Tua Tagovailoa starts his first game on Sunday. Is he a sleeper quarterback option? Or is this a situation where we should all be looking to use the Los Angeles Rams defense?

Tua Tagovailoa starts his first game on Sunday. Is he a sleeper quarterback option? Or is this a situation where we should all be looking to use the Los Angeles Rams defense?

My general lean in these kind of situations is to use the defense, hoping that a quarterback making his first start will have jitters and struggle with things he hasn’t seen before – with faster players in most complex defenses. With the the Rams probably having one of the top half-dozen defenses in the league, we could get one of those games this time around.

But there have been a lot of rookie quarterbacks over the years, and if we look at all of their debut games, the results aren’t as awful as you might think. Of the 32 first-rounders over the last 10 years, they’ve averaged 222 passing yards in their first starts, with 35 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, 7 lost fumbles and 81 sacks. And 8 rushing touchdowns. (With 32 games, by the way, note that the sample size is equal to two NFL seasons).

Those 32 quarterbacks went 9-22-1 in their first games.

Tua, of course, isn’t a just a first-round pick, he was the No. 5 overall pick – a guy who was expected to be chosen first before injuring his hip. So with him, it might be more useful to compare him to only guys selected early in the first round.

If we look at just the last 16 quarterbacks chosen with top-6 picks, those guys in their first starts averaged 260 passing yards, with 25 touchdowns versus 18 interceptions. And those 16 finished with 43 sacks and 6 lost fumbles (below average for both stats, but not a disaster). Those quarterbacks have gone 5-10-1 in their debuts.

I am a fan of using the Rams in this matchup (I like their defense anyway) but these rookies haven’t tended to be golden-ticket guys for sacks and turnovers. Of the last 22 first-round quarterbacks, only seven in their first game had multiple turnovers.

FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS, FIRST START (last 10 years)
YearPlayer (pk)OppResultP YdTDIntF-FLSac
2010Sam Bradford (1)Ariz.L 13-17253130-02
2010Tim Tebow (25)at Oak.L 23-39138100-02
2011Cam Newton (1)at Ariz.L 21-28422210-04
2011Jake Locker (8)N.E.L 14-34229111-12
2011Blaine Gabbert (10)at Car.L 10-16139113-02
2011Christian Ponder (12)G.B.L 27-33219220-02
2012Andrew Luck (1)at Chi.L 21-41309131-13
2012Robert Griffin III (2)at N.O.W 40-32320201-02
2012Ryan Tannehill (8)at Hou.L 10-30219031-02
2012Brandon Weeden (22)Phil.L 16-17118042-02
2013EJ Manuel (16)N.E.L 21-23150200-00
2014Blake Bortles (3)at S.D.L 14-33254120-03
2014Johnny Manziel (22)Cin.L 0-3080020-03
2014Teddy Bridgewater (32)Atl.W 41-28317000-00
2015Jameis Winston (1)Tenn.L 14-42210222-04
2015Marcus Mariota (2)at T.B.W 42-14209400-02
2016Jared Goff (1)Mia.L 10-14134000-01
2016Carson Wentz (2)Clev.W 29-10278202-02
2016Paxton Lynch (26)Atl.L 16-23223112-06
2017Mitchell Trubisky (2)Min.L 17-20128111-11
2017Patrick Mahomes (10)at Den.W 27-24284010-02
2017Deshaun Watson (12)at Cin.W 13-9125000-03
2018Baker Mayfield (1)at Oak.L 42-45295222-22
2018Sam Darnold (3)at Det.W 48-17198210-02
2018Josh Allen (7)LACL 20-31245120-05
2018Josh Rosen (10)Sea.L 17-20180100-01
2018Lamar Jackson (32)Cin.W 24-21150011-03
2019Kyler Murray (1)Det.T 27-27308210-05
2019Daniel Jones (6)at T.B.W 32-31336202-25
2019Dwayne Haskins (15)at Buff.L 9-24144000-03
2020Joe Burrow (1)LACL 13-16193011-03
2020Justin Herbert (6)K.C.L 20-23311110-02

—Ian Allan