Nick Saban on Tua Tagovailoa: 'Don't make the Same Mistake We Made in Miami' with Drew Brees

The Alabama head football coach discussed with ESPN's College GameDay crew on Thursday afternoon
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Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a message for teams thinking about passing on former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa due to his injury history: Don't. 

"I just hope teams don't make the same mistake that we made at Miami when we didn't take Drew Brees because we thought he was hurt," Saban said. "And look what he's done since then."

Saban made the comment during an interview with College GameDay on ESPN ahead of Thursday night's NFL draft.

Over the past week-plus, uncertainty surrounding Tagovailoa's durability at the pro level has come into question. To that end, Saban's message was for NFL teams to learn from Miami's mistake.

Saban wanted to sign Brees as a free agent, but was overruled by others in the Dolphins organization. It might have been the key moment that led to his eventually leaving for Alabama in 2007. 

Rece Davis, the host of ESPN's College GameDay, led off the questions by asking Saban about the concerns surrounding quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his injury history.

"I think Tua needs to learn a little bit about self-preservation," Saban said. "I think most of his injuries here occurred after he could have gotten rid of the ball. He didn't have to take the hit that he took and I think that he's a great competitor and he's always trying to make the plays.

"You don't want to take that competitive spirit away but I do think that there's a time when he needs to get rid of the ball so that he doesn't get hit."

When looking at Tagovailoa's injury history, Saban's point stands firm. The majority of Tagovailoa's injuries — including the season-ending hip injury that he suffered against Mississippi State — all happened when he was either scrambling outside the pocket to make a play or holding onto the ball for an extended period behind the line.

Saban also remarked on the impact that Tagovailoa has had not just on the football program, but on the entire Crimson Tide fan base as a whole.

"I think Tua is a great player," Saban said. "He's a great leader. He'd be a wonderful face of any organization and any community. If you took all the great players that we've had here and said 'we're going to have a popularity contest ' who would win? Based on our fans and everyone that knows Tua, he would probably win hands-down.

"He's that popular."

As for Brees, Saban was already familiar with him, and not in a favorable way. Brees had torched Saban a couple of times at the collegiate level. 

"I remember Drew Brees when he was at Purdue and I was the coach at Michigan State," Saban said. "He was a killer. Joe Montana was a killer that way. Now they weren't the biggest guys in the world — they didn't have the strongest arm — but they certainly could execute and do things exactly like the quarterback needed to do to distribute the ball to their players so that they could make great plays.

"I think the guy we have — Tua — he does that really well too and I hope somebody doesn't overlook that."

In addition to Tagovailoa, Saban also talked about former Crimson Tide wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, who are both expected to be drafted in tonight's first round.

Inquired by ESPN's Desmond Howard, Saban spoke at-length about the positives that the two wide receivers can bring to the next level. The Crimson Tide coach spoke first on Jeudy.

"Jerry's got a great ability and a knack to drop his weight and come out of a break about as well as anybody I've ever seen at the position," Saban said. "Some guys that can do that aren't real fast. Jerry's real fast, too. He's got really good hands, makes a very instinctive player."

Similar to Tagovailoa, concerns surrounding Jeudy and a knee injury that he suffered in 2018 have come to light, which has some scouts starting to question his durability.

Saban was sure to put those rumors to rest.

"I don't know where this stuff is coming up about his knee that I hear people talking about," Saban said. "He's never missed anything around here because of a knee. He practiced every day for the bowl game and he plays in a bowl game when he probably didn't even have to so this guy's really good."

After stating his case for Jeudy, Saban moved on to talking up Ruggs, who is highly regarded as one of the fastest players in this year's draft class.

"Henry Ruggs is a speed receiver," Saban said. This guy's got tremendous vertical speed. He's very explosive, he's got great hands. He's really a tough guy, he's a great special teams player. I mean, he's the first guy we'd put in a game to be a gunner on punt. He makes a lot of big plays on vertical routes down the field.

"This guy's going to be an outstanding pro player. I think both these guys will be."

Since 2010, 28 Alabama players have been drafted in the first round. Davis noted that when Tagovailoa goes in the first round tonight, Saban will be the first coach to have a player drafted in the first round at every position excluding specialists.

Saban said that he finds the opportunity to see his players move on the NFL is gratifying.

"It always make me extremely proud and extremely happy for them and their family when our guys have that dream come true which is what happens in the draft," Saban said. "You know in the texts that I send everybody when I say 'good luck tonight in the draft' I also say 'this is just the starting point. Don't be so focused on where you get picked. Be focused on what kind of career you have and what you need to do to have a great career.

"I hope most of our players have done that because our guys have done extremely well in the league."

Saban later clarified that he does not send texts personally, but instead has one of his staffers take care of the complicated process for him.

The first round of the 2020 NFL Draft starts Thursday night at 7 p.m. CT (ESPN).