Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa declares for 2020 NFL draft

Tua Tagovailoa’s time in Tuscaloosa is coming to an end. 

The Alabama quarterback, one of the most exciting college football players in recent memory, announced Monday at a news conference with Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban that he will forgo his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2020 NFL draft. 

The decision comes two months after Tagovailoa suffered a devastating hip injury against Mississippi State. Tagovailoa both fractured and dislocated his right hip just before halftime in the Nov. 16 win over the Bulldogs, prematurely ending his junior season. 

In the weeks that followed, there was speculation that Tagovailoa may opt to return to Alabama for his senior season — in part due to the severity of the injury. In the end, however, he decided now is the time to move on to the professional level. 

“I’ve had a difficult time making this decision about my future. My love for the University of Alabama, our coaches, our fans and my teammates has made this especially hard for me. I have had the advice and consult of my parents, my family and coaches and gone through a thorough analysis of the alternatives. With lots of prayers, thoughts and guidance I have decided that I will be entering the 2020 NFL draft,” Tagovailoa said Monday.  

“My three years at the University of Alabama have been the epitome of a roller coaster. I’ve had a fair share of ups and a handful of downs, and I couldn’t be happier than to know all of the successes and failures I’ve had here at the University of Alabama has prepared me for life in general.”

Tua Tagovailoa became an instant star

Tagovailoa, a native of Hawaii, landed at Alabama as one of the top-dual threat quarterback recruits in the 2017 class. He quickly impressed once he arrived on campus, but was the No. 2 behind Jalen Hurts on the depth chart — until the College Football Playoff title game against Georgia. 

With the Crimson Tide trailing 20-10 at halftime, Saban benched a struggling Hurts for Tagovailoa, who had only played late in games to that point in his career. Tagovailoa led a spirited comeback and threw the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime to win the national title. 

In 2018, Tagovailoa beat out Hurts for the starting job and led the Tide back to the CFP title game, throwing for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns along the way. He was considered a sure bet to win the Heisman throughout the season, but struggled with injuries late in the year and was ultimately beaten out by Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in an NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Tagovailoa would return from a sprained ankle suffered in the SEC title game to lead Alabama past Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals. However, Alabama would go on to lose Clemson in the title game with Tagovailoa throwing two interceptions — including a pick-six — in the loss. 

Tagovailoa returned for his junior year and lit up defenses on a weekly basis until suffering another ankle injury against Tennessee on Oct. 19. He missed the following game against Arkansas in order to return for a highly anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against LSU. Although hobbled, Tagovailoa threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers, but the Tide lost 46-41. 

Tagovailoa was limited in practice after the LSU game, but played against Mississippi State. With his team up big, Tagovailoa came out for one final drive before halftime, only to suffer the hip injury. That proved to be the final play of his college football career. 

In all, Tagovailoa threw for 7,442 yards, 87 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 69.3 percent of his passes at Alabama. 

“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program as any player we’ve ever had. He’s got great character, he’s a great leader,” Saban said Monday. “He’s had great accomplishments on the field, but you probably don’t understand the significance of the contributions he’s made off the field with his teammates and the people with him every day.”

How will the injury affect his draft stock?

Entering the season, Tagovailoa was pegged as a surefire top pick — maybe even No. 1 overall. The hip injury, however, changed things substantially. NFL teams won’t have a clear idea of how Tagovailoa’s career can proceed without looking at his medical information. 

Tagovailoa had surgery in the days following the injury and reports out of Tuscaloosa concerning his prognosis have all been positive, but NFL teams will want to see for themselves before committing a first-round pick on Tagovailoa. It’s a big risk. 

Despite that, Saban said before the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 that only one player on his team received a top-15 grade from NFL teams. And that was Tagovailoa, though Saban admitted the injury “may affect his grade.”

As Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm noted, there are plenty of quarterback-needy NFL teams ahead of the 2020 season who may be willing to roll the dice on Tagovailoa:

Several teams picking in the top 20 selections, plus a few more outside that range, will be seeking quarterbacks this offseason.

The Dolphins, who have three first-rounders (including No. 5 overall), certainly are one. The Los Angeles Chargers (No. 6), Carolina Panthers (No. 7), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 9 and 20), Indianapolis Colts (No. 13), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 14), Atlanta Falcons (No. 16) and Las Vegas Raiders (Nos. 12 and 20) are all at least possibilities.

Tagovailoa recently made a trip to New York City for further evaluation on his hip. He said the doctors he met with told him “everything looks good” so far, but the rehab will continue.

“From what they’ve seen, everything looks good but you can’t really tell until the three-month mark or the four-month mark,” Tagovailoa said Monday. 

“It’s a unique situation for sure. With my hip, a lot of the general managers and owners I’ve gotten to talk to have said the same thing. Are they going to take a chance on this guy? Will he be able to do a pro day before the draft? They want to see if I can move and be back playing how I was prior to the injury.”

Other Alabama NFL draft decisions

Tagovailoa becomes the fifth Alabama underclassman to announce their intent to enter the 2020 draft. Linebacker Terrell Lewis, offensive lineman Jedrick Willis, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and safety Xavier McKinney have all publicly declared for the draft. 

Several others — most notably running back Najee Harris and receiver Henry Ruggs — have yet to announce. Elsewhere, linebacker Dylan Moses, lineman Alex Leatherwood and receiver DeVonta Smith will all return for their senior seasons. 

[Yahoo Sports’ 2020 NFL draft underclassmen tracker]

What’s next at QB for Alabama?

With Tagovailoa out of the equation, Mac Jones becomes the favorite to start at quarterback for the Tide in 2020. Jones played quite well in Tagovailoa’s absence, especially in the Citrus Bowl win over Michigan when he threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. The lack of turnovers was a positive sign as both the interceptions Jones threw in the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn were returned for touchdowns. 

Jones, who will be a redshirt junior next season, finished the year with 1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 68.8 percent of his passes. He will likely compete with Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, and true freshman Bryce Young for the starting job next year. 

The younger Tagovailoa was a four-star recruit in the 2019 class who saw action in three games this season, completing 9-of-12 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Young — who decommitted from USC before signing with Alabama — enters the program as one of the top recruits in the country. Rated as a five-star prospect by Rivals.com, Young is considered the third-best recruit in his class. He ranks behind only Clemson signee and fellow Southern California native D.J. Uiagalelei among QB prospects. 

Also on the depth chart is Paul Tyson, a four-star recruit who signed alongside Taulia Tagovailoa in the 2019 class.

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