Heading into his junior season at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa was widely considered the top prospect in his class. He was having a terrific campaign -- completing 71% of his passes at an average of 11.3 yards per attempt, with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions -- when a scary hip injury and a magical season from then-LSU quarterback Joe Burrow changed Tagovailoa's top-overall-prospect status.
Tagovailoa instead watched Burrow get selected No. 1 by the Cincinnati Bengals, while he slipped to the Miami Dolphins at the No. 5 overall pick. Miami brought Tua along slowly, electing to begin the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. He was eventually elevated to the starting lineup in Week 7, but he only occasionally showed off the skill set that made him such a highly-touted prospect in the first place.
Tagovailoa was an extremely conservative passer, averaging just 7.7 air yards per attempt, according to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats. That figure ranked 28th out of 41 qualified passers. He completed 64.1% of his throws for 1,814 yards (6.3 per attempt), while throwing for just 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in nine starts. He was also pulled in favor of Fitzpatrick in a late-season game when the Dolphins needed to stage a comeback.
Entering his second season and now firmly entrenched as the starter, Tagovailoa is feeling much more secure in his role than he did last year.
"Last year, for me, I wasn't as comfortable just in general," Tagovailoa said this week, per NFL.com. "I wasn't comfortable calling plays. I think the guys that we had last year were phenomenal. I just didn't have the comfortability of checking plays, alerting plays. I just rode with the play even if I knew in a way that it wasn't going to work. I was going to try to make it work. But the firepower we have this year, I mean, it's good, but you got to get it out to them, too. If you're able to protect yourself, then get it out to them and have them make plays, then you'll be good."
He also let on that his hip is doing much better now than it was a year ago.
"I guess you could say the focus was the glutes to help support the hip," Tagovailoa said. "My hip feels 10 times better than it did last year. The confidence level for myself, I feel really confident coming into this second year after that injury two years ago."
Tagovailoa has the benefit of a strong offensive infrastructure around him. Miami has invested a lot of resources in surrounding him with quality playmakers like DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden Jr., Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, and Myles Gaskin, and the front office has also poured money and draft capital into the offensive line. Now, it's just up to Tua to take advantage. Gesicki, for one, has confidence he'll be able to do just that.
"He's been through adversity before," Gesicki said. "He's played in the biggest games, going back to his college career. He's going to focus on what's important and the opinions that are important. The guys in the locker room all believe in him and respect him."