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NFL Draft

What Does Mac Jones’ Performance Say About Tua Tagovailoa?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 22, 2020
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It's a great time to be an Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback. The Tide's current quarterback, Mac Jones, is scorching the SEC with stunning proficiency in his first year as the full-time starter. The team's former backup, Tua Tagovailoa, has just been named the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins after shadowing behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first six weeks of the 2020 NFL season. But there's some skepticism afoot about the latter's qualifications as a passer, partly because other quarterbacks from the 2020 class have already gotten onto the field and made a strong first impression. But a large root of the skepticism around Tagovailoa is now rooted in the performance of his successor—Jones' starring role thus far this season in Tuscaloosa and after Tagovailoa's hip injury in 2019 have prompted some hard questions.

  • "Is Tagovailoa simply a system quarterback?"
  • "Is Mac Jones a better prospect and quarterback than Tagovailoa?"
  • "Did the Dolphins draft the wrong guy at No. 5 overall?"

To dismiss Tagovailoa or make any sweeping comments about his qualifications or ceiling as an NFL quarterback based on two pass attempts in garbage time against the New York Jets in Week 6 is irresponsible, to say the least. It is understandable for the skepticism to exist—especially as fellow rookie quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert reset expectations for first-year quarterbacks everywhere with their passing output. Burrow, amid a relentless onslaught of opposing pass-rushers, is averaging 269.5 passing yards per start this season and has had the Bengals in position to win four games thus far this season (Cincinnati actually went 1-2-1 in those four games). Justin Herbert? He's 0-4 but averaging 298.8 yards per game with a 107.1 quarterback rating.

Meanwhile, Jones is completing 78% of his passes at Alabama for 13.2 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of 220.1 (nearly 20 points better than the FBS record of 202, set by Burrow in 2019). Oh, right, and Alabama has already played the toughest defense on their schedule in Georgia. Jones promptly dropped 417 yards and four touchdowns on the Bulldogs. So that's a wrap, right? Jones' successes indicate the Alabama system provides friendly confines for quarterbacks right? After all, Tagovailoa sits second on the all-time list for completed seasons for his efforts in 2018, trailing both Burrow and Jones' 2020 pace—right?

At the end of the day, what is the truth about the recent crop of Alabama passers? Does Jones' performance cast doubt on Tagovailoa's forecast? Or is Jones better than Tagovailoa?

Truthfully, the Alabama system is always going to reign supreme over the vast majority of teams across the country. And with how well this team recruits and with how well they're coached, they're always going to operate at a high level. But when you watch the players in action, it is clear that while Jones is highly efficient as Alabama's quarterback, he is not on the same level as Tagovailoa as a pro prospect. Sure, Tagovailoa had durability questions, but the NFL still drafted him in the top-five overall, so we'll backburner those questions for the sake of this exercise.

Which player has the stronger arm? Tagovailoa. Which player has the quicker feet? Tagovailoa. Which player has more escapability of the pocket? Tagovailoa. Which player is more accurate (in terms of ball placement, NOT in terms of completion percentage)? Tagovailoa.

The Georgia game shows a number of examples of Jones allowing his feet to go dead on his shallow crossers and his ability to hit receivers in stride was compromised. So, too, was at least one deep shot that was held up by 5-plus yards in the air as his receiver adjusted to the football.

Jones is a fine quarterback prospect. And he's playing at an unbelievably good level. But the raw production, especially in an offense that features stars like running back Najee Harris and wide receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, doesn't do anything other than confirm that the Alabama offense in its entirety is indeed very good.

Nik Shimonek had a better completion percentage than Patrick Mahomes did between the 2016 and 2017 seasons at Texas Tech. No one was clamoring that Shimonek was a better player, right? Kevin Hogan posted a better passer rating in 2015 under David Shaw at Stanford than any single season we saw from Andrew Luck. And we saw how that story turned out. The context of the physical skills allow for filling in the blanks that the stat sheet won't allow: so before we get too far ahead of ourselves...

No, Mac Jones isn't a better prospect than Tua Tagovailoa, no matter what the passer rating indicates. And no, we have seen nothing to indicate the Dolphins have made a mistake with their decision to draft Tagovailoa at No. 5 overall—at least not yet.

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