Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert: Contrasts on full display Sunday | Miami vs. LA

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Nov 8, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) huddles teammates against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins chose Tua Tagovailoa and not Justin Herbert and that fact will never be disputed.

Miami passed on Herbert, a quarterback who is tall and strong-armed and durable.

"He’s very smart, very talented, a driven kid, competitive, tough," Miami coach Brian Flores said. "There is a lot to like about him."

Miami chose Tua, a quarterback who is accurate, poised and charismatic.

"Outstanding personality and you see his leadership qualities and skills and all the intangibles people talk about," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "He was a very productive quarterback at Alabama and he’s a tough kid. Obviously, we liked him a lot.”

The Dolphins picked fifth and the Chargers picked sixth in the last NFL Draft. The Chargers have said they felt comfortable with Herbert or Tua, and would have taken Tua if Miami had selected Herbert.

Tagovailoa and Herbert meet for the first time on Sunday, at Hard Rock Stadium (4:05 p.m., CBS). They will forever be compared. Their careers will forever be intertwined.

At some point, in five or 10 or 20 years, the dispute over the order in which they should have been chosen will be resolved.

Think about John Elway-Jim Kelly-Dan Marino and 1983. Now think about Joe Burrow-Tua Tagovailoa-Justin Herbert and 2020.

"I just think that’s just something that’s going to have to be dealt with in the media," Tagovailoa said this week. "I have no animosity towards Justin Herbert and for me, it’s not even a competition between me and him. It’s a competition for myself to go out and see what I can do to help our team be successful."

Tagovailoa, 22, seems wise beyond his years. He seems to say the right thing. He seems to have the type of personality that everyone gravitates towards.

"He really has a great deal of maturity in how he builds relationships with other people on the football team," veteran Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said.

More:Miami Dolphins' hype is a runaway train and Brian Flores must hate it

Which brings us to Herbert. When Herbert entered the Chargers' starting lineup earlier in the season, he immediately began connecting on 50-yard passes, posting 300-yard and three-touchdown games.

Meanwhile, Tua was on the bench. Did this mean that the Dolphins had gotten it wrong? Not necessarily. Behind the scenes, the Dolphins still felt quite comfortable with the player they selected fifth.

First of all, Tagovailoa was being given extra time to heal from a devastating hip injury suffered a year ago next Monday. Secondly, Tagovailoa was learning the plays and how to handle himself as a pro from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

And even if Tagovailoa never has the size or the arm strength that Herbert does, Miami believes they drafted a player with unmatched intangibles, most importantly the ability to build trust and open communication with his teammates.

Teammates say Tagovailoa has humility as well as confidence. They say he is respectful but also commanding. Tagovailoa is a natural-born leader. And heading into the draft, some evaluators expressed concern that Herbert projected a soft-spokenness and reserve.

"I don’t know what questions you’re talking about," Flores said, when asked by the Los Angeles media if pre-draft questions about Herbert were answered in their interactions at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That was a long time ago."

Herbert suggested his meeting with the Dolphins was "a blur."

In an episode of "Hard Knocks" on HBO that aired before the season, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn openly discussed a desire to see Herbert grow to be more vocal.

This week, Lynn said Herbert doesn't need to change who he is.

"He will find a way to lead," Lynn said. "Whether he’s an extrovert or an introvert, whatever you want to call it. He’s handled the role really well, and I can tell you that I watch to see how people respond to him, and his teammates respond to him."

Herbert possesses unique physical tools. 

"He’s a really good passer," Dolphins safety Bobby McCain said. "He’s got a really good deep ball. Even though he’s a rookie, you can tell he’s seeing things a lot better than he was when he first got in at the beginning of the year."

Nov 8, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) is pressured by Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell (96) in the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 31-26. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Herbert has already won Rookie of the Week five times and Rookie of the Month once. Herbert passed for three or more touchdowns in four consecutive games. He's been dynamic against the blitz and great on third down. He appears to have every throw in the book.

But the Chargers are 1-6 in his starts.

Tua, who displayed mobility, accuracy and come-from-behind moxie in last Sunday's upset at Arizona, is 2-0 as a starter.

The NFL will greatly benefit if Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert are all perceived as legitimate NFL stars in two, three and/or five years.

More:Miami Dolphins' Midseason Report Card | Joe Schad

The Dolphins had a choice. They're comfortable with theirs. The Chargers had a choice. They're comfortable with theirs.

“We got the quarterback we wanted," said Lynn, the Chargers' coach. "Tua is an outstanding quarterback and young man, but we got our quarterback.”

On the day Tua was selected, Flores, the Dolphins' coach, outlined why he was the choice. "Good player, good person, leadership qualities," Flores said.

Miami felt Tagovailoa was the man to lead them from behind in games, as he did last Sunday. And they felt he was the best choice to one day elevate the franchise into championship contention.

Midway through Tua's rookie season, Flores is saying the quarterback is prepared, focused and open to coaching.

"He's a sponge," Flores said.

Last Sunday at Arizona, Tagovailoa led the Dolphins 93 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Then he led Miami 28 yards for the game-winning field goal.

It was exactly what Miami envisioned when they drafted him. Veteran offensive lineman Jesse Davis said Tagovailoa managed the situation as if it were "routine."

"Being a rookie quarterback, coming in here and getting a fourth-quarter win is kind of unheard of in the league," Davis said. "But Tua's been there before. He’s a winner. That’s what he does.”

More:Tua Tagovailoa: I may never be my old self due to hip | Miami Dolphins


                        Herbert                                Tagovailoa

Height             6-foot-6                                  6-foot                         

Weight            236 pounds                            217 pounds

Record            1-6                                         2-0

QB Rating        104.7                                    103.8

TDs                   17                                        3

INT                    5                                          0

Comp. Pct.        67.3                                    65.4