Tua Tagovailoa finally made his NFL debut on Sunday, following Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, but which first-round rookie QB had the best first game?
Tua Tagovailoa became the final first-round quarterback selected in the 2020 NFL Draft to make his pro debut during the Miami Dolphins’ blowout victory over the New York Jets.
Tagovailoa, the fifth-overall pick by Miami, came in late in the fourth quarter of the Dolphins’ 24-0 win, ending his long wait to return to the field after suffering a dislocated hip in what proved his final game for Alabama last November.
Given the circumstances, Tagovailoa’s Dolphins debut was never likely to live up to those of Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, who are each firmly established as starters for the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers respectively.
Which of the first-round rookie quarterbacks had the most impressive NFL bow? Here we rank their maiden appearances in the league and determine whether Burrow or Herbert stands at the top of the pile.
3. Tua Tagovailoa
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play as the Dolphins starter has ensured Tagovailoa will have to wait a while before he takes over as QB1 in Miami.
However, Fitzpatrick knows Tagovailoa is the future of the franchise and he contributed to a special moment at Hard Rock Stadium, hyping up the limited crowd as the rookie took the field to a loud ovation.
And the former Crimson Tide star provided a fleeting glimpse of what could follow in the coming years, completing his first pass on a rollout from his own endzone to Patrick Laird before hitting Jakeem Grant to move the sticks on third down.
It may not have been the most exciting debut for an electrifying prospect, but it is a day Tagovailoa should remember forever.
2. Joe Burrow
Burrow was used to playing with a lead at LSU in 2019, but he came close to authoring a comeback in his Bengals debut as they lost a dramatic opener to the Chargers.
He completed 23 of 36 passes for 193 yards and an interception and ran for a touchdown but saw his first game end in heartbreak. Burrow had methodically led the Bengals down the field on their final drive, only to have a game-winning touchdown throw to A.J. Green nullified by a controversial offensive pass interference penalty.
Randy Bullock subsequently missed a chip-shot field goal that would have sent the game to overtime, clinching a 16-13 win for the Chargers.
Burrow impressed with his composure in the clutch and has continued to shine since, though a 1-4-1 start has illustrated how much work the Bengals have to do at other spots on the roster.
1. Justin Herbert
Chargers rookie Herbert was pressed into action in Week 2 in remarkable circumstances, the sixth overall pick getting the start against the Kansas City Chiefs after the team doctor accidentally punctured Tyrod Taylor’s lung while administering a painkilling injection.
Herbert took full advantage, throwing for 311 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He had the Chargers in position to stun the Chiefs — Los Angeles leading 17-9 entering the fourth quarter — but was denied by some classic heroics from Patrick Mahomes.
His first game proved a spectacular sign of what was to come as Herbert has continued to set opposing defenses alight, though he is still waiting for his first win after suffering more overtime agony in Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints.
There is no doubt, though, that he has been the most impressive rookie quarterback so far and win number one is surely not too far away.