If not for serious short and long-term questions about his ability to stay healthy, Tua Tagovailoa may have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Even with legitimate concerns about how his body will hold up at the NFL level, the former Alabama quarterback was still the No. 5 overall selection by the Miami Dolphins on Thursday evening.
Selecting a quarterback that had both ankles and his right hip surgically operated on during his college career is the type of move that a general manager bets his career on. For the Dolphins to do that gives you an idea of how highly teams think of Tagovailoa as a prospect.
Tagovailoa burst onto the national scene in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game when Nick Saban replaced Jalen Hurts with him at halftime of the game. Tagovailoa inherited a 13-0 deficit, completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts, three of which went for touchdowns. Tagovailoa ultimately led the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the National Championship Game.
The Hawaiian-born lefty carried that type of success into his sophomore season, where he ultimately finished runner-up to eventual 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray in the race for the Heisman Trophy. In 15 games, Tagovailoa racked up 3,966 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. He was picked off just six times.
Though he threw for nearly 300 yards in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Tagovailoa was outplayed by Trevor Lawrence in what proved to be a 44-16 blowout win for Clemson.
Still, Tagovailoa entered his junior season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the expected No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. While the 22-year-old balled out when he was on the field, he had to have tight-rope surgery on his right ankle in October, a procedure he had previously had on his left ankle. Then, in November, he dislocated his right up, ending his season and damaging his draft stock to some degree.
To this point, all indications are that Tagovailoa has progressed extremely well from his hip surgery, but there isn't exactly a long line of quarterbacks - or players at any position, for that matter - to undergo a major procedure on their hip before their NFL career and go on to have a lengthy NFL career. That doesn't mean Tagovailoa won't play 15-20 NFL seasons at a high caliber, but it would be impossible not the be uneasy about his medical history to some degree.
With that acknowledged, a healthy version of Tagovailoa possess elite potential at the NFL level. Here's everything you need to know about the new *** quarterback:
Measurables: 6'0, 217 pounds
2019 Stats: 2,840 passing yards; 33 touchdowns; three interceptions in nine games.
Accolades: 2017 College Football National Championship Offensive MVP; 2018 Sporting News Player of the Year; 2018 Maxwell Award winner; 2018 Walter Camp Award winner; 2018 SEC Offensive Player of the Year; 2018 First-Team All-SEC; 2018 Consensus All-American; 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up; 2019 Second-Team All-SEC.
Strengths: At Alabama, he was expected to win in every game he played in, and largely he did. There won't be any moment too big for him...He's had the experience of winning and losing in championship games, and having to move forward afterwards...Jordan Reid of The Draft Network cites Tagovailoa's touch, improvisation skills, pocket navigation and snappy release as positives.
Weaknesses: Tagovailoa already has a lengthy injury history. He's had both ankles surgically operated on and had surgery on his dislocated right hip in November. His injury history makes you wonder how his lower body will age, given that he's already had significant injuries. As he moves to the NFL level, you're also left to wonder what Tagovailoa will tweak about his game that allows him to avoid future injuries.
Player Comparison: Drew Brees
There are certain elements you see of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray when watching Tagovailoa, but Joe Marino of The Draft Network is among a slew who have compared him to future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, and that comparison seems apt beyond just his on-field playing style. Ahead of the 2006 season, Nick Saban and the Miami Dolphins flunked Brees' physical and elected not to sign him as a free-agent. He went to New Orleans and has cemented his place as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Ironically, not coaching Brees led to Saban returning to college and coaching Tagovailoa, who will hope to put similar injury concerns behind him.