Tagovailoa’s talent still trumps injury woes – for now

Breathe a little easier Tua Tagovailoa fans, the future is not lost.

While it may have seemed so after the star quarterback suffered a scary, season-ending hip dislocation late in the second quarter of Alabama’s 38-7 win at Mississippi State on Saturday, the news was much more encouraging after he underwent corrective surgery Monday.

“The procedure went as planned, and he is resting comfortably,” Alabama team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain said in a statement. “Tua’s prognosis is excellent, and we expect him to make a full recovery. He will return to Tuscaloosa in the next several days to begin his rehab.”

Tagovailoa seemed in good spirts following the procedure, which is exactly what prospective NFL teams could be in this spring with the junior widely expected to make himself eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft, joining seniors Joe Burrow (LSU) and Justin Herbert (Oregon) to form a terrific trio at the top of this year’s quarterback class.

Will Tua’s stock slide – and how much?

Tagovailoa will of course have to prove his health before any NFL team will consider investing an early selection on him. And if teams toward the top of the draft determine that Tagovailoa might need to sit for a year in order to return to the field at 100 percent, it could lead to a bit of a slide down the board.

Monday’s announcement from Dr. Cain, however, is certainly encouraging, easing the fears of those who compared Tagovailoa’s injury to some of other high-profile athletes of the past, most notably the one which abruptly ended Bo Jackson’s NFL and Major League Baseball careers.

In addition to medical expertise making incredible strides in the 28 years since Jackson’s hip was dislocated, Tagovailoa’s injury was immediately recognized and treated. His hip was put back in place Saturday night, significantly reducing the risk of the 2018 Heisman Trophy finalist developing the Avascular necrosis (or AVN) which led to the bones around Jackson’s hip losing blood and dying, ultimately requiring a total hip replacement.

Tagovailoa is certainly not in the clear yet. His rehabilitation is expected to take three to six months, raising doubts about his ability to do any of the athletic testing at the NFL Scouting Combine from Feb. 24-March 2 in Indianapolis. In fact, Tagovailoa’s rehabilitation may keep him from working out for scouts at all prior to the start of the NFL Draft on April 23.

Given his performance against elite competition, however, Tagavoiloa does not have to prove his athleticism or arm talent like most prospects. He will only need to demonstrate that he is on the road to a full recovery, making the medical testing he will be asked to undergo in Indianapolis, the Combine re-check (approximately April 10) and in any team visits the most critical test he faces moving forward.

So much talent won’t be dismissed

Before the injury, Tagovailoa was earning comparisons from scouts to Hall of Fame left-handed quarterback Steve Young and current Seattle Seahawks right-handed (but similarly sized) MVP candidate Russell Wilson for his exciting blend of poise, mobility and accuracy.

In just nine games this season, Tagovailoa completed a career-high 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards and a sparkling 33-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has played in just 33 total games for the Crimson Tide, not earning the starting role until his remarkable performance in the second half of the 2017-18 national championship game at the conclusion of his true freshman season. Nonetheless, he already is Alabama’s all-time leader with 87 career touchdown passes, while throwing just 11 interceptions.

While the medical concerns that he is facing are very real, teams are more willing to gamble on injured players if their medical staff is confident in the player’s recovery.

The then-St. Louis Rams made Sam Bradford the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft after he missed virtually all of the previous season with a shoulder injury. Just this past spring, the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans invested the No. 2 and No. 19 overall picks on defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Jeffery Simmons after each were coming off significant surgeries.

The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers gambled first-round picks on offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (2019) and Star Lotulelei (2013), respectively, after each drew red-flags for heart abnormalities.

Given the need for quarterbacks in today’s pass-happy NFL, the gains in modern medicine, as well as the fact that Tagovailoa’s top competition at the position face significant questions of their own, don’t be surprised at all when Tua remains very much in play for an early first-round selection – perhaps even No. 1 overall.

Tagovailoa has until Jan. 14 to declare for the 2020 draft.

–Rob Rang (@RobRang), Field Level Media

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