting the two top-rated passers in this class with excellent grades that are virtually identical. Both have the talent for productive careers in the NFL. The true difference between the two for me will come down to where they play.

Play-Action And Designed Movement

Tagovailoa is a left-handed quarterback that operated in an Alabama offense that featured him under center as well as shotgun and pistol. His drop-back game is a quick and precise collection of one-, two-, three-, and five-step drops. Tagovailoa used his drop game to open his frame to the side of the field that he wished to manipulate before finishing his drop and firing to the receiver benefitting from the look-off.

Tagovailoa possesses an excellent play-action game. He executed a variety of play-action rollouts, including half-rolls, to set up big plays in the receiving game.

It’s easy to fall into the trap that Alabama quarterbacks are plug-and-pay robots that do Nick Saban’s bidding in a conservative offense, Tagovailoa has a feel for curtailing rollouts when pressure arrives and getting rid of the ball—generating successful plays.

Tagovailoa’s play-action fakes are thorough moves that show the defender the ball for as long as possible—at least when Tagovailoa wants to use a fake that shows the ball. He’ll use one-handed fakes with full extension of the arm and an elongated motion, but also deliver abbreviated fakes with a quick punch.

Tagovailoa also gets his head and shoulders involved in the fake. Whether it’s a read-fake or a long play fake where he hides the ball and boots to a side, Tagovailoa keeps the defense off-balance with his ball-handling.

Good Mechanics That Can Get Even Better

Unfortunately, Tagovailoa’s ball security isn’t as reliable as his play-acton game. Although there are reps where Tagovailoa maintains a high-and-tight carriage, there are too many carries with low-and-loose form and as a runner.

In the pocket, Tagovailoa’s ball security is too wild. Despite his skill as a scrambler, he must practice better ball security or he will cost his team points—and games—with this behavior.

Tagovailoa has excellent form as a drop-back passer. He bounces on his toes well enough to keep his body aligned for delivering quick throws from a strong base.

The midline of Tagovailoa’s back foot is where the ball will travel and he has that midline pointed where the receiver will break open. His hitches are controlled so he’s maintaining this good base after climbing or sliding from pressure in the pocket or moving to set up his next option in the route progression.

His release is over the shoulder, efficient, and quick. He generates velocity with his release.

Tagovailoa has a full-motion pump fake with moderate violence that looks like his natural throwing motion. He also has an excellent shoulder fake that he’ll use to freeze defenders. He’ll often use the shoulder fake on the same routes that he used the pump fake.

The variations of fake lengths and types keep opponents guessing and work well with the way Tagovailoa opens his chest toward the defense during his dropbacks and rollouts. He’ll use this body position on rollouts to open up to each receiver he considers in his progression.

This movement draws the defenders tighter to each receiver and creates additional space for Tagovailoa run. While he’s scored with the help of this behavior,

A Maturing Field Reader And Game Manager

Tagovailoa is mature enough to throw the ball away if his routes fail to break open and pursuit has cordoned off the field.

Tagovailoa often recognizes bad leverage situations downfield and he’ll work through 2-3 reads. However, he will predetermine some decisions, forcing the backside throw because he knows where it’s breaking but not confirming that it’s open as his second or third read.

There are also routes in the middle of the field where Tagovailoa doesn’t recognize the favorable leverage that the receiver has at the top of his stem against coverage.

One example is a play against Georgia where the coverage is tight and the play appears covered but quarterbacks with advanced leverage-reading skills would anticipate this route breaking open and deliver the ball to the spot the separation would occur.

This is an advanced skill but one that top quarterback prospects often display, including Patrick Mahomes and Phillip Rivers. It wasn’t something that Tagovailoa showed at Alabama. However, he is willing to throw the ball into tight windows in the red zone where only the receiver can win the ball.

This is an asset but there are still plays where he’ll force the ball in the red zone and in early down-and-distance situations where throwing the ball away would have been far wiser. Although he throws the ball away between the 20s, Tagovailoa will try too hard for the big play.

