Every NFL Draft has quarterbacks taken in the first round, and all quarterbacks are compared to one another. Did the team make a mistake not drafting this guy, etc.? There’s no exception in the 2020 NFL Draft when the Miami Dolphins took Tua Tagovailoa at pick 5, and then right after at pick 6, the Los Angeles Chargers took Justin Herbert. This debate has been going on for four years and will probably continue for years. Part of the reason is that Herbert got off to a great start in his rookie season, and Tagovailoa got benched twice. Tagovailoa’s durability concerns aren’t going away until he proves he can go through a whole season. Herbert is bigger and has a big-time arm, while Tagovailoa is a smaller quarterback who lacks arm strength. After Sunday’s game, it’s fair to say it has worked out well for both sides where they ended up.
Herbert started right away after the first game of his rookie season, when Tyrod Taylor got a punctured lung, thanks to the Chargers medical staff giving him an injection shot, and he hasn’t looked back. He has showcased his arm and made plays with the weapons he’s had in Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, and he put up big numbers his rookie season.
While Tagovailoa got to sit on the bench and learn from Ryan Fitzpatrick to start his rookie season, he was still recovering from the broken hip he suffered his last year at Alabama. Tagovailoa got to start mid-way through his rookie season and played well, but like I mentioned before got benched twice, and that’s really when the debate got even more heated.
In 2021, Herbert built off his rookie season and continued to make strides as the Chargers franchise quarterback. While Tagovailoa got hurt and missed time, but also struggled. The questions concerned whether he was the right quarterback to lead the Dolphins. Rumors persisted that the Dolphins were trying to acquire DeShaun Watson from the Houston Texans, but with his off-the-field issues, the Dolphins never made a move. Tagovailoa didn’t have the offensive weapons he had at Alabama, and people thought he was successful because the weapons around him made him better. Outside of his college teammate Jaylen Waddle, he had nobody to throw the ball to who could threaten a defense.
After the 2021 season, the Dolphins fired head coach Brian Flores, and there were rumors that he didn’t believe in Tagovailoa and had a lot of friction with him. Then, the Dolphins hired offensive-minded coach Mike McDaniel to try to work with him to get the most out of his potential. The Dolphins also made a deal off-season to acquire wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs to team with Waddle and give the Dolphins a formidable duo at wide receiver to help their young quarterback. Tagovailoa responded by having the best season of his young career, throwing for over 3,500 yards to go with 25 TD passes to only eight interceptions. The problem is that he missed five games because of concussions, but the Dolphins don’t make the playoffs without them. Herbert continued his steady young career last year, taking the Chargers to the playoffs.
Herbert has gone through a coaching change and has been very steady. Still, Tagovailoa struggled under Flores and had three different offensive coordinators his first two years and no offensive weapons. It’s easy to see why Herbert was more successful in the first two years, and he had coaches who believed in him. The change from Flores to McDaniel has rejuvenated Tagovailoa’s career as he has a coach who has confidence in him and is also getting the most out of him. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened if the Dolphins stuck with Flores. Coaching does matter, especially with a young quarterback; it can ruin his career if he doesn’t get the proper coaching.
Think back to the 2018 NFL Draft. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson were the quarterbacks taken in order. Mayfield was the number 1 pick, and he went through constant change with the Cleveland Browns coaching and front office. He’s now on his 4th team in the NFL since being drafted. He probably wasn’t worthy of the number 1 pick to begin with, but it didn’t help the changes at head coach and front office. The same goes with Darnold as he was drafted by the New York Jets, and their coach at the time, Todd Bowles, was a defensive coach and didn’t want him to play but was forced to. Then the Jets hired “quarterback whisperer” Adam Gase, who didn’t help him. Darnold lost his confidence, and his play showed. He’s now a backup with the San Franscisco 49ers. Allen has been the most successful of the group, but he has had stability with the Buffalo Bills with coaching and the players around, and he is now one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rosen flamed out with the Arizona Cardinals and their instability. Jackson, like Allen, has had stability with the Baltimore Ravens and was MVP in 2019, and he is one of the most exciting players in the league. He has some durability issues as well, but the talent is there. Again, coaching matters, and the situation a quarterback gets drafted into also matters.
Back to Tagovailoa and Herbert, on Sunday, both showed they are good quarterbacks and are in good situations. Tagovailoa was the better quarterback in the Dolphins’ 36-34 win as he threw for 466 yards with 3 TD passes, including the game-winner to Hill. McDaniel has made a HUGE difference for Tagovailoa. I realize he has to stay healthy and on the field, but they are both perfect for each other. McDaniel’s offense is tailored to Tagovailoa’s strengths, getting the ball out quickly and accurately to give his receivers Hill and Waddle chances to make plays with their dynamic speed. Herbert played well enough to win on Sunday, but he made plays like he always does with his arm and legs. Herbert is the more gifted quarterback physically. I won’t dispute that, but both quarterbacks are in good situations with their teams. Would their teams be different if the Dolphins took Herbert and the Chargers took Tagovailoa? We will never know. Herbert might have been a better fit with Flores, and Tagovaila might have found success earlier with Williams and Allen, but we will never know. I think we all should realize now, after last Sunday’s game, that both quarterbacks are where they belong. The debate will always be there, but in my mind, they are both where they should be and both teams should rest easy with their decisions from 4 years ago.