Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill haven’t merely become the most dynamic Dolphins quarterback/wide receiver tandem since Dan Marino, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper created magic nearly four decades ago.
They’re also combining on jaw-dropping numbers that would be historic if they can somehow be sustained.
In the wake of Tagovailoa and Hill combining for 11 receptions, 215 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winner — in Sunday’s 36-34 Dolphins win at the Los Angeles Chargers, here’s what Hill has accomplished in the 14 regular-season games they have played together:
One hundred five receptions, 1623 yards and nine touchdowns. And a 9-3 record in the 12 games that ended with Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis graduate, not sustaining a concussion on that particular day.
Yes, the sample size is far too small to make any grand conclusions about where this duo could someday rank. Health, as always, is a key variable.
But to put the numbers in perspective, The Miami Herald studied the production of 10 of the greatest quarterback/receiver tandems in NFL history.
Tagovailoa and Hill rank at the top of the list in yards per game (on plays with Tagovailoa throwing and Hill catching) and receptions per game.
Naturally, the more games they play, the more likely these averages will decline.
But their 14-game accomplishments, as a duo, are staggering.
Hill, in games that Tagovailoa has started, has averaged 115.9 receiving yards per game, compared with 79.9 in the 58 games that Hill played with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
Ten of the best quarterback/receiver duos in history all averaged between 62 and 90 yards receiving per game, with Marino and Clayton averaging 62.6 (in 138 games) and Joe Montana and Jerry Rice 87.1 (in 77 games).
Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison – who combined on the most receptions (965) and touchdowns (114) in NFL history – averaged 81.5 passing yards per game as a duo, in 158 games. Manning and Reggie Wayne averaged 68.4 in 157 games.
Steve Young and Rice averaged 83.7 in 137 games, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams 70.2 in 108 games. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have come the closest to what Tagovailoa and Hill are doing – 89.7 yards per game and 6.7 receptions per game in 120 games (compared with 115.9 and 7.5 for the Dolphins’ combo).
As noted, the Tagovailoa/Hill average yards per game are very likely to fall over time because this output, sustained over years, would be unfathomable.
But also keep this in mind: Even if Hill had exactly half the yardage in his next 14 games with Tagovailoa as they did in their first 14 together, those two would still be averaging more passing/receiving yards per game (86.9) than Mahomes/Hill, Young/Rice, Manning/Harrison and others.
“Tua is a baller,” Hill said Sunday evening. “I’ve been saying this since last year. I’ve been an advocate for him and he definitely showed it today.”
“I just feel like nobody can guard me,” Hill said.
When compared with 10 of the NFL’s best quarterback/receiver duos in history, the average yards per reception for Hill (in games with Tagovailoa) ranks fourth at 15.4, behind Rice/Montana (17.4), Marino/Clayton (15.7) and Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin (15.5).
“There is not a quarterback that sees it faster than Tua,” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky said Monday. “The way he sees the field and how quickly it happens for him is special.”
Each has a unique superpower – Tagovailoa’s accuracy and Hill’s speed.
Hill produced the two fastest speeds in the NFL in Week 1: 21.66 mph on his 47-yard catch, and 21.52 mph on his 35-yard touchdown.
But this sublime production goes beyond speed.
“Last year, I was just banking on my speed and banking on me outrunning guys,” Hill said. “But this year, I was in my bag a little bit more on release moves and routes at the top.”
Hill said his first reception on Sunday was reflective of his diligence in polishing his routes over the summer.
“Last year, we ran the same exact route and I wasn’t open,” Hill said. “But this year, it’s a whole lot different because I know how to run it and I know exactly how many steps I need to be at. I’m not just counting on my speed. Obviously, after the catch, I am.”
Hill said the Dolphins have benefited from accepting team executive Dan Marino’s suggestion that Tagovailoa and the receivers meet after practice and watch film – something Marino did with his receivers.
Marino offered that advice to Hill when the two men were at a hotel bar during preseason last month.
“It’s about understanding coverages together and being in the right spot for Tua,” Hill said, regarding those post-practice film sessions. “‘Hey, I’m going to take this many steps. If he does this, I’m going inside. If he does this, I’m going to keep going over the top.
“This offense is about timing. If it’s not on time it’s a sack, or much worse, and we don’t want that. We want to be in the right spot for the quarterback.”
Hill’s first season in Miami produced career high marks in receptions (119) and yards (1710). Now he wants to become the first receiver with 2,000 receiving yards in a season, and his current pace – as unsustainable as it might seem – is 3655 yards and 187 catches.
While Tagovailoa’s 466 passing yards on Sunday were the fourth-most in NFL history in Week 1 (behind games by Norm Van Brocklin, Brady and Marino), Hill’s 215 receiving yards were third most in Week 1, behind performances by Frank Clarke (241) and Anquan Boldin (217).
“Understanding how to beat coverage is not something that we needed to teach [Hill], but understanding when to separate and how to get the ball, that’s what he’s really majored in this year,” coach Mike McDaniel said after Sunday’s win.
“That’s kind of what I expected to happen with the work that he’s done,” McDaniel said. “He’s as coachable as any player I’ve ever been around in my life.”
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