NFL draft's biggest question: Who has the guts to gamble on Tua Tagovailoa?

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·4 min read

From second-pick Washington onward, the 2020 NFL draft is a game of chicken, a game of answering one question.

How much guts do you have?

If Tua Tagovailoa hadn’t busted his hip against Mississippi State on Nov. 16, this week’s draft would have boiled down to a debate over which SEC West quarterback should go first overall — Alabama’s Tagovailoa or LSU’s Joe Burrow?

Burrow just put together one of the greatest seasons in college football history — 76.3 percent completion rate, 60 touchdowns passing (five more rushing), just six interceptions, Heisman Trophy, national title.

Yet Tagovailoa’s career numbers, stretching over three seasons, are almost equally impressive — 69.3 completion percentage, 87 touchdowns, 11 picks, similar mobility and winning ways. He’s won a national title as well.

Joe and Tua. Tua and Joe.

One. Two.

A couple of elite prospects at the most important position in football — particularly while they are on a salary cap-friendly rookie contract.

Tagovailoa, however, suffered a dislocated right hip with a posterior acetabular wall fracture that day when he found himself underneath a couple of Mississippi State pass rushers. He didn’t play another snap in college. It was his fifth injury while in Tuscaloosa, joining a broken left index finger, a sprained right knee and sprains of both ankles.

Doctors say he’s fine. Specialists say he’s fine. Rehab is said to have gone fine. All signs point to him already recovering. Video footage of workouts and pro days show no obvious signs he is any worse for wear.

Yet, of course, due to the coronavirus, teams haven’t been able to have their own doctors run him through individual examinations. So uncertainty remains. Understandably.

As such, this draft is Burrow (to Cincinnati at No. 1) and then a series of gut checks until someone takes the 22-year-old from Hawaii.

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide leaves the field following warmups prior to the Vrbo Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines at Camping World Stadium on January 1, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. Alabama defeated Michigan 35-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
If not for an injury to his hip, Tua Tagovailoa would be in the discussion for the top pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Do you have the guts to grab perhaps the best talent at the biggest position in the draft even with the unusual circumstances and unsettled health concerns? Or do you have the guts to pass on what very well could be the NFL’s next superstar quarterback because you don’t trust Tua will ever be Tua again?

Either choice could be genius. Either choice could be a disaster. Either choice could wind up in a “30 for 30” someday, mocked or celebrated for all time.

As NFL drafts go, this is about as exciting as it gets. One player, differing opinions that can be backed up now … and backed up later after it all plays out.

(And yes, we know that “exciting” and “NFL draft” is a relative equation, but in a global pandemic, this is also about as exciting as sports get. So just go with it.)

Washington, picking second, could go with pass rusher Chase Young and stick with young QB Dwayne Haskins, who had an up-and-down (to put it kindly) rookie season. Or it can take Tagovailoa.

Detroit, picking third, could grab cornerback Jeff Okudah and ride franchise QB Matthew Stafford. Or it can take Tagovailoa, give him time to learn and fully heal and if they have a great offer, deal Stafford after the season for a haul of picks and significant salary-cap relief and reboot the entire franchise.

The New York Giants already have a quarterback they like in rookie Daniel Jones, but they can dangle this pick to anyone willing to move up for Tagovailoa.

Miami, at five and in need of a QB, could grab Tagovailoa, or go the “healthier” route with Oregon’s Justin Herbert and hope this doesn’t look historically moronic in a few years.

The Los Angeles Chargers, also in need of a QB, could select Tagovailoa and use a potential dynamic star in their quest to attract fans, or go the supposedly safe route.

On and on.

Are you sure he can be healthy and return to the form that would have made him challenge for the top spot, meaning your franchise just stole him? Or are you sure that he won’t and are secure in passing on damaged goods, a move that will make you look very smart in the future?

Both take guts, courage, conviction.

Who’s got it, and on which side, is the question of this draft.

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