Imagine If Justin Herbert Had Tua’s (Healthy) Weapons & Coach, For A Second

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justin herbert tua

Quarterback rivalries define eras in the NFL.

For 10 years (plus) we had Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

Before that, we had Joe Montana vs. John Elway in the 80s. In the 70s, you had Stabler vs. Bradshaw, and the 60s it was Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas.

Today, we have Patrick Mahomes vs. Everybody, and don’t forget about Joe Burrow and Josh Allen. And, somehow, Brady is still alive and kicking.

There may not be a more intriguing quarterback rivalry than Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers and Tua Tagovailoa of the Dolphins.

The two quarterbacks met Sunday night with the Chargers winning 23-17. They play in different divisions, so won’t meet that often, but they will forever be connected.

They were born just eight days apart.

Tagovailoa (listen, I can’t keep spelling it, I am just going to call him Tua) was born March 2, 1998, Herbert March 10 that same year.

They are both West Coast natives. Herbert from Oregon and Tua from Hawaii.

They were college stars, but one a lot more than most.

They were picked one after the other in the NFL draft in 2020, Tua going fifth, Herbert going sixth.

So the connection is undeniable.

How will this rivalry shape the NFL the next 10 years? And who is better?

The Tua File

Tua will never – ever – need to buy anything in the state of Alabama. He’s a Crimson Tide legend at a school that has plenty of football legends.

You may know the story. Tua is a freshman quarterback at Alabama. He’s backing up Jalen Hurts (a pretty good quarterback for the Eagles at the moment). Alabama is down in OT in the CFP national championship game to Georgia. Tua, who came in for the second half, gets sacked on the first play. So it’s second-and-26. He launches a perfect pass down the sidelines for DeVonta Smith. Touchdown. Alabama wins it all.

The next year, Tua plays in 15 games (remember that) and takes the Tide back to the national title game, they lose to Clemson badly. He finishes second in the Heisman.

As a junior, Tua gets hurt, ankle and then hip. Alabama finishes 11-2.

In his three years at Bama, Tua goes 38-4.

Tua is drafted by the Dolphins fifth overall. Gets banged up some as a rookie and in his second year. This season he’s had a breakthrough — yes, Tyreek Hill helps — throwing for 3,004 yards and he leads the NFL in yards per attempt. But he’s been knocked out of games twice. When he plays, Miami wins. The Dolphins are 21-11 when he starts.

He’s listed as 6-foot, 217 pounds.

The Herbert File

Born in Eugene, Herbert stayed home for college and went to the University of Oregon. He threw for 10,541 yards and 95 touchdowns in his college career. Those touchdowns are sixth all-time in PAC-12 history.

But – see if you spot a trend – Oregon isn’t that good. When Herbert was a freshman, the Ducks are 4-8. They go 7-6 when he’s a sophomore, 9-4 when he’s a junior. He has a big senior year, the Ducks go 12-2, but they lose to Auburn in the season opener, so they’re never really a factor for anything serious. They beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and that’s Herbert’s big coming out party. Scouts say he’s still raw.

The Chargers take him sixth overall, just behind Tua. There’s an issue with Tyrod Taylor and a needle and boom, Herbert is the Chargers starter as a rookie.

He just started his 45th game the other night. They are 22-23 when he starts.

He’s 6-foot-6, 230 pounds.

Tua Is Better Than Herbert

What can you say other than the only metric in all this that matters is winning? Tua is a winner. He has that certain quality that makes players around him believe in him. It carries over from his days in college. It’s not just anyone who can say that they threw a pass in overtime that directly led to his team winning a national championship.

Tua and Herbert have gone head-to-head twice in their NFL career. Tua won the first game back in 2020, 29-21.

Herbert may have all the stats, I mean, already, Herbert has almost twice as many passing yards in his NFL career than Tua, but Tua’s team is in the playoffs right now, and Herbert’s isn’t. What would you rather have, a winning team or a star quarterback?

Herbert is Better Than Tua

The knock on Tua was, is and always will be, he gets hurt too much. It’s true. NFL players don’t like to talk about or think about injuries, but Tua has been hurt a lot. The concussion thing is scary. Those don’t go away and if you’re a Miami fan you always have to be fearful that Tua is another big hit away from missing games.

That’s not a problem for Herbert who is basically built like an NFL linebacker. Also, if you took Tua off the Dolphins, they’d still probably win. If you took Herbert off of the Chargers are they 7-6? Not a chance.

Herbert is on a trajectory to set all kinds of ridiculous NFL records after three years. The rules in today’s NFL are built for him (heck, he can’t even be roughed). The Chargers have an offense with two great wide receivers: Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and touchdown machine at running back in Austin Ekeler.

But yes, Herbert doesn’t have much team success to show for it.

Who’s Better?

If every player in the NFL was declared a free agent right now and we had a draft for them all, who would be picked first? (Well, I mean, Mahomes would be picked first). But who would you pick first Tua or Herbert?

It has to be Herbert, right? Just because of the injury factor on Tua.

But Herbert hasn’t shown (yet) that he can lead a team to the playoffs, or a championship. Tua wins that battle. Hopefully, Tua stays healthy, Herbert gets a defense and this is a debate we can have for the next 10 years.