Analysis

Can Tyreek Hill Help Mike McDaniel Get the Best out of Tua Tagovailoa?

Can Tyreek Hill Help Mike McDaniel Get the Best out of Tua Tagovailoa?

One of the biggest moves of the 2022 NFL offseason was Miami’s trade for star WR Tyreek Hill. Sending five draft picks to Kansas City for the diminutive wideout, Hill (and his new $30M-per-year contract) will join with rookie stud Jaylen Waddle and franchise-tagged Mike Gesicki to give Tua Tagovailoa and new HC Mike McDaniel a fully capable offensive attack.

Despite all of the obvious talent, these pieces don’t just fall together. Let’s go through how Mike McDaniel can get his offense on the same page and challenge Year 1.

First, RPOs can be a strong tool to build Tua’s confidence.

Per former Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: “RPOs are something that Tua has been doing from the time he was in high school. He did it at Alabama. He’s been very good at it. The great thing about this is that it’s easy completions for the quarterback. It’s him coming out of the opening series or the first couple series and you say ‘Hey, I’m seven of eight and I really haven’t done much to throw the ball deep down the field. I’m kind of taking what the defense gives me.’

“I think this is something that’s going to be really good to get Tua going early. What does it do for Tyreek? It gets him touches. Any play caller is going to have a sheet that says, ‘I’ve got to get the ball to this guy, and these are the 12-to-14 ways I’m going to do it with a premier player like Tyreek Hill.”

This strength of Tua’s showed last year – Miami led the league in RPO pass attempts and finished 7th with 7.7 YPA. Furthermore, Schottenheimer is spot-on about the ability of Hill and the need to get him the ball. On RPOs last season, Hill provided Kansas City with 20 catches (3rd-most) and distracted coverage enough for secondary receiver Mecole Hardman to record 3.11 receiving yards per RPO route run – a strong sign of what Waddle may be in store for this year.

While RPOs may be an effective component of the offense, the best defensive counter is Man-to-Man or Cover 1.

Per Schottenheimer: “When you [play Man-to-Man], there are issues for the defense because you’re singling up on an electric player. If you want to play in Man-to-Man, even if you have a good cover corner, you’re probably having to cheat the safety over the top to help because of the speed that Hill adds, and again, that will help open up other guys as well.”

Last season, Tua was 26th with 6.3 yards per attempt against Cover 1 and the 49ers similarly struggled with only 50% completion. Hill could be the answer to these concerns, bettering all but ten receivers with 2.77 yards per route run since 2018.

Another major factor that McDaniel will try to incorporate is improvisation. Majorly due to the talents of Hill and one Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City has been by far the best team at improvising. See below for EPA/play since 2018 when the QB was forced off his spot – only Kansas City has been positive.

There are two factors to improvising: the QB extending the play and the WR getting on the same page and reacting. Hill has been excellent in scramble drill, leading the league in a handful of categories in 2021: catches, yards, explosive plays, and first downs. Despite frequently disobeying the most commonly taught scramble rules like mirroring the QB, Hill capitalized on Mahomes’ ridiculous arm strength and ability to throw from any arm angle by simply running to the most-open part of the field, whether that would force Mahomes to throw across his body or not. Tua has not been as successful in scramble drill, completing 40.3% completion and only 4.9 YPA, both outside the top 25 last year. It will be key to work on improvisation early in the offseason, but Jaylen Waddle might have the early advantage.

Finally, the oft-discussed topic of Tua’s arm strength will have to be evaluated by Coach McDaniel. For what it’s worth, Schottenheimer has faith.

“Does he have the strongest arm in the NFL? No, he doesn’t. Does he have enough arm strength? Yes, he does,” Schottenheimer says. “They need to figure out which deep balls Tua throws the best. He gives guys a chance to go fight for balls. He does a nice job on Go routes, throwing it with anticipation, the inside fade, and he does a really good job on the 50/50 passes.”

While this has been effective with his big receivers like Gesicki and DeVante Parker, it’s up for debate whether the much-shorter Hill can succeed in the same way. Although Tua has been one of the least-aggressive passers in the league, both by average depth of target and percentage of deep shots, he’s also been highly effective, completing 47.1% of his passes of 20+ yards (2nd).

“I think a huge thing when talking about the deep passing game is going to be the running game that McDaniel is bringing over from San Francisco, and the creativity and the problems it creates with misdirection. The various types of jet motions and things like that will create huge passing lanes off of those hard sell actions. How well they can run the football is going to be a really big part of it.”

Although Miami hasn’t fielded a top-10 scoring offense since the Dave Wannstedt era (2001), they’ve got the weapons in place to challenge that streak this year. With more than three first-round picks, a franchise tag, and a $30M AAV contract put into their passing attack, Mike McDaniel will need to prove that his hiring was justified by making the best of Tua and bringing his highly efficient pass attack to South Beach. An early opening stretch may be difficult (v NE, @BAL, v BUF, @ CIN), but this offense could surprise in 2022.