Tua Tagovailoa had a serious decision to make. Should he take his chances the NFL would look past his string of injuries and make him a first round pick in 2020? Or would he instead need to return to Alabama next season and again prove to everyone he still could play?
On Monday, Tagovailoa, likely assured he would be a high first-round selection, declared himself eligible for the 2020 Draft at a press conference held on campus.
“With lots of prayers, thoughts and guidance I have decided that I will enter the 2020 NFL draft,” Tagovailoa said. “It was a hard decision all around.”
So ends the college career of the most prolific quarterback in Alabama history. Thrust into the limelight as a freshman in the second half of the Crimson Tide’s National Championship Game against Georgia in 2018, Tagovailoa went on to set myriad program and SEC records before his junior season was ended by a hip injury on Nov. 16 at Mississippi State. He threw for 76 touchdowns with just nine interceptions over the last two seasons.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our football program here as anyone we’ve ever had,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Regardless of who takes him the NFL Draft – the Dolphins seem a likely landing spot with the fifth pick – it seems highly unlikely Tagovailoa will be able to play during the 2020 season.
“I’m optimistic I’ll be able to play this coming season,” Tagovailoa said at his press conference.
Alabama’s orthopedic surgeon Lyle Cain told ESPN that Tagovailoa wouldn’t be able to even begin throwing until the spring. Tagovailoa had emergency surgery Nov. 18. He spent six weeks without being able to do any weight-bearing but just recently began using crutches.
“I don’t think any of the doctors can tell the foreseeable future,” Tagovailoa said. “None of the guys rehabbing me can tell that. From what they’ve seen in New York, everything looks good. But you can’t really tell until the 3-month mark or the 4-month mark. That’s the gauge.”
What’s even more problematic is Tagovailoa has had surgery on both of his ankles in the last year and really still wasn’t 100 percent when he injured his hip while being tackled by two defenders.
“This isn’t something that I can rush,” Tagovailoa said earlier this season. “If I want to play to my full potential, I know I can’t just come back and play on it as if it were my ankle.”
To help his decision, Saban headed a fact-finding search with NFL front office personnel aimed at determining what Tagovailoa’s current draft status was. If Saban had received negative feedback from enough people, it’s almost certain he would have advised him to return to school. Tagovailoa and Saban had multiple conversations over the last week about it.
“It’s a unique situation,” Tagovailoa said Monday. “With my hip, a lot of the guys and general managers and owners that I’ve gotten to talk to have said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury as a knee injury almost, even though it’s not, in a way that, ‘Are we going to take a chance on this guy or would he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft?’ The biggest thing they want to see is that we can move and be back to how we were playing prior to the injury.”