Tua Tagovailoa NFL Draft scouting report: Analyzing the Duke tape to see what went well and what needs work

Tua Tagovailoa has set his own bar historically high. 

In Alabama's opening game of the 2019 season, last year's Heisman runner-up had what seemed like just a good outing, until you look at his stats. He finished the 42-3 win over Duke 26 of 31 for 336 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. On paper, it was a tremendous passing performance. 

Tagovailoa and Alabama's offense are so effortlessly efficient, so dynamic, that even a game in which he registers what would've been a 151.4 NFL quarterback rating seems like an easy-to-overlook walk in the park.

But let's go inside Tagovailoa's effort -- something we'll do every week here at CBS Sports -- and provide some of the finer details of his nearly flawless contest.  

What he did well

While I'm not totally positive Tagovailoa purposely threw this pass midway through the first quarter behind receiver Jaylen Waddle, based on the refined passing ability he consistently displayed in 2018, I'm guessing he did. 

Before the snap, Waddle signaled something to Tagovailoa, and you can see the quarterback look at the slot cornerback who was cheating inside slightly. Then, as the sophomore wideout ran his slant route, Tagovailoa made the throw on the outside shoulder instead of leading him. 

That allowed Waddle to adjust his body to the throw, which took him away from the cornerback and provide a path up the field. With how accurate Tagovailoa proved is at the short level of the field last season, I really believe this pass was intentionally "off target."

And throwing the football in front of Waddle would've been dangerous. It would've brought an incompletion or interception into play and the young receiver would've been susceptible to a crushing hit. 

Instead, halting his momentum gave him an extra split second to turn upfield after he caught the pass with his body shielding the football from the defender. 

Another example of Tagovailoa's polish came on a touchdown later in the game. In the stat book, it was an eight-yard scoring play. No big deal, right? Wrong. Beyond flawlessly executing the play action roll out away to his right -- his weakside -- Tagovailoa made sure he got turned all the way around to square his feet and shoulders. Then, with a defensive back trailing, he zipped a perfectly thrown pass right over that defenders shoulder into the arms of Devonta Smith.  

Also, note his subtle peek at the crossing route from the other side of the field, which held No. 10 on Duke just long enough so he wouldn't be able to come over the top of Smith as he caught the ball at the goal line. 

For as simple as Tagovailoa made this play look, a lot could've gone wrong, especially considering the play called for him to roll the wrong way. He could've rushed the throw, without his feet set into traffic -- never a good thing. The quick glance to freeze the roaming defender was next level. So was the awareness he showcased to make the pass right over the cornerbacks shoulder -- knowing his back was turned. The ball placement was ideal.

On a play in the first half that was actually called back by a holding penalty, Tagovailoa flashed his ability to quickly process and run through his progressions before making an accurate pass that, again, maximized yards after the catch. 

Watch how he started on the left side of the field, pump faked, then swung his head to the right side of the field to check a route down the hash before automatically throwing a swing pass into the flat when he realized his second read wasn't open. 

Tagovailoa slightly leading Najee Harris up the field is an example of the little things that turn what looks like a small gain into a big one. And there are an assortment of NFL quarterbacks who can't move through their progressions as quickly as Tagovailoa did on that play. 

On a dig route to phenomenal wideout Jerry Jeudy in the first quarter, ever-important pocket patience was on display. Tagovailoa received the shotgun snap, and looked left, which widened a linebacker closer to the sideline, thereby creating a lane over the middle for the Alabama quarterback to throw. 

But Jeudy wasn't open immediately, so Tagovailoa had to wait a split second inside a collapsing pocket before letting it rip. 

As I wrote in the preseason breakdown of Tagovailoa, pocket patience is easier said than done for the vast majority of collegiate quarterbacks. He wasn't fazed by the oncoming edge defender and took an extra step as he bought time within the confines of the pocket created by Alabama's offensive line. 

Where he must improve

In a game with only five incompletions and nearly 11 yards per attempt, it wasn't a cinch to find a mistake made by Tagovailoa. However, as noted in that preseason preview, I have some concerns with his footwork, which at times -- not often -- hurt his velocity. And his arm strength isn't overpowering to begin with. 

On this throw to Smith, a run-of-the-mill shallow cross in which the receiver was wide open, Tagovailoa got happy feet, for what seemed like no reason, then he actually made the throw with his feet parallel to the line of scrimmage -- instead of more perpendicular to it. 

Now, it was a very short throw he easily could make with just his upper body. I get that. And he could've been repositioning his feet to find a better throwing lane. 

But from the end zone angle, you rarely if ever want to see the full name plate on a quarterback's jersey as he makes a pass. Tagovailoa tends to stride too far to the outside on some throws. This was a good example of that, albeit on a pass that didn't require him to generate torque with his lower half. 


Tua wasn't asked to carry the Alabama offense in this one, and while he did make a handful of good throws across the middle, it was mostly yards after the catch that anchored the Crimson Tide attack. But, that's not solely on his receivers. Tagovailoa got the ball out in a hurry on just about every passing play and was able to avoid a free rusher on two occasions. One of those plays turned into a nice gain on a scramble. The other finished with a completion to Jeudy. 

Altogether, Tagovailoa wasn't expected to be tested against Duke, and after a somewhat slow start, he diced the Blue Devils' secondary. Besides one overthrow deep on a play in which he was forced to release the football early due to pressure, Tagovailoa operated the Crimson Tide attack at maximum efficiency in the win.

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