Mel Kiper Jr. believes Tua Tagovailoa should sit out first season in NFL
Even without physicals and in-person meetings, Tua Tagovailoa gave NFL teams a glimpse at his recovery process. Earlier this week, the former Alabama quarterback released a series of videos demonstrating his ability to drop back, move laterally and throw on the run — all encouraging signs four months after undergoing hip surgery in November.
The positive update provides hope that the left-hander should be ready to play by the start of this year’s NFL season. But should he?
Speaking to reporters on an hour-long teleconference Wednesday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he believes whichever team drafts Tagovailoa should give the quarterback a “medical redshirt” during his first season to ensure he’s fully healed moving forward.
Kiper pointed out that four of the five active winningest quarterbacks in the NFL all sat out the majority of their first seasons in the league. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers appeared in a combined seven games during their rookie seasons. The lone exception in the top five is Ben Roethlisberger, who played in 14 games for the Steelers in 2004. The NFL’s past two MVPs — Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes — were also worked slowly into their starting roles.
“There was nothing medical about any of those guys,” Kiper said. “This is medical. And then you have the addition of sitting and watching and learning as a rookie which has helped all those guys I mentioned. You could say, ‘Well that was a different era with guys who were older.’ Well, it wasn’t a different era with Patrick Mahomes. It wasn’t a different era with Jackson.”
During the NFL Combine in February, Tagovailoa said he was confident he would be able to play by Week 1 of the NFL season in September. However, the former Maxwell and Walter Camp Award winner said he would be willing to sit behind a veteran quarterback if called on to do so by his new team.
“As a competitor, I want to be able to play,” he said at the time. “But you look at a lot of the guys that are really good and a lot of the greats, they’ve been mentored by big-time quarterbacks as well and veteran quarterbacks. If a team needs me to go out there and start for them, I’ll do that. But if they need me to sit behind someone and learn from them, I can’t see what’s wrong with that as well.”
Despite stating his belief that Tagovailoa should sit out a season, Kiper still projects him to be selected No. 5 to the Miami Dolphins in this year’s NFL Draft. However, when asked whether or not teams would trade up to land the former Alabama quarterback, Kiper expressed concern over whether teams would feel confident taking a risk without seeing Tagovailoa in person.
“Is a team going to trade up without that type of information? We’ll see,” Kiper said. “…There’s some expecting somebody to move up to get either Tua or (Justin) Herbert — three, four would be that spot. I don’t see another player to move up to get other than that at that particular point. If you’re Detroit, it’d be a great opportunity. You could go from three to five and still get Jeff Okudah, the cornerback from Ohio State, or Isaiah Simmons, the linebacker for Clemson.
“If you’re Miami and you feel like you need to move up for Tua or the Chargers or whoever it may be, the Vegas Raiders — if another team wants to move up ahead of Miami, you could do that. But right now, it’s a lack of question marks due to the lack of information from a medical standpoint.”
Kiper said he saw Tagovailoa’s video, stating it was “nice to see.” However, he believes that even if teams were 100 percent sure of Tagovailoa’s recovery, there would still be concerns surrounding the quarterback. Along with fracturing and dislocating his hip last November, Tagovailoa also sustained three lower-body injuries during his time at Alabama, including tight-rope surgeries on both his ankles as well as a sprained knee.
"If everything would have been perfect, perfect world this year, and everything was done the way it's always been done, he still has the durability concerns,” Kiper said. “Even if he’s medically cleared and everything looks good with the hip and progress is being made and all that, you still have three separate injuries that all occurred. Can he take hits? Can he sustain hits and come back and be healthy from those hits. Durability for Tua would still be a question regardless of if this was a draft-case scenario or draft-process scenario.”
Tagovailoa was originally slated to hold an individual workout on April 9 but has seen that wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His representatives are currently working on providing additional video of his recovery process to NFL teams. And while he can’t meet with teams in person, he can talk to them through virtual meeting room platforms such as FaceTime and Zoom.
The 2020 NFL Draft is set to begin on April 23 and will continue on through April 25.