The man who has thrown for the most yards of any left-hander in NFL history is on the phone, extolling the gifts of the young Miami Dolphins prodigy who could someday join the top southpaws to ever play quarterback.
Tua Tagovailoa is “exactly the kid we all thought he was coming out of Alabama pre-hip injury,” CBS studio analyst Boomer Esiason said. “He’s running around great, not having problems and is the same accurate thrower we saw at Alabama. The Dolphins have got a good team and a good direction and they finally have a [worthy successor] to Dan Marino, the answer to the question that has eluded them for so long.”
Meanwhile, the man considered the best left-handed quarterback in NFL history couldn’t be more impressed, either.
“The game has changed so much for QBs over the last five years and the change has all come [thanks] to players like Tua,” ESPN analyst Steve Young told me, through a network spokesman. “He has a nose for the end zone and feels like a guy that can really grow as a passer quickly. I’m a huge fan and much of QB success in the NFL is instinct and he has tons of it.”
Of the NFL’s quarterbacks who would be considered good or better over the past 15 years, only Tagovailoa (5 TDs), Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have thrown at least four TDs and no interceptions in their first three starts.
What’s more, by winning on Sunday in Denver, the Dolphins would join Ben Roethlisberger’s 2004 Steelers as the only teams in the last 40 years to win their first four games with a rookie quarterback. Tagovailoa and Wentz are the only QBs in the Super Bowl era to win their first three starts without throwing an interception.
And there’s this: Tagovailoa is off to the best start – as a starter – of any lefty QB in NFL history, though Scott Mitchell was close; he had 5 TDS, 1 interception and a 2-1 record in his first three starts after Dan Marino tore his Achilles in 1993. He was the last lefty to start a game at quarterback for the Dolphins; lefty draft bust Pat White never started a game for Miami.
Of course, left-handed quarterbacks are pretty rare. There are only 13 men in NFL history who have thrown at least 500 passes left-handed. Tagovailoa is the first quarterback to throw a TD pass left-handed in a game since Kellen Moore in 2015.
Any list of the top lefty QBs of all time would start with Young (a two time NFL MVP) and Esiason (four-time Pro Bowler and 1988 NFL MVP), with 1974 NFL MVP Ken Stabler and three-time Pro Bowler Mark Brunell in that group.
The next tier would include Jim Zorn, Frankie Albert (who played in the 1940s and 50s), Michael Vick and Bobby Douglas. Other notable lefties: Tim Tebow and Mitchell. A handful of lefty disappointments includes White, Matt Leinart, Cade McNown and Todd Marinovich.
So how high could Tagovailoa rise on the list of lefties? Esiason believes very high.
“His accuracy is right there with Steve Young,” Esiason said. “Tua is a good athlete but not the athlete Michael Vick was. He’s somewhere between Brunell and Vick in terms of athleticism.”
Esiason said there are no inherent disadvantages for a left-handed quarterback but for wide receivers, there’s probably “a two foot disadvantage of where the ball is coming out. It’s probably going to come out of the left side of the helmet, a little different than what receivers are used to. It spins the other way.”
Esiason noticed that Bengals coach Zac Taylor said “if I had to coach a righty vs lefty, I will take a righty. But to me, if you have a great athlete and an understanding of the game it doesn’t matter if you’re righty or lefty.”
One small advantage to being left-handed, according to Esiason: He said opposing teams need to spend time preparing for quarterbacks bootlegging to their left, something that ordinarily doesn’t happen much with right-handers.
Why aren’t there more lefty quarterbacks? “There’s a theory that more lefties are going into pitching,” Esiason said. “Maybe they feel they can make more money by doing that.”
Also, only 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, according to studies.
Tagovailoa still writes and eats with his right hand; his father Galu reportedly didn’t like being the only lefty in their family and repeatedly put the football in Tua’s left hand when he was child. The rest is history.
Esiason sees Tagovailoa having the skill set to be a top 10 NFL QB, period.
“He’s really good, really poised, and I like what Chan Gailey has done the past two games specifically,” Esiason said. “These last two games, Chan has been really good doing things [that Tagovailoa] has done before. What I really like is how quick his release is and how quick he’s making decisions. That means he’s reading defenses and not overwhelmed.
“I’ve never met the kid. It seems he’s a family man first. He loves football. He’s a caring soul.”
And even though Miami has four picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft to augment skill positions – especially wide receiver – Esiason said Tagovailoa “doesn’t need a wealth of superstars around him. Give him a top five offensive line and you got yourself a team that can play against anybody. He will make everybody better [because] his accuracy is really terrific.
“At Alabama, he made those receivers great and they made him great. If you have the right quarterback, he can win with three No. 2 [receivers] and a strong tight end and a second or third round running back.”
And Esiason suspects this, too, about Tagovailoa: “Everyone will want to play with him” – which should help the Dolphins lure top offensive talent in free agency if they choose.
Former NFL defensive back and ex-players union president Domonique Foxworth, now an ESPN analyst, predicted this past week that Tagovailoa will have a better career than fellow rookies Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.
“That organization is set up to dominate the division,” Foxworth said. “And he may be the most talented among the three.”
Said CBS’ Phil Simms: “The plan for Tua playing could not have gone better. It was extremely well planned by the Miami Dolphins…When you get towards the end of the season as a rookie quarterback who has played all the games, it is mentally and physically exhausting. That is not going to happen with Tua.”
Here’s my Saturday piece – with Anthony Chiang – on everything the Heat did in free agency the past 24 hours and what it means as far as 2021 cap space and their master plan.