Top Quarterbacks in NFL Draft: Tua Tagovailoa

Bill Huber

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa checks in at No. 2 in our ranking of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft.

“Tank for Tua.”

That, allegedly, was the Miami Dolphins’ game plan for the 2019 season. By being as bad as possible, the Dolphins would position themselves to get a generational talent at quarterback, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

“My teammates would tell me, ‘Hey, bro, look at this. Dolphins want you,’” Tagovailoa said at the Scouting Combine.

The legend of Tagovailoa was born in 2017, when he came off the bench in the national championship game and threw the game-winning touchdown to beat Georgia. It continued in 2018, when he beat out Jalen Hurts and threw 43 touchdowns vs. six interceptions. He was even better in 2019, with a 71.4 percent completion rate and 33 touchdowns vs. three interceptions. However, in a blowout win at Mississippi State on Nov. 16, he suffered a dislocated and fractured hip that ended his season and threatened his career.

“I think the lowest point was just at that moment when I got hurt,” he said. “That was the lowest point. I didn’t feel bad for myself when I was on the helicopter going to Birmingham, when I was in the hospital. The lowest point was when I got hurt.”

Tagovailoa’s surgery was a success, and his rehab has him on the fast track to be ready for the 2020 season – maybe with the Dolphins, who won enough games to own the fifth pick in the draft.

“The amount of support I had for my family first off was out of this world,” he said. “From the fans, the fan support was out of this world because it wasn’t just people from Alabama sending cards or messaging us. There were people from London, Singapore that were messaging us. I didn’t even know they watched football out there. It’s crazy the amount of support that we had.”

Here’s what else is crazy: the story behind Tagovailoa’s left-handedness. He is a right-hander in almost all walks of life. But his father, Galu, is left-handed and wanted his young son to be left-handed, too. So, at about age 5 or 6, he was taught to throw the ball left-handed. He writes with his right hand. Eats with his right hand. Swings a baseball bat and golf club with his right hand. Only when he’s throwing a football or shooting a basketball does he become a lefty.

While about 12 percent of the population is left-handed there wasn’t a single left-handed quarterback in the NFL the past two seasons.

“My dad was the only lefty in our family and he wanted me to be a lefty, as well, so he switched the way I threw,” Tagovailoa said. “I didn’t touch the ball with my right as far as throwing, just threw with my left. I don’t think I would be here if I was a righty.”

What we like

Assuming he’s healthy, there’s not much to dislike. While he doesn’t have a great long-ball arm, that’s hardly a prerequisite for NFL success. He throws with velocity, anticipation and incredible accuracy on the rest of his throws. According to Sports Info Solutions, his career on-target rate was 77 percent. He destroyed the blitz, wasn’t bothered by pressure and riddled man coverage and zones alike. Plus, Tagovailoa (6-0, 217) averaged 6.6 yards per rush. That is a move-the-chains skill-set.

What we don’t like

Tagovailoa’s injury history is hard to overlook. "I'm glad I don't have to make that call," said a scout from a team that does not need a quarterback. It’s not just the hip, and the uncharted territory of such a comeback at any position, let alone quarterback. He’s also had surgery on both of his ankles. He’s also short at 6-foot. While it’s true Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have had success as shorter quarterbacks, those comparisons are trotted out every year but few beat the odds.

On the field, he’ll have to adapt his style a bit. In college, he could try to be Superman and get away with it because of his superior skill-set. In the NFL, he won’t be able to do that all the time – a reality he’s acknowledged.

“If the play is not there, try not to make a bigger play than what it is,” he said. “Take what the defense gives me. If it’s not there, live to play another down.”