Why Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert Could Make NFL History on Sunday

From the Pittsburgh Steelers looking to advance to 9-0 for the first time in history to a meeting between the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams that could go some way in shaping the NFC West, there a plethora of fascinating storylines in the late afternoon slate of games in Week 10 of the NFL season.

Few, however, are more intriguing than the one that will unfold in South Florida, where Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert collide for the first time in their professional careers as the Miami Dolphins host the Los Angeles Chargers.

Along with Joe Burrow, who was selected with the first overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, Tagovailoa and Herbert made up the trio of quarterbacks to be chosen in the top six of the NFL Draft in April.

Sunday marks only the seventh time two rookie quarterbacks selected in the top six of the same draft have gone head-to-head as starters for their respective teams since NFL and AFL teams began selecting players in the same draft all the way back in 1967.

Historical quirks, however, are not the main reason behind the anticipation surrounding the first professional meeting between the two rookies. Instead, that lies in the form both quarterbacks have shown so far, which suggests they are very much the present and the future of their respective franchises.

Since being promoted as starter shortly before Week 2 after the Chargers team doctor inadvertently punctured Tyrod Taylor's lung, Herbert has hit the ground running. The sixth overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft ranks 11th in the NFL in passing yards and 10th in touchdown passes with 2,146 and 17 respectively—the latter a league-best figure among rookies.

Significantly, however, all the players ahead of him in both metrics have played at least one more game than the former Oregon star. Should Herbert throw three touchdown passes on Sunday, he would become only the fourth player in NFL history to have 20 touchdown passes in his first eight games.

Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson are the only three players to have pulled off the feat so far, and only Mahomes has done so while passing for at least 2,500 yards, a threshold Herbert could reach if he throws for at least 354 yards against the Dolphins.

With two touchdown passes, the Chargers quarterback will become the first rookie in NFL history to have at least two touchdown passes in six consecutive games.

Behind Herbert, the Chargers have developed into the NFL's second-best offense, producing an average of 420 total yards per game. Impressive as the stats are, however, they have not translated into success, with the Bolts 1-6 in the rookie's seven starts after blowing a lead of 16 or more points in four consecutive games.

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has had to bide his time for longer than Herbert and only got his first start in Week 8. Unlike his fellow rookie, however, the fifth overall pick of the draft is yet to taste defeat, as the Dolphins won both of his first two starts.

After an underwhelming performance in his debut against the Rams, the former Alabama star shone brightly against the Arizona Cardinals last week, engineering two fourth-quarter scoring drives, which included a 10-play, 93-yard drive that ended with a game-tying touchdown.

Should the Dolphins win on Sunday, Tagovailoa would become the first rookie quarterback since Lamar Jackson in 2018 to win his first three starts in the NFL.

If history is anything to go by, the matchup between the Chargers and the Dolphins should be a close affair.

Five of the previous six meetings between rookie starting quarterbacks selected in the top six of an NFL draft have been decided by an average of 4.6 points, with the only exception being the 42-14 thrashing the Tennessee Titans inflicted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015—second overall pick Marcus Mariota was under center for the Titans, while first overall pick Jameis Winston started for the Bucs.

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins warms up before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on November 8 in Glendale, Arizona. Chris Coduto/Getty