The Miami Dolphins will play host to the Los Angeles Chargers in a Week 10 matchup that may not move the needle much for the sake of the AFC standings, but will still very much have the attention of many thanks to the duel between two of the 2020 NFL Draft's top-six overall picks: Miami's Tua Tagovailoa and Los Angeles' Justin Herbert. The duo will forever be tied together in the eyes of the NFL thanks to their positioning as consecutive picks by quarterback-hungry teams in the same draft.
And the Miami faithful, specifically, will have a vested interest in the career trajectories of both players; as it was Miami that had the first crack at a quarterback and opted to draft Tagovailoa over the physical tools of Herbert.
Whether or not that was the right decision won't be known for years. But the early returns from both players seems to indicate that both Tagovailoa and Herbert ended up exactly where they were supposed to in order to start their NFL careers hot and with ample production. Credit should go to both the Dolphins and the Chargers' coaching staffs for aligning their offenses with the talent and strengths of their quarterbacks.
And that's exactly why the "what if" game won't fly with these two, as much as the narrative will call for questioning what each player would look like if the teams were reversed. We've seen what Herbert looks like in a spread offense that calls for a lot of quick timing, screens, and working throughout the short and intermediate areas of the field: that's what he was so often asked to do with the Oregon Ducks. And now that we've seen Herbert in more of a vertical offense that looks to land haymakers down the field, is there any question that this style of offense is a better fit for his monster arm and his prototypical traits? The Chargers' quarterback is perhaps the most surprising rookie of the 2020 NFL season because, while everyone acknowledged Herbert had all the physical skills in the world, his ability to operate the Ducks' offense didn't inspire confidence that he could step into the pro game and thrive right away. He's blown away the expectations of even his biggest supporters in the pre-draft process and that is in large part because the offense he's playing in doesn't mirror the one he ran in college.
The Dolphins' offensive structure? You get more of a "point guard" vibe instead of a home-run hitter from whoever is manning Miami's quarterback position. Both Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick are among the NFL's quickest in average snap-to-release times in the NFL with 2.47s and 2.41s release times, respectively. The Dolphins do not push the ball down the field with the frequency of the Chargers, either. Herbert's longest completion in air yards on the season is 62 yards, where as the Dolphins only have one air yards completion on the year in excess of 50 yards (51.4 by Ryan Fitzpatrick). Tagovailoa, through two starts, has yet to complete a ball that travels over 40 yards in the air. Herbert has at least one such completion in five consecutive contests.
And that's okay. The teams run very, very different styles of offense. And that should be remembered when comparing these two quarterbacks. Ultimately they'll both be measured by wins and production, but it doesn't (and shouldn't) look exactly the same for how both players execute their respective offenses. The best players are typically given the chance to play in a role that is tailored perfectly to their strengths by their coaches. We're seeing that materialize from both Tagovailoa and Herbert, so from that regard it doesn't really matter who was drafted first. Each was picked with the vision of playing the brand of offense that their respective coaching staffs desire.
So when this duo of young quarterbacks takes the field on Sunday afternoon, make sure to file away the skepticism or criticism and simply enjoy the show. Both of these players are right where they're intended to be.