So now what?
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made his decision to enter the NFL Draft on Monday and is projected to be a first-round selection by several media outlets and analysts.
The Crimson Tide junior leaves behind a legacy unlike any other, but now must focus his attention on the upcoming draft and his NFL future.
What kind of future will that be? Tagovailoa has been prone to injury in both seasons he started for the Crimson Tide (2018-19). His latest rehabilitation is from a dislocated hip he sustained against Mississippi State.
“Half the teams might not have him in the first round or on their board,” said Dan Shonka, NFL Draft analyst with ourlads.com. “But there just has to be one team that falls in love with him and takes him in the top 10. All it takes is one of those 32 teams to say Tua is their guy.”
But which one?
Joe Burrow of LSU has been projected as a No. 1 overall pick, which leaves Tagovailoa as the next quarterback taken.
“Obviously, Miami is one, that’s stating the obvious,” Shonka said. “It all depends on the offensive coordinator. When Baker Mayfield came out, there was no one who was more accurate that he was, maybe in the last 10 years of college football. Then last year it looked like he didn’t know how to throw a football. It all depends on the system, the discipline within the system, the quarterback coach, the offensive coordinator, the protection up front — the whole gamut of things. And he’s going to have to be protected.”
Tagovailoa set the school record book on fire in two seasons at Alabama. In just 33 games he holds the records for most passing yards in a season (3,966 in 2018), and most touchdowns in a season (43 in 2018) and a career (87).
Tagovailoa is one of those once-in-a-generation players and has been a part of some of Alabama’s biggest moments. He has dazzled Crimson Tide fans with his penchant for throwing touchdown bombs and putting up video game-type numbers — something folks in Tuscaloosa aren’t used to seeing.
“(Tua) changed the way we perceived offensive football as it was played by Alabama,” said football writer Andy Staples of The Athletic, who also hosts “The Andy Staples Show” podcast. “They had been smash-mouth, grind-it-out, not just under Nick (Saban) but with (former Alabama football coaches) Gene Stallings and Bear Bryant and back beyond that. Then all of a sudden they are wide open, throwing it all over the field. Even though a lot of the country had Alabama fatigue, people loved watching them to see him.
“Find a prettier ball than Tua’s deep ball. I dare you.”
All his intangibles, all his talent and even his personality and leadership abilities translate to a bright NFL future.
If he can stay healthy.
“Here is a guy that understands and when to use touch on the ball,” Shonka said. “He puts nice air under it. He’s cool, confident persona. He’s a guy that keeps his cool when the heat is all around him. If he needs to put something on it to get the ball in that tight window, he can do that. He’s got really good control of how he throws the ball and makes good decisions for the most part.
“He was a little inconsistent with his footwork and his consistency from play to play. For the most part he’s a tough kid and makes the players better around him. His confidence, like wildfire, catches on with the rest of the team. There is a lot of positive things.”
Tagovailoa leaves behind a legacy unlike any other at Alabama before him. Great things were expected from him and he didn’t disappoint in Tuscaloosa. He moves on the NFL with some questions about his durability, but you can’t argue his value as a teammate.
“What’s interesting about Tua is that there have been guys who were really good but they didn’t have the career path that Tua did,” Staples said. “He was sort of an urban legend before he ever played. People who saw him in practice would whisper about it. Most of the time, guys don’t live up to it. Not only does he live up to it, he surpasses it.”
“He will be a great ambassador for whatever NFL franchise chooses him. I’m not sure teams realize that yet. They know what he can do on the field, but they will find out what he will mean to them off the field.”
Cecil Hurt contributed to this report
Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2