Before he injured his hip on Nov. 16, there was no doubt Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow were top two quarterback prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. And depending on who you talked to, Tagovailoa might have even been the choice.
That assessment is still in play. But where Tagovailoa will be selected is now a matter for debate because no one can be quite sure how well he’s recovered from his surgery.
It seems clear Burrow will be the No. 1 overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, but Tagovailoa’s destination is going to be a secret until all the machinations have played out leading to the first 10 picks.
For now, all the NFL can do is wait for Tagovailoa to work out and hope he’s truthful when updating his situation, which is what the QB did on Tuesday from the league’s combine in Indianapolis.
“It’s been a process,” Tagovailoa told reporters “We went to the hospital for medical checks yesterday at 10 in the morning and I was the last person to leave. I got back about 7:49 last night, so right in time for the informal and formal (team) interviews.”
Tagovailoa is expecting to be cleared for football activities on March 9. So while he won’t be working out in Indianapolis, he will hold a pro day workout on April 9, two weeks before the draft. That’s when NFL personnel will have their chance to evaluate him.
“I’m hoping to do everything. I don’t think there’s much to wait on,” Tagovailoa said. “Once March 9 hits, (I hope to be cleared) to go out there, run, drop back, work on a lot of those things again.”
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said Tagovailoa will be evaluated in a number of different ways.
“I think the quarterback position is the hardest position to play in any sport,” Mayock told The Associated Press. “There are a hundred things you can point to, but the traits I think you need are leadership, accuracy and pocket awareness. They need to be a leader of men and when you get in the huddle you have to be an alpha male.”
Since his injury, Tagovailoa has been plotting his way back into the good graces of the NFL. While the injury certainly wasn’t his fault, he understands sympathy isn’t going to get him the chance he wants to prove he can quarterback an NFL team.
“I think the lowest point was just at that moment when I got hurt,” Tagovailoa said. “I didn’t feel bad for myself when I was on the helicopter going to Birmingham, when I was in the hospital. The lowest point was when I got hurt.”
At 6-foot, 217-pounds, Tagovailoa is drawing comparisons to Russell Wilson because of his ability to escape the pocket and use his cannon arm to make accurate throws.
“He’s the best pure thrower in the draft,” NFL analyst Louis Riddick said on ESPN. “He has tremendous movement in the pocket and the ability to throw on the run. The one thing he needs to make sure of is that he’s not holding the ball for too long and taking unnecessary shots. But other than that, Tua is the real deal. …This is a guy who was born to play quarterback. All things being equal, if he had come into the this draft process clean medically, I would have had him as No. 1 (overall).”
To get ready for the draft, he’s been training with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer and Ken Whisenhunt, the former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator.
After replacing Jalen Hurts and leading Alabama to the national championship as a freshman, Tagovailoa ascended as a sophomore in 2018. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year recipient and the SEC offensive player of the year after setting single-season school records for yards passing (3,966) and TD passes (43).
He was having another spectacular season in 2019 before he dislocated and fractured his hip being tackled against Mississippi State. He was leading the FBS with a passer efficiency rating of 206.93.
“Mentally it’s been a grind, but it’s not something that’s new to me,” Tagovailoa said about his injuries. “I’ve dealt with a hand injury, my left ankle, my right ankle. So I sort of knew what to expect going through this process, but it’s definitely been a grind.”
There are a number of teams in need of a player like Tagovailoa and its expected some will want to trade up and get the third or fourth picks, which currently belong to the Detroit Lions and New York Giants. Giants GM Dave Gettleman said Tuesday his team “was open for business” in regard to listening to offers for his pick.
The Miami Dolphins are considered one of the teams with major interest in Tagovailoa. They have three first-round draft picks – including the fifth overall – and 14 overall choices with which to bargain.
“I don’t think you rule out anything right,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told reporters Tuesday at the combine. “I think we’re wide open to everything.”
The Dolphins also hold the 18th and 26th picks in the first round and have two second-round choices. It’s easy to see how they might easily put together a package that could entice the Lions or Giants into a trade.
“I think history shows with the things we’ve done and the picks we’ve acquired, and the money, that we feel good about our standing,” Grier said, “and the flexibility to move up and down or stand pat.”