Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has officially announced he will be entering the 2020 NFL draft this week. I know what you are thinking, how does this relate to the Pittsburgh Steelers who don’t have a first round pick? Ordinarily Pittsburgh would have no shot at this kind of player even if they had their normal back half of the first round pick. However, the injury Tua suffered late this season has thrown his draft status completely up in the air. What was once a sure fire number one overall selection, is now anyone’s guess as to where he might land. If Tagovailoa starts to slide in the first round due to injury concerns, Kevin Colbert needs to be ready to strike. Pittsburgh needs to have a package ready to trade if the fall were to last anywhere out of the top ten.
There of course are several factors in play here when it comes to Tagovailoa’s draft status. He did suffer a major hip injury which had people cringing with thoughts of Bo Jackson. How much quarterback needy teams in the top ten can stomach the risk of drafting a player that high will be very interesting. Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far:
Tua Tagovailoa was injured on November 16th against Mississippi St. late in the game. His career was feared over due to the nature of the injury. He had surgery two weeks later to repair what was called a hip dislocation. The surgery was deemed a success, and the plan is for him to start throwing again this spring. The expectation is he will do close to nothing at the draft combine, leaving teams just medical reports and speculation as to his health going forward. The former Alabama star will be a risky proposition for any team to draft in the first round, let alone the top ten.
The first real look we got at Tua Tagovailoa was the 2018 National Championship game where Alabama took on Georgia. As a true freshman Tua relieved an ineffective Jalen Hurts, and led the Crimson Tide to a comeback win in overtime. His Sophomore year was nothing short of incredible. In his first year as a starter, Tua threw for nearly 4,000 yards and had an eye popping 43 touchdowns. Before the hip injury derailed his season this year, he had another 2,800 yards and 33 touchdowns. Tua is listed at 6’1″, and around 218lbs, significantly taller than last year’s number one pick Kyler Murray. This is a very special player who has been compared as a left handed Drew Brees. He has the mobility now in vogue for NFL quarterbacks, while still maintaining the accuracy of elite pocket passers. There is no question without the injury, this would have been the number one pick in the draft.
It has seemed like Tagovailoa has been destined to the Miami Dolphins since the beginning of this season. The term “tanking for Tua” was coined when the Dolphins started trading off assets for draft picks. However, the severity of the injury has now changed everything. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has now surpassed everyone to be the consensus number one pick for the Cincinnati Bengals. The real intrigue starts as to who the next quarterback will be taken. Miami still sits in the drivers seat at pick five as the next team in need of a signal caller. Do they risk taking Tua that high, or hope he falls to eighteen when their next pick is up? The other teams in the top ten who may need a quarterback are the Chargers and Panthers. Both teams could opt to stick with their veterans, and fill needs elsewhere. There is a very real possibility that if the Dolphins pass, Tua could slide out of the top ten.
Then there is the Justin Herbert question. Herbert has everything NFL scouts drool over in a quarterback. He is 6’6″, throws a laser of a ball, and has the athleticism to get out of the pocket and hurt you on the run. On tape however, he doesn’t impress as much as he should with all that physical talent. The next team to take a quarterback in this draft will have to weigh the injury of Tagovailoa, with the inconsistency of Herbert.
Kevin Colbert should be keeping a keen eye on pick number eleven with the New York Jets. The Jets obviously don’t need a quarterback, and have many holes on their team that make sense for a trade down. It would take a haul to get up that high for the Steelers. Certainly several future number ones would be needed, or perhaps a player. Would Pittsburgh consider say moving Ju Ju Smith-Schuster for the right to draft their next franchise quarterback? It’s a bold move, and Colbert showed in last year’s draft he is no longer against such moves. If (and it is a very big if) the Steelers medical staff believes Tua Tagovailoa will be completely healthy at any point in the next two years, they would have to move on this player. In a very strange way the stars are aligning for Pittsburgh to get a big time quarterback in the draft without having to bottom out on the field. Opportunities like this don’t come around often, but if they do the Steelers need to be ready to take advantage.