Why Tua Tagovailoa's draft story should actually quiet the "Trevor Lawrence should sit out" crowd
Tua Tagovailoa is going to be a top 5 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Book it.
He’ll ride in on that boat they’ve got out there in Las Vegas and his career will set sail on a path to superstardom. He’ll do so with questions about his health having gone through 3 significant lower body procedures in a 1-year stretch, the latest of which was a rare hip dislocation that he suffered in mid-November of his pre-draft season.
Yet still, barring a setback, Tagovailoa is going to be a top 5 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
Part of that notion is because with the Miami Dolphins picking at No. 5, it seems all but impossible that the Alabama quarterback slips past the team that was rumored to be tanking for him. Once upon a time, Tagovailoa seemed like the obvious No. 1 overall pick. That was before Joe Burrow happened, though.
So what does that tell us? The people clamoring for Trevor Lawrence to sit out the 2020 season should look at what happened to Tagovailoa.
With the exception of perhaps tearing an ACL twice in a year, it’s hard to imagine dealing with more in-game injuries than Tagovailoa had. Think about it. In 3 of the final 12 games of his career, he suffered a lower body injury that required surgery and rehab. And how much money is that going to cost him come draft time? I’m not convinced it’ll cost him any at all.
Had Tagovailoa played out his junior year at 100%, odds are that he still wouldn’t have been picked ahead of Burrow or Chase Young, both of whom had overwhelmingly impressive seasons to boost their respective draft stocks. Burrow and Young were better players than healthy Tagovailoa.
Would we be debating Burrow or Tagovailoa during the pre-draft process had the latter been healthy? Maybe, but after Burrow’s all-time great season and his home-state team picking No. 1 overall, I’m not so sure things would be any different.
That brings us to Lawrence.
If you’re already sick of people talking about what he should do in 2020, I hate to say it, but this is going to be a long offseason. The talking heads saying that he “has nothing to gain” from playing this year and that “this is an outdated rule” are going to continue this conversation all year.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) December 11, 2019
(That should serve as a reminder that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, opinions can still be wrong.)
Let’s save the debate about the draft declaration age for another time and instead focus on Lawrence.
With guys like Lawrence who are considered sure-fire No. 1 overall picks entering their pre-draft season, we get so caught up in saying that a player has nothing to gain and everything to lose. If Lawrence tears his ACL in the middle of the 2020 season, is he really not going to be the No. 1 overall pick? Like, even if he tore it in November and essentially bypassed the entire pre-draft process, would a team picking No. 1 overall really pass on a generational talent because of an injury that will probably be fully healed by Week 1? No way.
That’s not to say everybody is guaranteed to come back from a major surgery and be just fine, but if you didn’t know any better, you’d think that Lawrence is an awkward sack from falling out of the 1st round. He’s not. It’s 2020. Modern medicine usually works pretty well for physically gifted 21-year olds.
And yes, there are extreme injury cases that could impact a player’s draft stock. Watching what UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton went through at the end of the 2018 season was a reminder that freak things happen. That was, by all accounts, a freak injury. So was Tagovailoa’s hip injury. That’s why Lawrence just took out a $5 million insurance policy a few weeks ago.
For all the people so concerned about Lawrence’s bank account, hear this. The guy is going to get paid no matter what happens next year. To be honest, he’s a special enough prospect that he could probably have an injury like Milton’s and still have teams lining up to make him their franchise quarterback. That’s no guarantee, but at this rate, it feels like Lawrence can do no wrong.
And call me crazy, but Lawrence can actually improve as a player to make himself more NFL-ready with another year at Clemson. What does he need work on? You saw that side-by-side with Burrow, Lawrence isn’t quite at that level when it comes to fitting balls in tight windows. He’s fantastic, but there’s room for improvement.
According to @ESPNStatsInfo, Trevor Lawrence’s 13 overthrows against LSU tied for the most by any QB in a single FBS game this season.
— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) January 14, 2020
What also hasn’t been talked about enough is that Lawrence has rarely had to deliver clutch drives late in games. That Ohio State game was such a rarity in that department for him after how dominant Clemson was since he took over as the team’s starter. In the NFL, a quarterback’s ability to muster a game-winning drive in the final 2 minutes can make or break a legacy. Lawrence would benefit from getting to do that a few more times under the bright lights.
Nick Saban was criticized because he said he wanted Tagovailoa to work the 2-minute drill at the end of the first half against Mississippi State. That, of course, was when Tagovailoa suffered the hip dislocation. Some (many) didn’t understand that there were still situational things that a generational talent like Tagovailoa wanted to improve with his game. That was one of them.
Lawrence will come back to Clemson with that business mindset, but he’ll also remind the “he should sit” crowd that playing big-time college athletics is — dare I say — fun.
While those same people tried to argue that Zion Williamson should have shut it down for the rest of his time at Duke after he suffered his sneaker blowout injury, he basically was like, “uh, I’m gonna go try to win a national championship with my buddies. Talk to y’all later.” And as we just found out via an interview with The Ringer, Williamson enjoyed playing college basketball so much that he wanted to come back for his sophomore season and had to be talked out of it by Mike Krzyzewski.
If Tagovailoa felt like he was being held hostage at Alabama and unnecessarily risking millions of dollars, he wouldn’t have even considered coming back. But despite all of those injuries, that decision was one that he legitimately wrestled with.
Lawrence might stay perfectly healthy and have an easy decision to make at season’s end. He could be an even more obvious No. 1 overall pick than Burrow, especially if he leads Clemson to the title game for the third time in as many seasons. The latter will be Lawrence’s focus when he’s asked about the draft constantly in the next year.
But when Tagovailoa comes off the board on the top 5 in a few months, the “Lawrence should sit” crowd should do 1 thing.