In a multi-billion dollar industry like college football, it’s rare for one person to grab the headlines so completely. Especially during a quiet time before the College Football National Championship. Even more so if that person is a student-athlete. Yet, Tua Tagovailoa’s decision to stay in college or leave for the 2020 NFL Draft captured the attention of the football world. Tua quarterbacked the Crimson Tide to a national championship as a freshman. He followed that up by winning the starting quarterback job from previous starter Jalen Hurts. In 2020, Tua will embark on a new journey to conquer the NFL.

In three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Tua passed for 7,442 yards, completing 69.2% of his passes, and throwing 87 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. It’s not just his arm that has scouts buzzing about his pro potential, though. Tagovailoa’s mobility doesn’t pop out on the stat sheet based on his 340 rushing yards. His nine rushing TDs do indicate his ability to navigate traffic in the red zone — within the 20-yard line of the opposition’s endzone. Tua doesn’t fall under the label of being a scrambler, nor is he confined to the pocket as a passer. Instead, the Hawaian signal-caller is the ideal blend of mobile passer that the NFL covets. With the rise of stars such Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the ability to use your legs to extend plays has become more than just a highlight reel clip. 

There’s just one somewhat significant hurdle Tua needs to overcome.

Tua’s health is up in the air in 2020 after suffering a hip injury on a tackle against Mississippi State this past November. The early prognosis favors a full recovery according to the QB during his draft declaration announcement. That positive news now has NFL teams salivating at the prospects of a healthy Tua in the foreseeable future. Not so fast. Because when it comes to draft season, any minor anomaly can be blown out of proportion. Tagovailoa did suffer a significant injury — along with a broken nose — that has evaluators concerned that he wouldn’t be able to return to form. The last time some suffered a hip injury similar to that of Tua’s was Bo Jackson. That being said, with the leaps made in modern medicine, the similarity of the two injuries is low. 

It’s rare for a blue-chip prospect to declare for the NFL draft after suffering such a serious injury. Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford declared for the draft after a junior season in which he played just three games before undergoing a season-ending surgery on his shoulder. Unable to throw leading up to the draft, Bradford had to win teams over with film from early in his college career and nail the interview process. It seemed to have worked, as the St. Louis Rams chose Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Former University of Miami running back Willis McGahee tore his ACL, PCL and MCL in his final college game before the draft. The injury didn’t deter the Buffalo Bills from selecting him in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Tua won’t be heavily scrutinized for missing on-field work prior to April. In all likelihood, interested parties would rather see him make gradual progress than rush back to impress during the interview phase of the offseason.

As he has shown through his college career, Tua Tagovailoa is a fighter who won’t let this latest setback derail him from his dream. Describing his college tenure as a “rollercoaster” during his draft declaration presser on ESPN,  Tua highlights the highs and lows from his Alabama tenure. From winning a national championship as a freshman to losing one the following season, Tua has experienced the ultimate glory and crushing defeat that the sport can offer. The Hawaian has overcome a minor setback — a pair of ankle injuries and a knee issue — illustrating the warrior spirit that has pro teams clamoring to acquire his services. Prior to the hip injury, Tua Tagovailoa was considered a top-three prospect in the upcoming draft. Considered a top-10 prospect at this time a year ago, his draft stock will continue to fluctuate until there is more clarity regarding his rehab. For now, Tua will be forced to be a spectator come the NFL Scouting Combine in February. It would be a minor miracle, however, if he was able to host a pro day to show a glimpse of his post-injury self before draft time. Tua was optimistic that he would be able to play football as a rookie in the NFL, but says his focus is currently on his rehab. 

Tua Tagovailoa has meant a lot to both the sport of college football and his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Head coach Nick Saban, who is known for being stringent with his praise of anyone or thing, said, “Tua has probably had as much as an impact on our program here as any player than we’ve ever had.” It’s not isolated to the football field, either, as many note Tua’s faith, character, leadership, and bond with family and friends set him apart from other collegiate stars. All of those intangibles played a role in his decision to leave as he stated, “This is the best thing for me and my family to do.” You can’t help but serve up some applause for generational talent and a leader among men.

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