The Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa Debate

Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers (left) and Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (right)AP

Back in the 2020 draft, there were four Quarterbacks taken in the first round (three in the top ten). Two were picked back-to-back with the fifth and sixth picks. With the fifth pick, the Miami Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa, and with the sixth pick, the Los Angeles Chargers selected Justin Herbert. Many fans and analysts agreed that Tua was the better pick, even coming off an injury. Fast forward three seasons later and here we are debating who is better.

I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way. The fact that Herbert has been breaking some of the most “irrelevant” records in the NFL. Beating Dan Marino‘s record of most touchdowns in the first three seasons is brought up almost every time he’s talked about, so there’s no need for it here.

Recently, this debate has earned more presence, due to ESPN Analyst Emmanuel Acho being very intent on crowning Tua the winner. However, after the Chargers, Dolphins game on Sunday, Acho admitted he was “wrong.”

With all the traction this debate has garnered, I thought I’d set the record straight.

Justin Herbert

Coming out of Oregon, Herbert had all the physical traits you want in a QB. Nothing too flashy with the Ducks, just consistency. He finished his career at Oregon with 10,541 passing yards and 95 touchdown passes, with only 23 interceptions.

After being drafted by the Chargers, the initial plan was to sit Herbert for a year to let him develop behind bridge QB, Tyrod Taylor. Unfortunately, we got to see the superstar much sooner after Taylor was injured with a punctured lung early in the season. There were very few people who believed in Herbert (myself being one of them), as the future of the Chargers, but great analysts, such as our own Walter Stringer, saw something in Herbert that was unbeknownst at the time. The rest is history.

  • 2020 NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the year

Without even a full season under his belt, Herbert threw for 4,336 and 31 touchdowns in 15 games, while only throwing 10 interceptions. The Chargers were 6-9 that year when he started, and they missed the playoffs.

  • 2021 Pro-Bowl Selection

The next season only solidified Herbert’s stardom. He produced 5,014 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Chargers record: 9-8 (missed playoffs).

14 weeks into this season, Herbert is second in the NFL in passing yards with 3,706 to go along with his 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Chargers sit at 7-6 with playoff hopes.

Tua Tagovailoa

Tua had a much different college experience from Herbert, not only geographically but also much “easier.” Coming from an Alabama team that was juggling two starting NFL QBs and plenty of talent, Tua was prepared for the next level, even with his injury at the end of his college career.

In his first season, he played nine games, producing 1,814 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions. The Dolphins were 6-3 when he played that year but missed the playoffs

Season two for the Alabama product didn’t scream “QB of the future.” He finished the season with 2,653 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He only played 12 full games but the Dolphins were 7-5 in that time (missed playoffs).

This season has been Tua’s best by far, even with the injuries he’s dealt with. Through 14 weeks, he sits with 3,004 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and five interceptions. With him being injured, these numbers were posted through only 11 games. Dolphins record: 8-5 with playoff hopes.

The Bottom Line

There is a clear answer here to “Who’s better?” Justin Herbert.

The ONLY argument that there is for Tua, is the win percentage. Yes, he has won more games than Justin but why? Because he’s better? No. Tua only has more wins because he plays for a better team.

Using Pro Football Reference, the Dolphins have had a significantly better defense every year since the 2020 draft.

Wins and losses are not solely QB-dependent. Who would you rather have if you were to start a team today? Which player has more injury problems? Both are very important questions to ask when talking about which QB is better. I believe if the Dolphins could go back right now, they would draft Justin Herbert over Tua Tagovailoa.