Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was highly regarded as one of the top NFL Draft-eligible quarterbacks in 2020 should he choose to pursue a professional career following his junior season. Fortunately for NFL fans -- and unfortunately Bama fans -- that projection will now be tested. Tagovailoa, who is recovering from a serious hip injury suffered late in the 2019 season, announced Monday that he has decided to forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.
A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2018 who was in the mix to win the award in 2019 after throwing for 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three touchdowns in nine games, Tagovailoa saw his season cut short on Nov. 16. Late in the first half against Mississippi State, Tagovailoa was hit as he rolled outside the pocket to throw the ball and landed awkwardly. He suffered a dislocated hip and a posterior wall fracture, which ended his season and required immediate surgery.
Though his prognosis was deemed to be "excellent" by Alabama team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain, recovery from this injury can be arduous. There was hope that Tagovailoa will be able to resume athletic activity in three months and begin throwing the football in spring practice with a chance to play in 2020 whether it was in the NFL or college.
"I'm optimistic that I'll be able to play this upcoming season, but I think for me, right now, I'm more worried about getting better as soon as possible, seeing what I can do [in the pre-draft process]," Tagovailoa said. "It's all dependent on what the doctors have to say to the teams and what the results come back in as."
Before the season, Tagovailoa was projected to be the No. 1 overall quarterback selected in the 2020 NFL Draft and a sure-fire top-five pick. The emergence of LSU QB Joe Burrow and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young during the season led to Tagovailoa's draft position fluctuating.
However, despite his injury and unknown recovery, Tagovaila is still expected to go among the top 10 picks with CBS Sports draft expert Ryan Wilson projecting him No. 5 overall to the Miami Dolphins in his latest mock draft.
"It was a hard decision all around -- taking into consideration the pros and cons from both sides of the situation and the decision. I got to seek guidance from my family; we prayed a lot about it. This is a decision I'm going to have to live with. I made it, and I'm good with it," Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa issued a full statement on Twitter on Monday afternoon.
Tagovailoa burst onto the college football scene in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship following the 2017 season when he replaced ineffective starter Jalen Hurts in the title game. He hit DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 for a 41-yard walk-off touchdown in overtime to top Georgia 26-23 and win the national championship.
He followed that performance up by throwing for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and six interceptions last year, leading the Tide to an SEC title and a berth in the 2019 CFP National Championship. However, Tagovailoa threw two interceptions in the 44-16 loss to Clemson that cost his team a chance at repeating as national champions.
In just two seasons as the starting quarterback and three overall as a member of the Crimson Tide, Tagovailoa cemented his legacy as the best quarterback in the program's record books.
His 87 touchdown passes are the most in team history, 10 more than AJ McCarron (2009-13). He has a career completion percentage of 69.3 percent, which also tops McCarron (66.9 percent). He threw 43 touchdown passes in 2018 and 33 in 2019 despite the injury, which are the two most prolific seasons for a Bama signal caller. And his 7,442 career passing yard are third in program history behind McCarron's 9,019 yards and John Parker Wilson's 7,924 from 2005-08.
Tagovailoa also set the national single-season passing efficiency record (minimum 150 attempts) at 199.45 as a sophomore in 2018. Burrow currently has a 204.60 passer rating this season with the CFP National Championship still to play. Tagovailoa also has the highest career touchdown percentage (minimum 400 attempts) after throwing a touchdown every 12.50 passes.
"Tua has had as much of an impact on our program as any player we've had. He has great character, he's a great leader, he has done a great job in the classroom," coach Nick Saban said. "... He's had great accomplishments on the field ... but you probably don't understand the accomplishments he's had away from the field with his teammates."
Jones will now compete for the starting job with Tagovailoa's brother (sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa) and redshirt freshman Paul Tyson. Saban also signed five-star dual-threat prospect Bryce Young during the early signing period.