With additional experience, he’ll develop the balance between aggression and discretion that will lead to production while keeping mistakes at a minimum. At this point, his mistakes in the college game were already at a minimum, but I’m accounting for an acclimation period in the NFL where young and talented passers have a tendency of forcing the ball.

Although he throws the ball away, the longer a play stays alive the more invested Tagovailoa becomes. He has thrown interceptions after scanning 3-4 progressions and ignoring the open check-down because he believes he can find something better.

This has happened during the first half of games where he finds himself pushing too hard to make something happen. To his credit, he addresses the situation during the second half and returns to throwing the ball away.

As you see, scanning the field is not an issue. Tagovailoa will work deep-to-short, sideline-to-sideline, and even various spots from one side of the field to the other.

In addition to investing too much in a play, Tagovailoa will not account for coverage that’s near his intended target but not responsible for that receiver. This ancillary coverage is often a linebacker or safety that is playing over the top of a route and reading the eyes of the quarterback.

The coverage will see Tagovailoa’s decision to throw to the area adjacent to them and either drop or buzz across to cut off the target. This is a common source of

Tagovailo’s interceptions. A receiver may be breaking open against one defender but Tagovailoa must account for the defenders in the area when placing the ball.

Two-man under is a coverage type that Tagovailoa has shown some difficulty beating. It’s a defense with five defenders playing man-to-man but with the safeties in deep zones.

This defense often takes away the quick timing routes while protecting the cornerbacks from giving up the deep shots because the safeties help out over the top. The scheme also forces receivers to play team football rather than focus solely on individual matchups and that’s harder for young skill players to do.

If Tagovailoa can display advanced leverage reading to anticipate route breaks in the middle of the field that appears covered during the stem, he’ll hit open men who can split those deep safeties for big plays. It should raise his confidence and comfort with the solution—especially in a league where his receivers won’t be running into wide-open space as often as he saw at Alabama.

Anticipation and Manipulation Are Hallmarks of His Game

He has sound anticipation with short and intermediate timing routes on the perimeter and in the flat when his receivers face off-coverage. His anticipation is also strong with longer-developing routes where the receiver will break back to the ball and earn a lot more separation than it appears during the stem.

Many of Tagovailoa’s passing plays are schemes designed to bait the safety with a look-off before going to the first read in the progression. Even so, he’s skilled at holding safeties on plays where the look-off isn’t an embedded part of the play.

He’ll hold the safety to the flat during his drop and then turn and deliver to the sideline. He’ll train his eyes to a spot at the hash or the flat where two of his receivers are running routes from a trips alignment and then turn late to target the out.

He’ll even hold defenders in a spot while he’s sliding away from pressure, a skill many young quarterbacks lack. This skill to open up to one side and come back to another while retreating or sliding from pressure is also why Tagovailoa is skilled with setting up screens

Although not needed often at Alabama, there are some outstanding examples of Tagovailoa creating off-script with pressure bearing down. In these situations, he’s been successful enough that it validates his desire to remain aggressive.

Anticipation is a strong part of his game. Tagovailoa hits the digs and slants with strong timing. The swing pass—a short throw with an underrated level of difficulty because of the angle it leads the running back—is also one of his better throws.

Tagovailoa’s opposite-field accuracy is the best in this class. He’s also accurate at throwing on the move to his left in the short and intermediate ranges of the field.

Tagovailoa has the technically-sound game to deliver accurate passes in the intermediate range of the field off one-step setups. This is a great skill to have when defenses are expecting a run or a slower-developing, play-action pass based on the pre-snap alignment of the offense and instead, Tagovailoa turns from center, sets immediately, and fires a deep slant, seam, or skinny post.

Matt Ryan has generated some big plays for Julio Jones with this concept.

The Upper Limits of Tagovailoa’s Accuracy

Tagovailoa has a good deep game that has growth potential. He has moments of pinpoint accuracy with targets up to 50 yards from the release point. This is the average range for a pro quarterback but it’s really all a quarterback needs unless his arm compensates for a lack of skill elsewhere.

When Tagovailoa isn’t accurate, it’s because he’s either late to get his feet in a stable base or he overstrides. When he hitches and climbs with control of his steps, he delivers with pinpoint accuracy. When he’s inaccurate, the ball is high—high and behind or high and too far ahead.

