Watson is better than Tua now but it might not be worth the risk long term

Deshaun Watson is better than Tua Tagovailoa right now, but is trading for the veteran too risky a move for the Dolphins to make?

Rumors are swirling around Deshaun Watson being on the trade block. One of the leading candidates to make the move are the Miami Dolphins, despite the team drafting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa just one season ago.

That news has resulted in a great deal of uproar from people on both sides of the debate. As such, let’s dive into the two quarterbacks’ statistics to see how much of an upgrade over Tua Watson would really be.

Deshaun Watson’s season was elite, but Tua Tagovailoa’s was better than you think

Let’s start with the quarterback currently on the Dolphins roster: Tua Tagovailoa. Contrary to what his many critics might suggest, Tua had a decent rookie season. In 10 appearances, he threw for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.

Those statistics aren’t anything spectacular, but we have to remember that Tua’s numbers were hindered by several factors, including a non-existent offseason, dealing with the aftereffects of a catastrophic injury, and consistently looking over his shoulder for backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.

As a result, directly comparing Tua’s statistics to those produced by Deshaun Watson isn’t exactly fair.

Using the OVM to examine Tua’s rookie season

To better understand how well Tua played last year, let’s turn to the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much influence they had over their statistics, rather than the statistics themselves.

It is particularly useful for evaluating players who, like Tua, didn’t play anywhere close to an entire season.

During his rookie year, Tua earned a grade of 23.55. That was relatively low by quarterback standards, ranking 26th out of 41 qualifying players in 2020.

That said, Tua’s grade was only slightly lower than that of Justin Herbert, who earned a grade of 23.9 during his Offensive Rookie of the Year season. Tua’s grade wasn’t anything spectacular, but given the challenges he faced, it could have been much worse.

Examining Tua’s weekly grades

For a more in-depth examination of Tua’s OVM grades, let’s look at how his level of play fluctuated from week to week. In the chart below, you can see his weekly grades, marked by the black dots. For comparison, the yellow lines represent the league-average regular season OVM grade for quarterbacks in 2021.

Watson is better than Tua now but it might not be worth the risk long term

As you can see, Tua was highly inconsistent — as you might expect from a rookie quarterback. He started strong but struggled during his last three major appearances.

That said, unlike some rookies who have low overall grades, Tua put together some excellent performances. Most notably, his grade of 46.8 in Week 9 was the sixth-highest grade earned by a quarterback in all of 2020.

In other words, although Tua’s overall grade was unimpressive, that wasn’t the result of a consistent pattern of failure. If he can reach his peaks on a more consistent basis, Tua will be a high-level contributor, much like Watson currently is.

Examining the advanced metrics behind Tua’s OVM grades

If we want to understand why Tua earned the grades he did, we need to look at the advanced metrics involved in calculating them. As with the grades themselves, Tua’s performances in these areas were up and down.

Let’s start with a statistic that Tua was often criticized for last season — how far he threw the ball downfield. All of Tua’s passes traveled an average of 7.7 yards downfield, with an average of 5.3 yards on his completions.

Those numbers are below average, but Tua wasn’t even in the bottom 10 among all qualifying quarterbacks and actually outperformed his most direct competitor in Herbert.

What really dragged Tua’s grades down were his completion statistics. He completed just 64.1% of his passes, the eleventh-lowest rate. According to the NFL’s projections, that number was 1.4% lower than expected, the 12th-lowest differential.

Tua did perform exceptionally well in one area. He threw into tight windows on 20.3% of his throws, the sixth-highest percentage.

It’s worth noting that all of these metrics relate to one factor outside of Tua’s control — Miami had one of the worst-performing receiving groups in the NFL last season. As I have discussed in the past, they were unable to get open with any consistency, making Tua’s job significantly more difficult.

In 2021, the room has been completely revamped, adding Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, and seeing the return of Albert Wilson. Therefore, we could see dramatically improved statistics from Tua next season, even if his level of play stays roughly the same.

Deshaun Watson is an elite quarterback

While there are many reasons for optimism regarding Tua, we must now address a fact that should be staggeringly obvious: Watson is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. In 2020, despite the Texans having their worst season with Watson as their full-time starting quarterback, their star player had a career year.

Watson led the NFL with a career-high 4,823 passing yards, posted a career-high 33 touchdowns, and career-low 7 interceptions. Based purely on his box score, Watson was undeniably an elite quarterback, one of the best in the NFL at his position.

Watson also had extraordinary advanced metrics

Aside from his conventional statistics, Watson also excelled on the OVM. His 2020 grade of 30.13 was the third-highest earned by any quarterback last season.

In other words, not only was Watson one of the most statistically successful quarterbacks of 2020, but he was also one of the most effective players at the position.

Examining Watson’s weekly grades

As we did with Tua, let’s look at Watson’s weekly grades, which you can see in the chart below.

Watson is better than Tua now but it might not be worth the risk long term

Tua actually had the higher single-game grade between the two quarterbacks, but Watson was far more consistent, rarely dipping below the league average.

He only earned one grade below 20 points all year, accomplishing the rare feat of contributing at a high level for essentially an entire season. That achievement is made all the more impressive by the Texans’ overall struggles.

Examining the advanced metrics behind Deshaun Watson’s grades

To understand why Watson received grades so much higher than Tua’s, let’s look at the advanced metrics behind his statistics. As you might expect, Watson performed exceptionally well, ranking inside the top 10 in multiple categories.

He threw the ball an average of 9 yards downfield across all of his passes, seventh-most in the NFL, and 7.3 yards on his completions (third-most).

However, as impressive as those statistics are, Watson’s strongest area was his completion statistics. This is where Watson truly excelled. He produced the NFL’s third-highest completion percentage last season, at 70.2%. Even more noteworthy, that number was 4.8% higher than expected, the best differential in the NFL.

Deshaun Watson is clearly better than Tua Tagovailoa, but is a trade too risky?

Is Watson a better quarterback than Tua right now? Yes, absolutely. Tua might be great at some point, but Watson is great now.

In a vacuum, a player of Watson’s caliber would be worth almost any price. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum. The significant legal concerns surrounding Watson at the moment make trading for him a far less certain proposition.

Should the Dolphins make the trade anyway? Maybe. Putting aside the potential moral concerns with signing a player facing the charges that Watson is, trading away significant resources for a quarterback who, in a worst-case scenario, might never play again is an extremely risky proposition.

If Miami does make this trade, they will need to make sure they have well-thought-out contingency plans in case the worst happens. That said, the only way to know if the move is a good one is to watch how Tua’s development and Watson’s legal troubles play out.

It’s a decision that will alter the courses of both franchises. For now, we can only wait and see what the Dolphins decide.

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