Fantasy Football 2020 NFL Draft Profile: Tua Tagovailoa has injury concerns; are there any other red flags?

Tua Tagovailoa wouldn't be nearly as polarizing of a prospect if not for an injury-riddled stretch that culminated with a well-documented dislocated hip and fracture. Not that it will crush his profile: Tagovailoa is still expected to be among the top picks in April's draft following a prolific run as Alabama's starting quarterback. He finished 22-2 as a starter and is now the Crimson Tide's career leader in touchdowns (87) and completion percentage (69.3). Tagovailoa also set a NCAA FBS record in 2018 with a 199.4 passer rating. For two years, Tagovailoa's name has been attached to the NFL Draft — after April, he'll be attached as the face of the future to an NFL franchise.

Numbers to Know

Height: 6-0

Weight: 217 pounds

Hand: 9 7/8 inches

Prospect Stats

2019: 9 games, 71.4% passes completed, 2,840 yards, 33 TDs, 3 INT; 23 rushes, 17 rush yards, 2 rush TDs

Due to injury, Tagovailoa played just two games against top-25 teams in 2019. He completed 56.8% of his throws for a total of 711 yards (both games over 275 yards) with four touchdowns and an interception in each. 

2018: 15 games, 69% passes completed, 3,966 yards, 43 TDs, 6 INT; 57 rushes, 190 rush yards, 5 rush TDs

In six games against top-25 competition in 2018, Tagovailoa completed 65.4% of his throws for an average of 270.5 yards per game, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions with another two rushing touchdowns. 

Career: 32 games, 69.3% passes completed, 7,442 yards, 87 TDs, 11 INT; 107 rushes, 340 rush yards, 9 rush TDs

Known Injury History

  • Minor right knee sprain, October 2018
  • Undisclosed left leg injury, December 2018
  • Right high-ankle sprain, October 2019
  • Concussion, November 2019
  • Dislocated right hip and fracture, November 2019

Strengths

Tagovailoa tantalizes right away with a super-fast, compact release, quick-twitch movements and very good footwork in and out of the pocket. His mobility was typically a positive, be it stepping up in the pocket to throw downfield or to escape pressure and attempt to make a play. When given the time and space to operate, Tagovailoa displays very good accuracy on this throws, regularly operating with good velocity or soft touch when needed. He has the arm strength to push the ball 45-plus yards downfield and did so on numerous occasions. 

Tagovailoa mastered Alabama's offense, a mix of spread RPO offense and pro-style concepts. That led to his perfection of timed throws to schemed-open receivers who made incredible plays on the ball and after the catch to help pump up Tagovailoa's stats. He understands defensive concepts and is adept at reading coverages pre-snap. He is already a natural at trying to shift safeties with his eyes. With two seasons as Alabama's starting quarterback and plenty of College Football Playoff game snaps, Tagovailoa has the big-game experience that should make him relaxed and prepared for the NFL. He also appears to be of high character with a selfless attitude. 

Concerns

The most obvious issue is Tagovailoa's health. A major hip injury that included a dislocation and a fracture led him to declare he wouldn't "be the same again." His agility, throwing motion and mobility could be compromised. Additionally, Tagovailoa battled leg and ankle injuries in the year prior to his hip injury, needing two "tight-rope surgeries" on each of his ankles. Does the injury risk overshadow his potential? 

Injuries aside, Tagovailoa wasn't as sharp a player when bombarded in the pocket. It didn't happen often, but when the pressure was on, he tried relying on his athleticism to bail him out of getting hit and didn't always keep his eyes downfield. His accuracy was brutal in these situations: Sports Info Solutions had Tagovailoa with a 48.2% completion rate on 27 of 56 passing when under pressure in 2019 (and 52% in 2018). That 2019 mark ranked 33rd among FBS quarterbacks with at least 50 passes thrown while under duress. He can definitely improve in managing the pass rush with proper coaching and technique, but considering his major hip injury came when he was running away from defenders, will Tagovailoa play with stoic poise against NFL defenses or will he go into preservation mode? 

There's more: Tagovailoa made a lot of predetermined throws in Alabama's offense, many of which he determined before the snap. When his pre-snap read was busted, or when he had to drop back and survey the defense, he was not consistent in scanning and correctly finding the best receiver. Sometimes he made the perfect read (the game-winning touchdown throw in overtime against Georgia in the 2018 title game, for instance), sometimes he wouldn't throw to wide-open targets and instead opted for either a better-covered receiver or a closer target. He had a tendency to lock onto receivers and had a penchant for throwing long into one-on-one matchups downfield, which worked out for him a number of times given who he played with. There's optimism Tagovailoa can improve here, particularly since he can figure out defensive coverage easily pre-snap, but it might take the right coaching staff to make him more proficient.

Ryan Wilson's Take

No. 2 QB

During Super Bowl week (Tagovailoa) told CBS Sports HQ that he hopes to have a pro day before the draft in April. He also maintained that he's "on track to make a full recovery" but that he still has several milestones to clear from the doctors monitoring his rehab.

Heading into the season, Tagovailoa had all the attributes to be the No. 1 quarterback in the class (in fact, he'd still be the No. 1 QB if not for Joe Burrow's emergence). It starts with his accuracy, where he's lethal at every level, even when pressured. Almost as important as the accuracy is his movement in the pocket, his ability to square his shoulders before throwing, and his uncanny knack to put the ball in the best position to allow his receiver to run after the catch. Of course, throwing to the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith certainly made things easier but that relationship is a two-way street. And even when Tagovailoa "struggled," there was a lot to like.

Tua is a franchise quarterback. No one disputes this. The issue is when will he be healthy enough to play, and then, can he stay healthy?

Fantasy Comparison

The more pieces around Tagovailoa, the sooner he will be a difference-maker in Fantasy. Without a very good group of pass-catchers, it wouldn't be surprising if Tagovailoa's first couple of seasons looked like Jimmy Garoppolo's 2019 campaign (3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 69% completion rate). Unfortunately, because of Tagovailoa's injury issues, he could end up with a season like Garoppolo's shortened 2018 when he played just three games. The hunch is he'll pad on a couple of rushing touchdowns annually but won't be a threat to run very often. Fantasy managers shouldn't count on his wheels. 

Favorite Fantasy Fits

Carolina's new offense will be popular with any of the top-shelf draft prospects, including Tagovailoa, who thrived in a similar spread system. The receivers and offensive coordinator would make for a smooth transition.

Tagovailoa would also figure to be a hit with the Raiders and Jon Gruden's high-percentage passing offense, even if it meant learning a new system. There, he'd play behind a better-built offensive line and have a friendly coach who would help scheme him up (not to mention have a familiar face at running back). The passing targets would need to be upgraded for it to be perfect.

What about Miami or the Chargers? There wouldn't be as much instant success. The Dolphins seem to have a long-term coaching staff in place, so they'd be able to take time with Tagovailoa and build around him. And Miami's offense should be OK for Tagovailoa. The Chargers have the receivers ready to help Tagovailoa, but the offensive line is suspect and the coaching staff might be on thin ice in 2020. 

Fantasy Bottom Line

The obvious injury risk with Tagovailoa softens his Fantasy value. Most people will see his upside but not invest in him the same way they would Joe Burrow. Unless he lands in a dream situation, don't expect Tagovailoa to get drafted in a seasonal league unless you can use multiple quarterbacks. In dynasty/keeper leagues, Tagovailoa will go late (at least two rounds behind Burrow), but in rookie-only drafts he'll go in Round 2, potentially within five picks of Burrow. If you must have a stud quarterback in your dynasty league, Burrow is the better choice.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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