When the quarterbacks took the field for drills Thursday night at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, one likely first-round pick sat and watched because he's earned that luxury as the seemingly inevitable No. 1 overall pick. Another likely first-rounder sat and watched because he's not yet healthy enough to perform. And a third likely first-round selection put on a show in prime time.
Without any further knowledge, you'd think the second guy—Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa—would be the combine's biggest loser at that position. But while Joe Burrow's stock can't get any higher and Justin Herbert undoubtedly boosted his own resume with a performance that garnered rave reviews across the board, Tagovailoa might actually have been the biggest winner among signal-callers.
"Following two days of medical testing," NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted Wednesday, "... Tagovailoa received overwhelmingly positive reports on his dislocated hip from teams who examined him, sources say. The MRIs were as clean as hoped, fracture is healed, there is no loss of blood flow."
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
Following two days of medical testing, #Bama QB Tua Tagovailoa received overwhelmingly positive reports on his dislocated hip from teams who examined him, sources say. The MRIs were as clean as hoped, fracture is healed, there is no loss of blood flow. One source: “Looked great."
That's all that matters.
Tagovailoa's tape speaks for itself. His resume speaks for itself. His skill set screams for itself. After throwing 87 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions over three years in the SEC, that conference's 2018 Offensive Player of the Year didn't have to prove himself on the field in Indy.
The proof is in the 684 passes he threw and the 107 rushes he recorded in his three years with the Crimson Tide.
We already know Tua is a deadly accurate passer with a remarkably quick release. We already know he's a leader with tremendous character and that he excels under pressure. It's clear as air that he possesses the athleticism, the intelligence and the poise to become a superstar at the professional level and that his arm strength won't impede his path to NFL success.
Few will argue otherwise.
Some, however, might argue the only thing that could prevent the 21-year-old from becoming a special NFL player is his durability.
The significant hip injury that abruptly ended his college career and continues to keep him off the field is obviously of chief concern. It was described to CBS Sports' Josh Edwards by one doctor as "one of the few true orthopedic emergencies." Medical personnel had to reset the dislocated hip at the stadium, Tagovailoa had to be taken by helicopter to a Birmingham hospital, and within 72 hours, he underwent surgery.
Beyond that, he missed a game in 2019 as the result of a right ankle injury, another ankle injury forced him to leave the 2018 SEC Championship Game, he missed snaps earlier that season due to a quad injury, and he also played and practiced through a broken finger and a knee injury in 2018.
You're allowed to wonder if Tagovailoa is injury-prone, and nobody would fault you for being concerned about the hip.
But beyond that, red flags don't exist here. Do you know how freakin' good you have to be as a prospect to be considered a potential top-three pick despite the fact that you might spend your rookie season recovering from surgery?
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. thinks that "if the medical staff clears him," the Washington Redskins should take Tua instead of Ohio State edge-rusher Chase Young at No. 2 overall. Meanwhile, Todd McShay said on ESPN Thursday that, if promised 10 years of health for both, he'd take Tagovailoa over Burrow.
That's why it's so important that he reportedly checked out so well in Indy.
He knows it.
"My main goal is not to win the 40, not to win the bench press, but to win my medical," Tagovailoa told NFL Network in January. "I'm going to go over there looking to win my medical and then go in and interview with the teams. That's pretty much what I'm going to do. And then hopefully there's a pro day down the line, either late March or early April."
A couple of weeks after he made those comments, Rapoport reported that the results of Tua's three-month CT scan were "as positive as possible." That indicates progress. And now, Dane Brugler of The Athletic has reported that a personal pro day will indeed take place April 9, with Tua planning "to do everything."
That'd be more progress than most expected in a five-month span, and it would further trump the encouraging exploits of his fellow quarterback prospects.
That might not be fair. But the reality is the combine, pro days and team visits have their limitations, and the tape is always the first barometer. Herbert shined in combine drills, but so did Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow. It's less important that Herbert looked good than it is that Tua apparently got "overwhelmingly positive" medical results.
When you're as good as Tua Tagovailoa, you can win the first-ever prime-time combine without throwing a pass.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.