In assessing Tua Tagovailoa and projecting what he eventually can become, we have seen a striking disparity in recent months depending on the background of the person doing the evaluating.
On one hand, NFL alums who played the position generally have been effusive in their praise of the Dolphins quarterback, with Kurt Warner cushioning his compliments with advice about how Tagovailoa can improve.
Conversely, the assessment of Tagovailoa from former general managers has been measured — ranging from skepticism to reserved praise. From this group of evaluators, there have been no predictions of greatness, only cautious forecasts of potential pretty-goodness.
So what accounts for the difference?
Maybe former quarterbacks want to give the next generation the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe former GMs grade on a harder scale.
Perhaps it’s some of both.
But I find it interesting.
Among the batch of former quarterbacks who have praised Tagovailoa this offseason, former Houston Texans No. 1 overall pick David Carr took it to a new level on NFL Network recently when he said:
“I thought he played really well. You look at the film, you see why people get excited. He looks like [Hall of Famer] Steve Young. That’s the guy he’s going to turn into. It’s just going to take a little time. The same type of player. It took Steve Young awhile to grow into an All-Pro MVP-type player. He has same type of ability as Steve. I know he’s left-handed, but that’s not where the similarities stop.”
Carr then narrated video of three great plays that Tagovailoa made against Arizona and juxtaposed those highlights with the video of three eerily similar plays made by Young in games against the Jets, Raiders and Vikings.
“Let’s just have some patience, “ Carr said. “The Miami Dolphins clearly have patience. They didn’t go out and get another quarterback. He’s going to be a great quarterback.
“He’s going to take that next jump and help this team get to the playoffs. I’m super excited to watch him as this team becomes his team going forward.”
Then there’s ESPN analyst and former NFL backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who reiterated the other day: “I still believe Tua is going to be a very special player because he can do the two things that are always going to be the most important aspect of playing the quarterback position: Can you think and can you throw? He does that really well.”
CBS’ Boomer Esiason told me last November — before Tagovailoa’s struggles against Denver, Las Vegas and Buffalo — that Tagovailoa has what it takes to be a top-10 quarterback and “they finally have a [worthy successor] to Dan Marino, the answer to the question that has eluded them for so long. His accuracy is right there with Steve Young.”
Steve Young conveyed to me last November that “I’m a huge fan [of Tagovailoa] and much of QB success in the NFL is instinct, and he has tons of it.”
Warner generally praised Tagovailoa in his NFL Network analysis of last year’s top rookie quarterbacks but showed video of a vertical throw that Tagovailoa made successfully to Mike Gesicki and added: “He needs to do this a little bit more. Don’t sit back and say Tua can’t do it. He can do it. He just needs to be more aggressive like this.”
So if you listen to former quarterbacks, you emerge thinking Tagovailoa is going to be a star or close to it. You hear words like “special” and top-10 QB and that he’s an incarnation of a Hall of Famer (Young).
But former GMs? Not so much.
As a reminder, former Raiders GM Mike Lombardi told WQAM’s Joe Rose late last season: “I don’t see elite skills, I don’t see an elite arm, and I don’t see an elite athlete. I see an elite instinctive player. I see somebody who’s accurate on a lot of short throws. “
“I see somebody that can operate within a read-option offense effectively, but I think if it becomes a drop back pass game and he has to stay back in the pocket I see a small player who plays smaller when he has to play behind the center.”
NFL Network analyst and former NFL GM Charley Casserly told me, in my three-part Tagovailoa series in January, that “Tua has the potential to be a good starter. The best things he did were bootlegs and run-pass options. The question is what does he become when they have a full receiving corps and a running game and he takes the next step reading defenses.”
Former Dolphins and Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, now an ESPN analyst, said in my January series: “I think he can be a winning quarterback. You need to be patient. He needs a strong, stout offensive line much the way Drew Brees had in New Orleans.”
And then there’s a former NFC GM who insisted to me for years that Ryan Tannehill would never be a top-10 quarterback in Miami and now says “I’m sort of pessimistic about [Tagovailoa] being a star. He’s a smaller guy that has to win with his feet and his throwing.”
So will the former QBs-turned-TV analysts end up being on target in envisioning greatness for Tagovailoa? Or will the more sobering assessment of former GMs prove prescient?
Nobody knows, of course.
But the difference in how they view Tagovailoa has been, at the very least, noteworthy.