Tua Tagovailoa's NFL draft forecast: It's a waiting game until March (and beyond)

Yahoo Sports

Tua Tagovailoa entered Monday’s news conference with a fascinating array of options on how to handle his future.

Among the menu options Tagovailoa faced: entering the NFL draft, returning to Alabama to play football, returning to rehab and train — what might have been an interesting test case for future stars sitting out entire seasons before entering the draft — and the least-discussed (but most fascinating) option, staying for the time being and considering the supplemental draft held over the summer.

The drama was over fairly quickly, and it was probably the most predictable option: The Alabama quarterback said that he was ready to declare for the 2020 NFL draft.

And with that, the 2020 NFL draft landscape just changed dramatically.

“I’ve had a difficult time making this decision about my future,” he said. “I've had the advice and council of my coaches and family. With lots of prayers, thoughts and guidance, I have decided I’m entering the NFL draft."

Will Tua Tagovailoa work out before the NFL draft? (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Will Tua Tagovailoa work out before the NFL draft? (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Why Tua Tagovailoa went pro now

We laid out the pros and cons for Tagovailoa staying and going last week, and one bottom line we couldn’t escape was the fact that going back to school and getting hurt almost certainly would’ve kept him out of the first round, considering the surgeries on each ankle, a potentially nuclear hip and whatever the next injury would be.

The narrative would have changed from “Tank for Tua” to Tua going in the tank.

Coming out now allows him to put NFL teams on the spot without playing another snap of football. Sure, Tagovailoa spoke Monday of possibly holding a pro day workout, assuming he’s clear for something like that. If so, it might be one of the more meaningful pro days in recent history.

But avoiding any kind of contact before the draft means he’s likely avoiding any setback in his health. It’s hard to imagine Tagovailoa’s agents allowing him to any private workouts at the risk of further injury.

And assuming the 12-, 16- and 20-week post-surgery updates on the hip are positive, Tagovailoa’s camp can spew oodles of good news and sunshine at NFL teams, even as their own medical staffs will have final say on those matters.

Even with the loss-of-value indemnity policy Tagovailoa has secured, coming out now felt like the safer options. Short term, NFL teams can figure out when he might be cleared for contact and factor that into their 2020 draft strategy, even if long term, no one has an earthly clue whether he can avoid re-injuring the hip.

Where will Tua end up in NFL draft?

The hip most certainly clouds his ultimate projection for NFL teams, and it’s the biggest worry, even if it’s not the only question about him as an NFL prospect.

We’d have a Joe Burrow vs. Tagovailoa debate for QB1 honors had Tua stayed healthy.

Now? Don’t think so.

Even if Tagovailoa emerged with the cleanest medical projection possible, it’s not as if the risk is completely eliminated. LSU’s Burrow — who beat Bama and Tua in a thriller this season — is the massive favorite to be the first quarterback selected, possibly as the first overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals.

If Tagovailoa clears those medical worries as best he can, he strongly will be in play for being the second QB taken. Some NFL teams will rate Oregon’s Justin Herbert, the safer option, higher on their boards. Others might be more smitten with the fascinating alternatives: Utah State’s Jordan Love, Washington’s Jacob Eason and maybe others.

Still, it’s hard to imagine an ahead-of-schedule Tagovailoa slipping out of Round 1. It’s far easier to envision him going somewhere in the top 10 or 15 picks.

The Miami Dolphins — picking fifth, 18th and somewhere below 24th overall (the Houston Texans’ pick they own) — have to be big favorites to take a chance on him.

Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier has all the ammo to draft Tua Tagovailoa — if he wants to. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier has all the ammo to draft Tua Tagovailoa — if he wants to. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Other teams worth considering for his services: the Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders (who have two first-round picks) and Indianapolis Colts. And don’t rule out dark-horse teams such as the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, depending on how they approach the offseason.

Could the New England Patriots, picking 23rd, buck recent history and trade up into Tua Town? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate Bill Belichick 4-D chess move?

A less optimistic medical evaluation would change the matter entirely. Then you’re talking about whether Tagovailoa goes in Round 1.

We will get our first updates when Tagovailoa is inspected by an army of physicians and a battery of tests at the NFL scouting combine in late February. Then we’ll wait for Bama’s pro day (which is usually held in early March, about a week after the combine), or for a special workout set up for April if they want to play it safe before he performs for scouts. Believe us: They’ll come back for that one.

Tagovailoa also is likely to go to the combine re-check, usually held about two weeks before the draft. That’s earmarked for players with complicated medical situations (or combine red-flagged players) so NFL teams can get the latest information prior to setting final draft boards.

Is this the right call?

Who ultimately knows? But we think so.

Perhaps the funniest moment of Monday came when Tagovailoa was asked how many general managers he had met with to gather information about his draft status.

“Probably too ... many,” he said. At first “too” sounded like “two.” The “many” provided the amusing context. Laughs were had.

A follow-up question hit on the sense of nerves that were in the air. Tagovailoa looked reserved and slightly apprehensive about how the next few months will play out. And you can hardly blame him.

“I don't know how I feel right now,” Tagovailoa said, choosing his words slowly and carefully. “I’m content with the decision that I’ve made. It’s more so what’s next ... that’s what I’m thinking about [now]: what’s next with this process.”

It will be four months of varying reports, breathless speculation, good news mixed with bad, possibly followed by relief in the end. It likely will be as mentally grueling as his rehab is physically demanding. And that alone should give NFL teams a sense of what Tagovailoa is made of, perhaps just as much as those crucial MRI reports will.

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