Last week, ESPN’s Dan Orvlosky angered the NFL Twitter landscape when he tweeted about which quarterbacks 25 or younger he believed were the best in the NFL.
Top 5 QBs 25 or younger (in order)
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) June 21, 2022
That is Orvlosky’s list, and it’s got some scorching hot takes on it. Chief among them is leaving off Arizona’s Kyler Murray and putting Trevor Lawerence and Mac Jones on the list despite their small sample size of play.
Of course, what angered Dolphins’ fans was the lack of inclusion of Tua Tagovailoa on the list. Most took up arms to defend Tagovailoa against the inclusion of Mac Jones, adding another fun chapter to the Patriots and Dolphins rivalry.
Tagovailoa’s competition for the number five spot does boil down to a battle between him and Jones. The other candidates are the other rookies from last year, who don’t have the numbers to be in this conversation, and Sam Darnold, who doesn’t have the numbers or the film.
Orvlosky’s list needs a little correction. The top-four quarterbacks 25 or younger right now should be some combination of Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray. Trevor Lawerence should get there someday, but last season was such a disaster, he can’t be on the list even if it wasn’t his fault.
With that out of the way, it’s time to look at Tagovailoa’s case vs. Jones’.
Tagovailoa’s accuracy and pocket presence are wildly impressive, allowing him to make throws and plays that legitimately qualify as elite. However, he’s clearly limited by the pieces around him and his own physical tools.
Working on an article highlighting Tua’s best throws to this point, and it’s hard to argue with this one making the cut.
Touch and placement don’t get much better than this. pic.twitter.com/RmfuVxZl7s
— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) June 22, 2022
I’ve already talked a ton about Tagovailoa’s film, and if you want a more in-depth breakdown, you can click here. My conclusion was simple. Tagovailoa is an average NFL quarterback with the potential to get better.
That’s not a surprise though. The surprise came after watching a couple of Jones’ games from this season.
Some things to like from the debut of Mac Jones
*Manipulation on the safety-splitter
*Manipulation on the hole shot
*Staring down impending doom pic.twitter.com/rgJKgukSCi
— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) September 13, 2021
Mark Schofield is a quarterback evaluator I trust a ton, and this clip does a good job explaining a lot of my thoughts on what Jones did well as a rookie.
In summation, he’s accurate, intelligent, and measured. However, he’s also limited by his lack of physical tools and even some of the tools around him (NE’s offensive line was much better than Miami’s, but their WRs were brutal last year). Sound familiar?
After watching Jones, I came to the same conclusion I did after watching Tagovailoa. He’s an average NFL quarterback with some room to get better. Both need more help this season, and both have the same primary strengths (accuracy) and weaknesses (arm strength).
Even their best throws on film mirror each other. Does this corner route look familiar?
Peyton Manning breaking down this throw from Mac Jones is NSFW pic.twitter.com/Beu9VtEunu
— TCL (@TitleTalkTCL) November 20, 2021
The only big difference in their game is that Tagovailoa’s pocket presence is much better, while Jones has shown much more experience running an offense not reliant on RPOs. Depending on prototype quarterback preference, those traits could tip the scales in favor of one or the other.
Raw Numbers and Bad Faith Arguments
While film is king, it’s hard to completely disregard raw stats and accomplishments when comparing NFL quarterbacks who aren’t separated much by their film.
Jones 2021 stat line: (17 games) 67.6 completion %, 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 92.5 passer rating
Tagovailoa stat line: (13 games) 67.8 completion %, 2,653 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 90.1 passer rating
Obviously, Tagovailoa missing four games with injury puts him at a disadvantage in the touchdown and yards category. Still, their completion percentages are essentially identical, and their passer ratings don’t have much daylight either.
A popular talking point for Jones’ supporters is that he won more games than Tagovailoa and led the Patriots to the playoffs. Tagovailoa supporters typically fire back saying that Tagovailoa is 2-0 against Jones in head-to-head matchups.
Quarterback wins are a horrible stat to use. I don’t believe either of those arguments should hold water in this debate, but they are unfortunately a part of the public conversation.
The numbers largely favor Jones, but Miami won both games because of their head-to-head matchups.
Jones stats vs Miami: 70.5 completion %, 542 yards, 2 passing TDs, 1 INT
Tagovailoa stats vs NE: 63.7 completion percentage, 311 yards, 2 passing TDs, 1 INT
Quarterbacks don’t play against each other so this is another argument I don’t believe should hold a ton of weight in this discussion, but Jones has a slight edge in the stats department.
Dolphins and Patriots fans argue that the opposing quarterback shouldn’t even get the time of day in this debate. However, Jones and Tagovailoa are more alike than they are different at this stage of their respective careers.
Right now, this debate comes down to preference. Tagovailoa is a little more mobile and is more capable of working behind a bad offensive line. At the same time, Jones is a more traditional dropback passer experienced in working full-field reads at the NFL level.
Outside of that, they both reside in the same bucket of NFL quarterbacks — quarterbacks teams can win with but haven’t taken the step to be elite — making this season and debate even more interesting.
Miami has done its best to even the playing field when it comes to the supporting cast by adding Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead, while New England has added the likes of former Dolphin Devante Parker.
If either, which of these quarterbacks take the next step could decide the fate of the AFC East for the next couple of years, but right now, they are neck and neck for being considered a top-five quarterback 25 or younger.