It was more than just a catchy headline to general managers, scouts and coaches with a need at quarterback. "Tank for Tua" was a full-blown plan as many teams surveyed the landscape of the college football quarterback crop before the 2019 regular season began.
As scouts and GMs met over the summer to discuss the upcoming draft class, only one quarterback had near-consensus Round 1 grades: Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa.
"In our room, he was the only '1' that was discussed at quarterback," a veteran AFC scout said. "[Justin Herbert] had some love in our meetings, but back then it was just Tua. He was it."
Time has passed, and what one scout called "wild cards" have risen at the position. Joe Burrow, Jordan Love and Jalen Hurts are all seeing serious consideration as franchise-level quarterbacks, but Alabama's junior Heisman candidate remained the guy. At least until an ankle injury put Tagovailoa on the shelf against Tennessee and leaves the rest of his season and his draft stock hanging in the balance.
What does this mean for a player who has now suffered injuries in both of his starting seasons?
"My only concern would be if it bothers him or affects him while he plays," a trusted quarterback evaluator employed by an AFC team said. "I could see his accuracy declining if he always has a foot/ankle [injury], but it doesn't bother me a ton based on what I've seen. I would look hard at a long-term fix to the ankle, though."
This is the feedback from most in the scouting community this week: caution, while still highlighting that Tagovailoa is the undisputed top quarterback on their boards.
Could this allow for a move by Herbert, Burrow or Love to the QB1 throne?
"I just don't see it," the AFC scout said. "Tua wins on the field, and he wins you over off it. He's exactly what we want at the position."
There's time for opinions to change—few thought Kyler Murray would even play football this time last year—but as the regular season heads into the final month, Tua is still king of the quarterback class.
The Scout's Report
—Speaking of QBs, scouts are buzzing about the connection between the Los Angeles Chargers and the 2020 quarterback class.
The Chargers season is not going well (2-5), and they may end up with a top-10 selection. With 37-year-old Philip Rivers set to hit free agency after this year, the Chargers are seriously looking at a change at quarterback, either now or in the very near future.
Could Burrow be the answer? Multiple scouts reached out this week to B/R to make that connection.
—The Michigan offense hasn't performed as expected this season, but scouts are still high on wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. One director of scouting told me this week he believes the talented junior will test well enough to be a Round 1 pick, no matter his production or the fact that drops have crept into his stat sheet the past few weeks.
—Two teams with obvious needs at wide receiver—the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles—are said to be looking to the offseason and not focused on addressing the position through trades, according to sources familiar with both front offices' plans. A lot can still change with the trade deadline this Tuesday, but the current thinking is those clubs will stand pat.
—Will Trent Williams be moved? This is a question many have asked—and I've been asked myself often in the last month—but the general feeling in talking to league sources is the Washington Redskins do not plan to trade the All-Pro tackle despite his holdout. One source whose team could use offensive line help told me the Redskins are flat-out denying to talk about compensation for Williams.
The Big Board
1. Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
4. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
5. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
6. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
7. A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
8. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
9. Grant Delpit, S, LSU
10. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
11. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
12. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
13. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
14. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
15. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
16. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
17. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
18. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
19. Marvin Wilson, DL, FSU
20. Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
21. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
22. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
23. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
24. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
25. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
26. Tyler Biadasz, OC, Wisconsin
27. Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
28. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
29. Alex Leatherwood, OC, Alabama
30. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
31. Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
32. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
6. Game of the Week
This game might have been Wisconsin against Ohio State until the Badgers' upset loss to Illinois last week. Now the focus pivots to a huge test in the SEC with major NFL draft implications.
Burrow is the hottest player on my big board, and he'll have a ton of NFL-caliber defenders in his face this weekend against Auburn, where defensive linemen Nick Coe and Derrick Brown are particularly talented.
Burrow answered many questions when performing exceptionally well against Florida earlier this season. Another big day against an SEC defense will only solidify his draft stock.
5. Stock Down
A two-game suspension isn't helping junior receiver Jeff Thomas' draft stock.
The University of Miami product has talent, and he's shown good production when on the field, but the best ability is availability, and he's not there right now. Thomas, who agents say is a lock to declare after this season, is undersized at 5'10" and 180 pounds but has been a playmaker for the Hurricanes in the past.
Teams will have to dig deep on his off-field issues and the reason for his suspension since the university just cited a "team rules violation."
4. Stock Up
South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw has been unstoppable this season, even as the Gamecocks perform inconsistently on a weekly basis. NFL teams are taking notice, and his movement on my big board is among the most substantial so far this season.
Kinlaw, now ranked No. 20 overall, is dominating with first-step quickness and a mean streak. As seen in the upset win over Georgia, he's able to completely disrupt the offensive line while being a menace to quarterbacks and the run game with his penetration skills.
3. Sleeper of the Week
UCLA running back Joshua Kelley showed up big last week with 176 yards on 18 carries against Stanford. The 5'11", 219-pound back rushed for over 1,200 yards last season and has picked up right where he left off.
The 2020 running back class is loaded, but Kelley has the profile of a solid Day 3 pickup who can work his way into a lineup. A big Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine could boost that stock, and he's one to watch over the rest of the draft process.
2. Tailgate Tour
Our Stick to Football tailgate tour was recently announced. If you get a chance to come out, these tailgates are free fan events with no ticket to the game required:
Oct. 27 — Rams vs. Bengals; O'Neill's Irish Pub & Bar (Carnaby Street, London)
Nov. 9 — LSU at Alabama; The Quad (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
Nov. 23 — Cal at Stanford (Palo Alto, California)
1. Stick to Football is back in-house this week, with our podcast episodes now also available on YouTube as a video series. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.