As the days wind down toward the NFL Draft on Thursday, a popular landing spot seems to be forming for Justin Herbert.
Both ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Daniel Jeremiah of The NFL Network released a mock draft last week that had the Oregon quarterback going No. 5 overall to Miami, followed by Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 6.
Tagovailoa was considered to be in the mix with LSU’s Joe Burrow for the No. 1 pick before his season ended early because of a hip injury. Due to COVID-19, NFL teams have not been able to work out Tagovailoa or have their doctors take a look at his medical records.
The only action seen from Tagovailoa since he dislocated his hip against Mississippi State on Nov. 16 was a workout video he posted on social media last month.
Practicing social distancing with the long ball today. Feels good to spin it again. #Process pic.twitter.com/BZnBF7Sfdc— Tua. T 🇦🇸 (@Tuaamann) March 24, 2020
Meanwhile, Herbert finished the season with two of his best games by leading the Ducks to wins over Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Herbert threw at the NFL Combine and Senior Bowl and held a pro day for scouts.
“I’ve heard from talking to a bunch of folks that Miami loves Joe Burrow, but after that, there is a split in the room and Justin Herbert has some supporters and Tua has some supporters,” Jeremiah said on his Move The Sticks podcast last week. “If it’s close, a tie goes to the healthier player, so if I’m guessing right now what the Dolphins will do, I could make the case that Herbert might have a leg up there because of the health factor.”
Burrow is expected to be the top pick by Cincinnati. Washington, Detroit and the New York Giants are next in line and none are expected to draft a quarterback, but could make a trade with a team looking to move up and take Herbert or Tagovailoa.
The Dolphins started 37-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback last season after trading for former UCLA star Josh Rosen. The Chargers are seeking a replacement for Philip Rivers with Tyrod Taylor currently slated as the starter.
It is unclear if Tagovailoa will be cleared to play at the start of the season because teams have not been able to give him a physical, but Herbert could be ready to start for either the Dolphins or Chargers.
“I think he could start year one because when you are a senior who was the Rose Bowl MVP and an academic All-American, I think you can pick up an offense,” Peter Schrager of The NFL Network said on the Move The Sticks podcast. “Physically, at the combine he showed some things I was not aware of. The arm was incredible and he looks the part. This is a big strong ox of a guy with a brain.
“I know a lot of NFL evaluators are down on the leadership, which seems to be like a vague intangible just because he’s a little quieter than your typical quarterback.”
Vocal leadership has been the most common critique of Herbert, along with his ability to make plays outside of the pocket.
“Justin at times was erratic in that regard,” Kiper said on a conference call last week when asked about Herbert’s mechanics on the run. “He didn’t have phenomenal talent around him like some other quarterbacks, including Tua. Then he went to the Senior Bowl and showed he could go through his progressions and throw with better anticipation and he did make throws in that game from outside the pocket.
“Justin is developing as a player, and I think you are seeing glimpses of what can happen when it all comes together for him.”
Herbert vs. Tagovailoa will be one of the hottest debates during the final few days leading into the draft.
“I think Tua has got better instincts, a better feel and I think he’s got better touch and accuracy,” Jeremiah said. “He can layer the ball a little bit better, and I think he’s more urgent and sudden in terms of working through progressions. Obviously, Herbert is bigger and stronger and Herbert, in my opinion, is actually a better athlete. I don’t think people understand that as much, but he’s a really good athlete. And he’s obviously durable, or has been durable recently. You’ve got that advantage going for you if you are Herbert.
“But with Tua, when everything is dialed up the way it is supposed to be dialed up, I think they are comparable. I just think when something doesn’t go as expected, I think Tua has got a little bit more of a playmaker gene than Herbert does. But it is going to come down to getting in the right situation and the right surrounding for both of those guys.”