Tua Tagovailoa was destined to be a top draft pick from the moment he was introduced to the College Football world. He relieved Jalen Hurts in the second half of the 2018 National Championship game, and led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a second half comeback and another National title.
From that point on it felt destined that Tagovailoa would be a top pick in the 2019 draft. He was already a heralded prospect out of Hawaii, and now he had proved he could win the biggest game of his life as a true freshman. Taking over the NFL felt like the natural next step.
Disaster struck for the quarterback last season, though. He suffered a serious hip injury in a game against Mississippi State that ruled him out for the season. Some fear the injury could even carry into the 2020 NFL season. The injury combined with the rise of LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow have seen Tagovailoa fall from his spot atop draft boards, but he should still find himself among the top players taken in the 2020 draft.
Tagovailoa was statistically one of best quarterbacks in college football last season. While his raw stats are not topping the leader boards, as he missed four games, he was a very efficient passes and his 22 touchdown passes still landed his second in the SEC. He did not just beat up on bad teams either, as he remained consistently good whether he was playing in the SEC or against FCS teams. Only throwing three interceptions is impressive as well.
The quarterback’s best trait as a passer is his arm strength. He can hit throws everywhere on the field with enough velocity to beat defenders. He can throw off balance and on the run as well, as he can get off passes from nearly every angle.
Arm strength seems to be the most important trait in building an NFL franchise quarterback. It is not a trait that really develops over time and you either have it or you do not. Everything else can usually be worked on and coached, but outside of rare cases like Tom Brady, the best quarterbacks always have really good arms.
Tagovailoa crosses the minimum arm strength threshold and then some, which is what made his such a hot prospect in the first place. Just like Matthew Stafford coming out of college, he has the arm, we can build the rest.
His arm is not his only positive trait, though. Tagovailoa is great in the pocket. He can navigate the pocket, avoid pressure, and make plays on the run, all while keeping his eyes down field. He almost reminds me of Lamar Jackson while in the pocket, as his ability to escape almost every situation and work off script is remarkably similar.
Tagovailoa is also quick in going through his progressions, and is smart is his decision making as to whether he should check the ball down instead of testing coverage deep. He rarely forces passes — hence the low interception total — and seems to somehow have vision of the entire field all at once when he drops back to pass.
He unfortunately sometimes seems to over think things. Tagovailoa hesitates in the pocket at times while under duress and second guesses himself. This leads to him taking a few sacks he could have avoided, or losing opportunities to make a play out of nothing. As a not, Jackson also struggled with this at Louisville and at time in his rookie season.
The quarterback is a great deep ball passer. He throws especially well with touch and can put throws of over 30 yards down the field right on target. It is an impressive trait that quarterbacks rarely have coming out of college, and his deep passing in the Championship game against Georgia is what garnered all of his initial attention.
He has some mechanical issues, though. The quarterback has a lot of passes float on him, in the shorter and deeper ranges. While he can hit every pass, he sometimes flings balls while leaning too far back, causing them to sail a little.
Just like Jackson (and Stafford in the past), this is an issue that can be fixed. His mechanics are not entirely a disaster and a good quarterback coach could usually help him adjust. Also, it is likely that these mechanical issues have more to do with his tendency to hesitate at times and overthink plays, causing him to rush throws and allow them to float on him.
Tagovailoa is also great at playing mistake free football. While he makes the rare blunder on occasion, he has an incredibly low turnover percentage and he does not throw many would-be interceptions either. While he got a lot of help from the three NFL receivers he was playing alongside getting open pretty often, he is great at mitigating errors and, at minimum, not making disastrous errors that lose games.
Detroit has the third overall pick in the 2020 draft. Joe Burrow and Chase Young seemed locked into those first two spots barring any sort of trade. This leaves the Lions with a huge, franchise altering, decision to make when they are on the clock. They can stay the course, add a defender and continue with Stafford into the future, or decide they want to hit the reset button, and draft another generational quarterback prospect 11 years after they did so in 2009.
When I started watching Tagovailoa’s film, and even up to the point where I started writing this, I though there was no way I could be convinced that drafting a quarterback at three was a good option. But Tagovailoa might be what this franchise needs. His ceiling is on the moon and he could be the perfect piece to build the franchise around. Years from now, Detroit may regret passing up on him to stand pat at quarterback.
Stafford is a great quarterback. Outside of 2018, he has been a top 10 quarterback every year since 2011. Something clearly is not working, though. Despite having one of the best passers in the league, the Lions have totaled 0 division wins, 0 playoff wins and have not come even close to sniffing a Super Bowl title. With Darius Slay and Graham Glasgow seemingly out the door at this point, it looks like the Lions may be prepared to enter a rebuild anyways. If they want to truly start fresh, Tagovailoa is the guy at pick 3.
Detroit has to hold on to Stafford through the 2020 season, and even if they did not have to keeping him on board and allowing a rookie — especially one coming off an injury — to have some time to learn from him is immensely valuable.
The best move would be to draft Tagovailoa with the third overall pick. Have a last hooray with Stafford and co. and then enter a new era of Detroit Lions football in 2021, just as they did when Stafford played his first full season 10 years earlier in 2011.
This seems like a great move from a fans point of view as well. Drafting a potential franchise quarterback with a top 5 draft pick is one of the most exciting moments of all. The team has been stuck somewhere between mediocre and outright awful for the entire Stafford era, and a move like this could breathe life into a stagnant franchise.