Mar 5, 2020 - Sports

Tua Tagovailoa will be the first left-handed NFL quarterback since 2017

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When Tua Tagovailoa hears his name called during next month's NFL draft, he will officially become the NFL's first left-handed QB since Kellen Moore retired after the 2017 season.

The irony: Tua was actually born right-handed and still does most tasks righty (writing, eating, even swinging a golf club). But when he was a toddler, his left-handed father, Galu, put the ball in Tua's left hand so he wouldn't be the lone lefty in the family and somehow it stuck.

By the numbers: Lefties make up roughly 10% of the world's population, but they make up 0% of the NFL's current QB population — not just among starters. Of the 107 QBs currently signed to NFL rosters, all 107 are right-handed.

  • The last left-handed QB to be selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft (where Tua is projected to be picked) was Matt Leinart in 2006.
  • This isn't new: Though the NFL has had a defining lefty QB in each modern era — Ken Stabler, Boomer Esiason, Steve Young, Michael Vick — only 32 southpaws have played the position in the history of the league.

Between the lines: Left-handed QBs are somewhat of an inconvenience in the NFL, since receivers have to adjust to passes that "look and spin differently," coaches have to flip plays, and O-lines have to protect the opposite blindside.

  • Former QB David Carr: "All the plays are drawn right-handed. ... For left-handed QBs, it's hard for them to go into the lineup and feel comfortable. It's like handing them a pair of right-handed scissors."
  • Former WR Reggie Wayne: "Not only does the ball turn differently, but it affects the deep ball. [A right-handed QB], his pass turns inside; a lefty, it turns the other way. That's a lot harder of a catch, especially for guys who are not as used to seeing that."
  • Former GM Brian Xanders: "If [two QBs] are totally equal in everything, [teams will sign] the right-hander. Everyone is more used to it."

The bottom line: While the NFL's implicit bias against lefty QBs certainly isn't helping their cause, the biggest factor in the dearth of southpaw signal-callers is likely baseball, which covets strong-armed lefties and offers them the clearest path to the pros (27.2% of MLB pitchers are left-handed).

Go deeper: Football's underclassmen problem

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The failure of the NFL's Rooney Rule

Data: Pro Football Reference; Photos: Getty; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in an effort to diversify its sidelines. Technically, the rule has done what it promised — requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching jobs — but it's hard to find positive signs of its impact today.

By the numbers: 70.1% of NFL players are non-white, but only 12.5% of regular-season games in 2019 were coached by people of color. With the same four coaches in place for 2020 (Brian Flores, Ron Rivera, Anthony Lynn, Mike Tomlin), a similar number will be expected.

Go deeperArrowJan 16, 2020 - Sports

NFL players' union approves new labor agreement with 17-game season

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After months of negotiations, a narrow majority of players voted to approve a new 10-year labor deal that will shape the NFL over the next decade.

Why it matters: The new collective bargaining agreement will allow the NFL to expand its regular season from 16 to 17 games as early as 2021 and expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams starting this season.

Go deeperArrowMar 16, 2020 - Sports

Canceled pro days hurt fringe NFL hopefuls

Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

ESPN's Todd McShay released his updated mock draft yesterday, which got me thinking: how will the cancellation of pro days due to COVID-19 affect draft boards and the hundreds of fringe NFL hopefuls?

The state of play: Top prospects, like all the guys on McShay's newest rankings, will be mostly fine. But for players who either weren't invited to last month's combine or performed poorly while there, pro days offer one last chance to prove themselves.

Go deeperArrowApr 1, 2020 - Sports