How Tua Tagovailoa’s Decision Impacts Alabama and the NFL Draft.

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by Justyn Spanski
Phil Steele Publications Associate/PhilSteele.com Contributor

 

**NOTE**: Top 25 rankings reflect the College Football Playoff rankings. All PS #’s of players mentioned can be found in Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview. All statistics and power ratings can be found on PhilSteele.com as a subscriber to Phil Steele Plus. Subscribe to Phil Steele Plus right now for just $34.00 through Super Bowl LIV on the PhilSteele.com Store. Follow Phil Steele on Twitter to receive all of Phil’s insight and analysis for the College Football Playoff National Championship between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson and all other college football news @philsteele042.

 

In a crowded University of Alabama press conference room on Monday that was full of local and national media members, Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa announced along with head coach Nick Saban that he will forgo his senior year and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tagovailoa’s fractured hip injury suffered on November 16 at Mississippi State stunned and shook the college football world to its core. Alabama’s offense raced out to a big 35-7 first half lead and were looking to extend their margin heading into halftime when Tagovailoa was tackled hard to the grass after an incomplete pass. It was clear immediately that the Tide’s heartbeat and star player was in distress and extreme pain by the way which he was rolling on the field after the hit. It was later determined that evening that experts and fans worst fears were true when it was announced that Tagovailoa indeed suffered a fractured hip.

Arguably college football’s most exciting player, Tagovailoa was labeled by many draft experts as the consensus top signal caller and overall pick for the 2020 NFL Draft entering the 2019 season. However, the hip injury combined with the emergence of this year’s Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrow of SEC West rival LSU cast that projection into doubt.

There have been much debate and rumors on which direction the Hawai’i native would go following hip surgery given his rehab process and how Tagovailoa’s injury history could hurt his draft stock. There were strong cases for both choices, but Tagovailoa ultimately announced his intentions to enter the draft where he is likely to be one of the first three quarterbacks taken.

HOW IT IMPACTS THE DRAFT

 Given Joe Burrow’s emergence this year during his Heisman trophy campaign, the draft grades he has received from experts and scouts, and the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals own the No. 1 overall pick make it highly likely Burrow will be the top quarterback and player chosen by his southern Ohio native Bengals in the 2020 NFL Draft.

That spot belonged to Tagovailoa up until the hip injury, when the questions and doubts began to arise.

“Will he ever recover from a devastating injury like this?”

“Will he ever be able to run at an NFL, let alone college, speed?”

“Will he drop out of the first round?”

“Will a quarterback needy team take a risk on Tagovailoa despite the nature of his injury and injury history?”

“Will Tua Tagovailoa ever play a down of football again?”

For the past two months, questions and doubts like these have popped up and been discussed by experts, fans, coaches, and general managers.

Now that Tagovailoa’s intentions are clear, NFL teams who have their concerns will have the full opportunity to examine Tagovailoa’s hip at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. According to Tagovailoa and Alabama head athletic trainer Jeff Allen, the rehab process has gone very well, and it is expected that Tagovailoa will make a full recovery from the surgery. This should be taken as a positive for NFL teams and their medical staff’s given Allen is one of the most highly respected trainers in college football and Alabama boasts one of college football’s best athletic training staff’s.

As for how Tagovailoa’s announcement shakes up the draft and quarterback rankings itself, it does not change much since many draft experts presumed he would forgo his final year. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. currently has Tagovailoa at No. 3 on his 2020 NFL Draft Big Board behind Burrow at No. 2 and Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young at No. 1.

The consensus among Kiper and other draft experts is Burrow, Tagovailoa, and Oregon senior signal caller Justin Herbert are the top three quarterbacks available. Washington’s Jacob Eason and Utah State’s Jordan Love are two prospects who could creep up the QB rankings and team’s draft boards according to draft experts and scouts, but for now they remain slotted behind the top three in Burrow, Herbert, and Tagovailoa. Georgia junior Jake Fromm is projected as another top quarterback prospect for the draft, but he has not yet announced his intentions to enter the draft or return to Athens for his senior year.

The Cincinnati Bengals (No. 1), Miami Dolphins (No. 5), Los Angeles Chargers (No. 6), Carolina Panthers (No. 7), and Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 9) are team’s picking in the top ten who are likely or who potentially could take a quarterback given their current situation under center. While it is highly unlikely five QB’s will be taken in the top ten given the nature of team’s trading up or trading down and the wealth of talent at other positions in this year’s draft, it is a safe estimate to say we will see three taken given the high demand at the quarterback position in today’s NFL and the draft’s history at the position the last five years.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, only two QB’s were taken in the top ten. 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma was taken No. 1 by the Arizona Cardinals and in a somewhat shocking pick, Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who impressed scouts with his big arm and frame, was selected No. 6 by the New York Giants.