Skilled Pocket Management

Tagovailoa has strong evasive tactics from pressure. He reduces the shoulder from tight pressure and can climb, side-step, flush, or spin and keep his eyes downfield.

Much like Burrow, Tagovailoa will scramble within the confines of the pocket so he doesn’t compromise the remaining protection that he has. He’s capable of wild plays where he delivers off-platform in range of his receiver while avoiding multiple points of pressure.  If he has to take a hit to deliver an accurate throw, he’ll do so.

Tagovailoa is far from a Wildman flying around the pocket to avoid pressure. He excels at avoiding interior pressure, resetting in the pocket with minimal steps, and finding the open man. His accuracy with this avoidance-reset tactic has a range of 40-45 yards—and is pinpoint accurate.

He executes small steps from his drop to slide in the pocket away from interior pressure but remain in the pocket.

He’ll time his movements based on the location of the pressure and does a good job stepping up with a climb and delivering into tight coverage in the intermediate range of the field.

He also makes a quick sidestep at the last second from interior pressure and resets just as fast to fire downfield with accuracy. If he needs to make a late spin and then climb, he’ll do that as well.

Tagovailoa is really comfortable rolling and resetting to his left. When he flushes left, he will find open receivers in the zone and deliver with pinpoint accuracy in the intermediate range of the field.

However, flushing to one side is not his first reaction to pressure. He used to run to an open spot more than he climbed when he felt edge pressure but as his career progressed, he made the effort to climb or slide and then climb.

He is now skilled enough with climbing that he can work away from pressure coming from each, reduce his shoulder, reset, and fire over the middle. As good as Tagovailoa is at avoiding pressure, the more he has to do it during a game the more his accuracy deteriorates from pinpoint to catchable but requires extra work from the receiver to win.

Tucking And Running

Once Tagovailoa decides to break the pocket, he’s a productive runner. Not a breakaway threat, but a move-the-chains runner, Tagovailoa has the speed to beat linebackers to the far-side edge and he’ll set up blocks with enough quickness to break the pocket for gains up to 20-30 yards.

He’s good at sliding to end plays but when he needs to confront defenders, Tagovailoa has a well-placed stiff arm that’s strong enough to ward off a safety. He has to drop the pads on a safety to win at the sticks or the pylon, he gets it done.

As mentioned earlier, Tagovailoa must protect the ball with a high-and-tight carriage. His technique gets low and loose too often.

Injury History

Tagovailoa had a good health history until he suffered a dislocated hip. Most football fans that hear about a hip dislocation think about Bo Jackson, but Jackson suffered this injury prior to the infamous play against the Bengals that would be the last of his football career. Because Jackson didn’t know the severity of the injury, he continued to play on it to the detriment of his hip.

Tagovailoa’s injury was attended to immediately and his prognosis for full recovery is excellent. There is little concern that the hip will someday pop out of the socket and be a chronic issue that shortens his career or even hampers him on a regular basis.

This prognosis almost tempts me to give Tagovailoa full credit for his durability but it wouldn’t make a difference with his ranking and the fact is that he missed significant time and required surgery. What he won’t miss is a chance to have a Pro-Bowl career as an NFL Starter.

That’s Tagovailoa’s upside. Don’t be surprised if he lands in the best location between him and Burrow.

RSP Film Room: Tua Tagovailoa

RSP Boiler Room: Advanced Leverage Reading

RSP Boiler Room: Integrated Techniques and Concepts

Mark Schofield’s RSP Interception Project: Tua Tagovailoa

Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Tagovailoa is a priority pick for those in the market for a quarterback in dynasty leagues and he could make a nice late-round pick in deeper re-draft leagues if he’s not overvalued (as most rookies are) by the preseason.

While receivers and backs offer more value at the top of the board, Tagovailoa is the type of player that’s worth drafting based on talent rather than need and when you stockpile talent over need, you often generate worthwhile resources for trades.

Expect Tagovailoa to have a draft position at the end of the first round if he’s cleared to practice and no later than the end of the second round if the plan is to red-shirt him for a year.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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