Best NFL Fits for Tua Tagovailoa After Entering 2020 Draft
While LSU's Joe Burrow and Ohio State's Chase Young still figure to be the first two selections in the draft, Tagovailoa's decision could trigger trades as quarterback-needy teams come up the board to secure his selection. This will make the Detroit Lions (No. 3 overall) and New York Giants (No. 4) particularly interesting selections since neither team needs a quarterback. One of them could hold an auction for the rights to select one of the most celebrated and talented college football quarterbacks to enter the draft in a while.
But first, teams must learn if Tagovailoa is healthy. He has suffered two ankle injuries and a hip fracture in the last two seasons. Will the rehab time spent on his hip allow his ankle issues to go away? Will there be any lingering effects from the hip injury that will limit his play?
It's too soon to know the answers to those questions, but I have been told by sources within the Alabama football program that they were receiving encouraging reports about the quarterback's ability to play in 2020.
Medical checks at the late February NFL Scouting Combine will be enormous for determining his stock. So too will the early April re-checks. Until then, no one can say for sure where his stock will land. What we do know is that before the injury, he was a candidate to be the first pick in the draft. If there is belief that he can return to who he was, the race to select him will be hot among these teams—all with a need at quarterback and all in position to potentially land the Alabama star.
The most likely team to select Tagovailoa might be the team we all projected would select him before the 2019 season began—the Miami Dolphins.
It was believed the Dolphins were "tanking for Tua" by trading away Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, but the team played well enough to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots while winning five games and earning the No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 draft.
Now they will be closely following the status of his hip as they make the most important injury call since the medical staff decided in 2006 that Drew Brees' shoulder wouldn't return to 100 percent, leading Nick Saban to trade for Daunte Culpepper.
Miami owns three selections in the first round—No. 5, No. 18 and No. 27, though the last depends on how far the Houston Texans go in the playoffs. That's enough ammunition to trade up to No. 3 or No. 4 overall. It's also possible they can sit tight and draft Tagovailoa at No. 5 overall.
The Dolphins have a unique situation on the roster with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen in place. Rosen might not be considered a viable short-term starter, but Fitzpatrick is. Selecting Tagovailoa at No. 5 and still owning two selections in Round 1 to bolster the offensive line and add a running back would make this roster much more attractive while allowing Fitzpatrick to start until he is ready.
Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers is a free agent. He's also 38 years old and has shown signs of regression. The Chargers have a need at quarterback even if Rivers returns for one more contract as there is no long-term solution on the roster. This could be the draft to solve the question for the future.
The Chargers own the No. 6 overall selection in the 2020 NFL draft. The question will be whether they need to jump the Dolphins to draft Tagovailoa. It would seem likely, which makes a draft-day trade up to No. 3 or No. 4 possible.
The Chargers need Tua. The team's home games feel more like away games as opposing fans take over the stadium. The Chargers need to sell tickets, and they need to drum up excitement for the move to a new stadium. Tagovailoa, a celebrated and talented quarterback with a national brand, can do that.
Oh, and he's also very good on the field. He might not be ready in Week 1, but either Rivers or backup Tyrod Taylor can handle starting until he is. General manager Tom Telesco just needs to be aggressive enough to trade up to secure him.
The Carolina Panthers are in a situation very much like the Chargers. A new owner is looking at a future without Cam Newton—be that in 2020 or 2021—and a roster that needs an infusion of excitement. A young franchise quarterback is needed.
But like the Chargers, the Panthers would have to trade up to select a healthy Tagovailoa. The only chance he falls to them at No. 7 overall is if the predraft medical reports push him down the board. If the Panthers were comfortable with his medicals, they'd need to call former GM Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants or the Detroit Lions to move up.
The Panthers are an intriguing team for Tagovailoa. There's talent in Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore. The offensive line has building blocks. The Panthers also own seven selections in this draft and have a very aggressive owner who might be willing to make a splash move to jump-start the team's rebuild.
Without a head coach (as of this writing), it's impossible to think about scheme fit, but Tagovailoa's accuracy and decision-making are good enough to believe he's a fit no matter what type of offense comes to town.
When you talk to NFL scouts about comparisons for Tua Tagovailoa, you often hear Steve Young, a left-handed Drew Brees or Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts, owners of pick No. 13 overall, would be an ideal fit for the 'Bama quarterback if he's on the board.
Head coach Frank Reich doesn't need an air-it-out quarterback in his scheme, which makes Tagovailoa's one weakness—average arm strength—less of an issue. The Colts also have speed at wide receiver with T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, which would perfectly fit the touch, timing and anticipation throws we've seen him excel at in college.
With pick No. 13, it might seem like the Colts can't possibly get a healthy Tagovailoa that far down the board, but remember they also own No. 34 overall (acquired from the Redskins) and No. 44 overall. That's a good start on enough draft capital to move up the board to land him if GM Chris Ballard is ready to draft a quarterback.
There is also the fact that Jacoby Brissett is on the roster at an affordable salary of $21.4 million next season. Brissett, who will be a free agent after 2020, allows the Colts to let Tagovailoa rehab and not rush him onto the field before unleashing him in 2021.
Las Vegas Raiders
Mike Mayock has a quarterback in Derek Carr, but are the Raiders happy with him as the long-term option? There was considerable speculation before the 2019 NFL draft that Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden would draft a passer; maybe that happens this offseason.
The Raiders currently sit at Nos. 12 and 19 overall with a move to Las Vegas pending. Packaging those picks to move up is possible. So is sitting tight and hoping Tagovailoa falls to No. 12 overall. The excitement of bringing him to Las Vegas is something ownership, the front office and the coaching staff should all agree would boost ticket sales. It would also give the team a young quarterback with a five-year contract who Gruden can groom and mold.
The Raiders have a very good offensive line. They have a defense full of young stars. They have weapons at running back, tight end and depth at receiver. If there's a sense internally that they're a Super Bowl contender with a new quarterback, the Raiders have the assets to land Tagovailoa.
New England Patriots
If Tom Brady is out, could Tua be in?
The New England Patriots have a decision to make at quarterback for the first time in 20 seasons. Brady is a free agent, and the team cannot use the franchise tag on him. There isn't a Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett waiting in the wings to take over either.
The Patriots are selecting at No. 23 overall, which is likely too late to get Tagovailoa, but Bill Belichick could decide it's time to find a long-term answer at the position and move up the board. The Patriots are projected to receive two third-round compensatory selections, which would only add assets to trade up.
It almost seems too perfect—Brady moves on to another team while Tagovailoa comes in—but also consider this: Brady stays and the rookie comes in to work under him while he rehabs, and then he takes over in 2021.
New Orleans Saints
There are a lot of fits that make sense for Tagovailoa's style of play, but none better than the New Orleans Saints. Many scouts already compare the Alabama quarterback to a left-handed Drew Brees. Going to the Saints, where he could rehab for his rookie season and then replace the soon-to-be 41-year-old Brees, is a match made in heaven.
That said, it's very unlikely Tagovailoa falls to No. 24 overall in the 2020 class. We have seen the Saints aggressively trade up in the past (Marcus Davenport in 2018), but the team owns only five selections in the upcoming draft. Would Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton mortgage the future to ensure that life after Brees flows smoothly in the event that free agent Teddy Bridgewater doesn't return to the team?
On the field, the Saints are a perfect fit. Off the field, they are too as Brees' return would allow Tagovailoa to rehab. It's just a matter of whether the team is willing to trade enough to move up and land him.