By all reports, Tua Tagovailoa is healthy. This is the most important thing to know about the former Alabama quarterback right now, as concerns about a hip injury have followed him throughout the draft process. If it weren’t for those questions, there is no way Tagovailoa would have fallen even four picks to the Dolphins, who selected the left-handed passer with the no. 5 overall pick in Thursday’s NFL draft. Miami will now begin its much-needed rebuild with a player who has arguably the highest ceiling of any prospect in the draft—but also one giant red flag that will have many keeping an eye on him in the lead-up to the season.
Let’s start with what we know. Tua dislocated his hip—with a fracture to the posterior wall—in November, which brought his college career to an immediate end and required surgery. He’s also been a bit injury-prone overall, suffering sprains to both his ankles and a broken index finger while at Alabama. Throughout the spring, NFL teams questioned his immediate injury status, and whether he has the durability to hold up long term.
Tagovailoa was able to meet with teams at the NFL combine in February, and recent reports state that Dolphins trainers have been comfortable with his medical status for months. At the beginning of April, teams were barred from meeting with players due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tagovailoa was cleared to play by his medical team and underwent a medical recheck facilitated by the combine. His representatives said the results—which were shared with all 32 teams—were “overwhelmingly positive,” and Tagovailoa said he was “100 percent” healthy. Later in April, Tagovailoa partook in a workout with Trent Dilfer, which he passed with flying colors. And on Thursday, a report surfaced saying Tagovailoa’s X-rays were “pristine.”
If those reports are true, Tua has the potential to be a franchise-changing passer. He’s the most efficient quarterback in college football history, owning the career passer rating record by a stunning 18 points. He also holds the career adjusted yards per attempt record by a whopping 1.6 yards.
Tua had basically one bad game in his entire career: the SEC championship against Georgia in 2018. He completed just 10-of-25 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions before he had to leave the game with an ankle injury. The rest of his game log is nearly flawless, with performances that range from decent to great to out of this world. He’s one of the best college football players ever, despite his short career.
On tape, Tagovailoa demonstrates preternatural accuracy, top-tier decision-making, and athletic playmaking ability. Just about his only real flaw as a prospect—other than the injuries—is a lack of top-end arm strength. His passes tend to arc more than most top QB prospects when he throws too far downfield. Some evaluators surely also knocked him for playing with an unbelievable amount of talent surrounding him, but it’s not like Tagovailoa was some scrub in high school. He was a five-star recruit and the top dual-threat QB in the country when he came to Bama in 2017. Even if he was surrounded by great players, there is virtually no reason to not believe in Tua’s individual greatness.
In Miami, though, Tagovailoa will not be surrounded by great players. The Dolphins were close to being the worst team in the NFL last year, and before a run of late wins, they were expected to have the no. 1 overall pick in the draft. The Dolphins had by far the worst pass-blocking offensive line last season, per Pro Football Focus, which is a dicey proposition for any rookie, but especially for Tagovailoa. The receiving corps is similarly bare outside of DeVante Parker, who finally broke out in his fifth season, posting 1,202 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team’s 37-year-old quarterback, led the squad in rushing last year, with 243 yards on the ground. And just to top it off: The 2019 Dolphins also had the league’s worst defensive DVOA.
Miami is in full-blown rebuild mode. The team also owns the 18th and 26th overall picks in the draft after sending Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers and Laremy Tunsil to the Texans. Everyone knows that the Dolphins came into 2020 needing a full-scale, rip-it-down-to-the-studs remodel. If anyone can turn this team around, though, it’s Tua.