In 2018, four quarterbacks were taken in the top ten. 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield also of Oklahoma was selected in the top spot held by the Cleveland Browns. USC product Sam Darnold went two picks later to the New York Jets and Wyoming’s Josh Allen was taken No. 7 by the Buffalo Bills. UCLA quarterback and current Miami Dolphins backup Josh Rosen rounded out the top ten when the Arizona Cardinals took him with the tenth pick.

Clearly given the recent draft history, Tagovailoa and the rest of the top ranked quarterbacks have a good chance to be selected in the top ten. Tagovailoa has been projected anywhere from No. 2 overall (a quarterback needy team would trade up) to an early second round pick. This wide range of projections is heavily based on the hip injury and how teams evaluate his recovery and the health of his hip.

As he showcased in his three seasons at Alabama, Tagovailoa is one of the fiercest competitors in all of college football. He takes each game as a challenge to better himself and his teammates and he proved he could do that this year, in 2018, and the 2017 College Football Championship where he led the Tide to a national title in overtime thanks to his heroics coming off the bench for veteran Jalen Hurts. His arm strength is very good and his accuracy, especially on quick hitters and slant passes, is some of the best scouts and draft experts have seen.

Whichever team picks Tagovailoa will be getting a proven winner and tremendous talent, but there will still be questions surrounding Tagovailoa’s availability given his injury history and recovery from his fractured hip. If Tagovailoa can stay healthy and learn to take less hard, crushing hits at the pro level, he has a chance to be a special quarterback in the NFL.

HOW IT IMPACTS ALABAMA:

 If Tagovailoa would have returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior year, he would have most certainly been given back the starting quarterback job which he has held for the past two seasons. Redshirt sophomore PS#29 quarterback Mac Jones performed admirably filling in for Tagovailoa the final three games of the year against Western Carolina, Auburn, and Michigan in the Citrus Bowl including a start earlier in the year against Arkansas when Tagovailoa was recovering from ankle surgery. Jones finished the year with 1,503 passing yards and a respectable 14-3 TD-INT ratio while completing 68.8% of his passes.

However, if Tagovailoa would have returned it would have created a crowded quarterback room that would have included Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, PS#11 freshman and younger brother of Tua, Taulia Tagovailoa, PS#21 freshman Paul Tyson, and incoming freshman and five star recruit Bryce Young who is widely considered the top dual threat quarterback in the Class of 2020.

For Alabama, this is not an unusual situation for them given the way Nick Saban has been able to secure top recruiting classes regularly during his 13 years at Alabama. This situation in the quarterback room however would have been a little different than other positions or past years since Saban has never had such a rich and talented quarterback group.

 

Tagovailoa’s decision to enter the NFL Draft creates a less crowded QB room and helps give clarity to who the choices might be under center for the Tide in 2020. Whoever that man is in 2020 will be filling humungous shoes and will not have the abundance of weapons Tagovailoa has had the last two seasons since wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III announced recently their intentions to join their quarterback and other teammates in declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft.

2019 leading receiver DeVonta Smith, who caught 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns did announce Monday that he will return to Tuscaloosa for his senior year. Former PS#1 running back and leading rusher Najee Harris has not yet announced a decision on whether he will enter the draft or return for his final season, but regardless the Tide will be in good hands with Brian Robinson set to return along with PS#20 freshman running back Keilan Robinson and PS#1 Class of 2019 running back Trey Sanders who was expected to see carries this year before he went down in August training camp with a season ending foot injury. Electric wide receiver and returner Jaylen Waddle will be a junior in 2020 and he will look to fill the void left by Jeudy and Ruggs. Tight end Miller Forristall is expected to return as well in 2020 for his senior year.

Whether it is Jones, the younger Tagovailoa, Tyson, or Young under center in 2020, they will not be able to fully replace the void, presence, and legacy left by Tua Tagovailoa. It can simply be put like this: Tua Tagovailoa transcended the historic and prestigious quarterback position at Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa shattered records, earned numerous of honors including the 2018 Maxwell Player of the Year, and brought a national spotlight to the quarterback position at Alabama, which despite five national titles during Saban’s tenure, had been considered a weak point on a few of his teams. His impact with the Crimson Tide faithful and community was something many fans across the country had never seen before, evidenced by his outpouring of his support, prayers, and best wishes from fans after his hip injury against Mississippi State.

As Tua Tagovailoa stated in his Monday press conference, there will still be a Tagovailoa at Alabama in his younger brother, Taulia. Whether Taulia will win the starting job for 2020 and beyond is uncertain at this point. One big thing however is very apparent to Taulia, the Tagovailoa family, Nick Saban, Alabama players, and all who are college football fans and diehards: Tua Tagovailoa will forever be an Alabama and college football legend…and the entire country will miss watching his high arching deep throws, incredible escape ability, and electric touchdown passes on Saturday afternoons and evenings.