Forecast: Herbert a Pro-Bowler; Tua the Next Mariota

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Piggybacking off of my previous post about Mario Cristobal costing Justin Herbert being the No. 1 draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, I wanted to explore what’s to come for Herbert and his draft day “rivalTua Tagovailoa.

But first, I must come clean. I must admit my “sin” of wishing a fellow human being to not succeed. While I cheered on every success that Herbert had during the 2020 season – every perfectly thrown deep ball, every fastball zipped into tight spaces, every scramble for a first down — I equally cheered on every failure of Tua’s.

Does this make me a bad person? Hell no! It makes me a tried and true Oregon Ducks fan. As fans we are competitors and I wanted to see our Oregon player make the Alabama guy look bad, and stick it to all the so-called “experts” who liked Tua over Herbert on draft day.

I got sick and tired last spring of draft analysts saying that Tua was the better player. Some of them, such as ESPN’s Booger McFarland, went as far as to say that Tua was ahead of Herbert by an “astronomical” margin. Many of the so-called experts believing that while Herbert had all the physical tools, he lacked Tua’s leadership ability, intangibles (whatever that means), and the proverbial “it” factor. Herbert was just too quiet, too vanilla, and too much of an “Oregon” quarterback.

And then just like that, on week 2 of the NFL schedule, Herbert set the league on fire and never looked back.

 

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I was high on Herbert heading into the NFL. Oregon fans were well aware of his intelligence and amazing arm talent. I had written plenty during the 2019 season on how I believed that he had been coached down in college, but was confident that once he got into the NFL and was given the chance to sling the ball around that he’d be successful.

There were (and still are) questions about Herbert’s leadership abilities. True, he’s not the vocal, personality-plus type that the pundits’ love, and the answers he gives in interviews can be nauseatingly cliché, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lead. By all accounts, he is well-liked, communicates, and builds relationships with teammates, coaches, and staff.  

But above all else, he performs.

Unbeknownst to most, Herbert came into the league as a ready-made NFL quarterback. There weren’t the typical growing pains that most rookie quarterbacks who are thrust into action experience. Not since the likes of Andrew Luck in 2012 has a first-year signal-caller seemed to ease into the position so naturally.  

Tua, on the other hand, didn’t have such a great rookie season. Of course, the verdict is still out on Tua, he may well turn out to be an exceptional player as a pro. But there’s a part of me that can’t help but think that he might turn out like a former Oregon quarterback who is near and dear to all Duck fans’ hearts in Marcus Mariota.

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Tua could be the next Mariota.

 I was less certain about Mariota than I was about Herbert entering the league. Mostly due to concerns about his transition from the Chip Kelly blur offense to the NFL game, where his passing ability would need to be more of a focus than his legs. While he is an adequate passer, he is not the God-given passer that Herbert is. Mariota has also had issues with injuries, and given his style of play, injury is something that may come into play with Tua given his own history.

I believe what applies to Mariota’s passing ability can also be said of Tua. Some will call me crazy for saying this since Tua was an extremely accurate quarterback while at Alabama. But, I’ve never truly been in love with the way Tua throws the ball. While Herbert has an all-world arm and natural throwing ability, the same can’t be said of Tua. I believe he has an adequate arm and through hard work and perseverance transformed himself into an extremely good throwing college quarterback. But will that translate into success in the NFL?  

As Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports assessed: “Herbert’s arm is considerably more powerful than Tagovailoa’s … It’s the long throws across the field, toward the sideline, or when, at the intermediate level, he (Tua) attempts to fit the ball through a tight window when his weaker arm appears. I repeatedly refer to Herbert’s arm as ‘live.’ … Tagovailoa has what would be considered an average NFL arm. At times, it’s below average. Much of it has to do with poor footwork.”

It’s this type of analysis paired with injury potential that makes me hesitant to believe that Tua can truly be successful in the NFL, while the once underrated Herbert should continue to thrive. Hence, I foresee Justin Herbert as a perennial Pro-Bowler, while Tua Tagovailoa may well be mired in a Marcus Mariota type of mediocrity. 

Darren Perkins
Spokane, Washington
Top photo credit: Harry Caston

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