How do you begin to determine whether a rookie quarterback has The Juice or not once they start getting regular playing time? You can look at their stats, sure, which in the case of Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa tell a fairly encouraging story: 24 of 50 for 341 yards and three touchdowns in two starts, both wins. But what tells a better story about Tagovailoa’s potential are the individual, electric moments that he’s already producing.
Any young quarterback, through some combination of decent play, favorable matchups, and luck, can put together a nice run of statsheets and trick people into thinking that they are actually good. The ones who truly have staying power, though, are those who routinely make plays that have you thinking things like, “Oh shit, if he can make throws like that for the next 10 years, he’s going to be good.” This is one of those throws:
How many quarterbacks can you think of who are capable of taking a deep drop, sprinting towards the line of scrimmage, and then firing an accurate ball across their body without breaking stride? There are a few, and they are all very good.
Tagovailoa spent Sunday’s game against the Cardinals making Oh Shit plays like that one, particularly in the second half, when he led his team on two game-clinching scoring drives.
Last week, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said that Tagovailoa was not auditioning for the starting quarterback job, but was being trusted to develop into a franchise quarterback. If it seemed odd for a coach to make that kind of commitment to a rookie quarterback coming off a catastrophic hip injury—while his team is still technically in the middle of a rebuilding phase, no less—then it was far less so after the conclusion of Sunday’s game.
As for the Dolphins’ rebuilding phase, that might already be over. Miami is currently 5-3 and has one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. Penciling the Dolphins in for a 2020 playoff spot would have felt impossible at the start of last season, when the team embarked on one of the more shameless attempts at tanking in NFL history. But right now it seems more likely than not that the Dolphins will be playing football in January. That speaks not only to Flores’s ability to get the most out of his team under dire circumstances, but to the promise of eight more games with Tagovailoa under center.