Patriots-Dolphins Week 1 Matchup: How Mac Jones-Tua Tagovailoa Compare

Their wide receivers prefer Mac Jones


May 12, 2021

The rest of the New England Patriots’ 2021 NFL schedule will be released by Wednesday night, but we do know their Week 1 game will be home against the Miami Dolphins.

And that means we could be getting an Alabama quarterback vs. Alabama quarterback matchup right out of the gate. The Dolphins’ starting quarterback is Tua Tagovailoa, who was selected by Miami fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Alabama. The Patriots’ starting QB likely will be Cam Newton, but there is an off chance rookie Mac Jones, who was selected by New England with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Alabama, could win the starting job in training camp and the preseason.

Jones was Tagovailoa’s backup in 2018 and 2019. He started four games while Tagovailoa was out with ankle and hip injuries in 2019.

In Tagovailoa’s best college season, he completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards (11.3 yards per attempt) with 33 touchdowns and three interceptions in nine starts in 2019 (206.9 passer rating). He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,966 yards (11.2 yards per attempt) with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 starts in 2018 (199.4 passer rating). Tagovailoa also picked up seven rushing touchdowns in his final two college seasons.

Jones completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,503 yards (10.7 yards per attempt) with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions filling in for Tagovailoa in 2019. He completed 77.4 percent of his passes (an NCAA record) for 4,500 yards (11.2 yards per attempt) with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions (203.1 passer rating) in 12 games in 2020. He had two college rushing touchdowns.

Diving deeper into their final college seasons, here are Jones and Tagovailoa’s advanced stats, via PFF:

Tagovailoa, 2019:
Adjusted completion percentage: 79%
Average depth of target: 8.67 yards
Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.18%
Air-yard percentage: 40%

Jones, 2020:
Adjusted completion percentage: 84.2%
Average depth of target: 8.76 yards
Turnover-worthy play rate: 1.97%
Air-yard percentage: 47.8%

Jones posted a higher adjusted completion percentage despite a higher average depth of target. He had fewer turnover-worthy plays and a larger chunk of his yards came through the air rather than after the catch. They both played with elite wide receivers. Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

It might not be surprising to hear that Smith and Waddle both preferred Jones to Tagovailoa.

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that Smith chose Jones over Tagovailoa when asked which QB was better by a team at the Senior Bowl:

One team asked Smith, point blank: ?Tua Tagovailoa or (Mac) Jones?? The question was barely finished before Smith answered: Mac Jones,” Breer wrote in February. “He was bold and definitive about it, as I heard it.?

Waddle said it on the record.

“Uh, I like Mac Jones too,” Waddle told NFL Media’s Andrew Siciliano after Smith’s answer was revealed. “I like Mac Jones, just my preference. Both of them, great quarterbacks but I love Mac. He was the guy I came in with from Day 1. We were on the third team together and worked our way up. So, Mac.”

It’s only slightly awkward that Waddle was selected sixth overall by the Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft. Maybe there’s still time to take it back?

Tagovailoa was selected 10 picks earlier than Jones but also was in a weaker quarterback class. Quarterback Joe Burrow was selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020, and Justin Herbert was taken sixth by the Los Angeles Chargers. Jordan Love was the fourth first-round quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, selected 26th overall by the Green Bay Packers.

There were four quarterbacks taken before Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (No. 2 overall to the New York Jets), Trey Lance (No. 3 overall to the San Francisco 49ers) and Justin Fields (No. 11 overall to the Chicago Bears). Tagovailoa also had more college experience and is more mobile than Jones. Jones has more prototypical size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) than Tagovailoa (6-feet, 217 pounds).

Tagovailoa completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards (6.3 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions (87.1 passer rating) in 10 games and nine starts as a rookie in 2020. He shared Dolphins starting duties with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Washington Football Team as a free agent this offseason, and went 6-3.

Only time will tell which player will be the better NFL quarterback. Smith and Waddle have already made their decision, however.

Jeremy Swayman
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