TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa put an end to the initial question about his future, announcing Monday that he is entering the NFL draft and closing the book on a college career that began with a splash and ended with a devastating injury.
Tagovailoa is recovering from right hip surgery in November following an injury Nov. 16 against Mississippi State that ended projections of the start quarterback being the No. 1 overall pick. The serious injury has made his draft status less clear though Alabama team surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain has said Tagovailoa's prognosis is “excellent” and predicts a full recovery.
Tagovailoa said during a news conference that he's optimistic he'll be able to play next season, but said it's hard to predict how high he'll be drafted.
“It's a unique situation, for sure,” Tagovailoa said with his parents and little brother, Taulia, watching from the front row. “A lot of the guys, the general managers, the owners, that I've talked to kind of said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury like a knee injury almost, although it's not. In a way that, OK, are we going to take a chance on this guy or will he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft and what-not?
“Really, the biggest thing they want to do is just see that we can move and we can just be back to how we were playing prior to the injury.”
This year's draft class of quarterbacks includes LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Oregon's Justin Herbert. If Tagovailoa had returned to Alabama and looked like his old self, there was still no guarantee he would be the top pick in a 2021 draft that will likely include Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.
Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up, helped Alabama navigate the transition into one of the nation's top passing offenses. In less than two seasons as starter, he set an Alabama record with 87 career touchdown passes and ranks third with 7,442 passing yards.
He was regarded as one of the top Heisman candidates again before the season-ending injury. In his absence, Alabama lost to rival Auburn and failed to make the College Football Playoffs for the first time.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program here as any player that we've ever had,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “And I'm not just talking about as a football player.”