Does Nick Saban have a sense of humor? Ask his quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, only if we have a big lead
Eleven months from now, there’s a very good chance Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa will be the first pick in the NFL Draft (barring a regression this season) and a decent chance that another quarterback – perhaps Oregon’s Justin Herbert – will be the second pick.
The Dolphins - if they’re as bad as oddsmakers expect this season - will be positioned to take one of those quarterbacks, with Tagovailoa considered the preference internally if Josh Rosen doesn’t prove to be the answer this season.
But at this point, it would be wrong to rank either Tagovailoa or Herbert among the top three prospects in the 2020 draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper said. That’s pretty surprising.
In his initial Big Board ranking of the top 25 draft-eligible prospects entering the 2019 season, Kiper has Tagovailoa fourth and Herbert 10th. He ranks Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy first among all prospects, with LSU safety Grant Delpit second and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young third.
Kiper said on ESPN.com: “The reason I don’t have the Heisman runner-up as the surefire No. 1 prospect in next year’s draft? Sample size. He has started only one season, and there were some worrying moments in the games against Georgia and Clemson. Tagovailoa is not a finished product, and he’s playing with the best offensive talent in college football.
“I want to see more from him this season. Still, there’s a reason he’s my top-ranked quarterback and the favorite to go No. 1 in 2020. He’s an extremely accurate thrower with great athleticism and advanced footwork. The left-handed passer should star again in 2019, and I’m excited to see how he has progressed.”
But during an ESPN TV appearance, Kiper explained why NFL teams need to see more from Tua: “You think about the playoffs, he wasn’t at his best. You think about the Georgia game, the Clemson game, you go back to the LSU games. Against the elite teams, top level defenses, he tended to struggle late in the year. Against some of the lesser teams, teams [Alabama] could overmatch from a talent standpoint, he put up huge numbers. “
Against Georgia in the SEC championship game last Dec. 1, Tua was 10 for 25 for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In the national championship game loss to Clemson, he was 22 for 34 for 295 yards but two interceptions to go with two TDs. He carved up a suspect Oklahoma defense in a national semifinal playoff game, going 24 for 27 for 318 yards and four TDs.
But Kiper notes that a QB went No. 1 in 16 of the last 22 drafts.
Tagovailoa, while a very good prospect, isn’t quite at the level Andrew Luck was as a prospect in the 2012 draft. And that’s why the Dolphins - despite my initial skepticism - might have done the right thing in hedging their bets by taking a flier on Rosen.
As for putting Herbert 10th, Kiper said on ESPN.com: “Herbert was in the top 10 of my Big Board for much of the 2019 cycle, and he could have been a first-round pick if he had entered the draft. I wasn’t surprised he decided to return to school, though, and it could be a great decision for him. He has all of the makings of a No. 1 overall pick -- great size, a big arm to make every throw, limited interceptions, good athleticism. But then you watch his games against Bowling Green and San Jose State, in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and had four picks. What happened there? Herbert misses some throws that first-round picks just can’t miss. I’d like to see more consistency out of him in 2019.”
Kiper ranks Georgia’s Jake Fromm 18th, noting that “I was really impressed with Fromm’s poise and decision-making in Georgia’s run to the national title game in 2017. A true freshman leading the way for the Bulldogs’ comeback in the College Football Playoff win over Oklahoma was tremendous to see. Fromm doesn’t have great measurables or a great arm, but he’s accurate, and he doesn’t make mistakes. You could see his improvement in 2018, and I expect him to take another step this season.”
Todd McShay’s, Kiper’s ESPN colleague, has Tagovailoa going first in his 2020 mock draft (to the Dolphins), Herbert fifth and Iowa’s Nate Stanley 31st. McShay doesn’t have Fromm in the first round.
On ESPN.com, McShay said of Herbert: “If he had declared for the 2019 draft, he might have been a top-10 pick -- and for good reason. The 6-6, 233-pound quarterback has a good combination of arm strength and touch, and he threw for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns for the Ducks last season. He is also mobile and can run when he needs to. But he does have some room for development in decision-making.”
Of Stanley, McShay said: “Stanley has the tools to become a starting NFL quarterback, and I think his decision to get another season of college game experience will pay off. He threw for 2,852 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. This is going to be a very good quarterback class.”
The best case scenario for the Dolphins from a draft standout? That Rosen leaves no doubt that he’s the quarterback of the future, but Miami still gets the No. 1 pick because of defensive shortcomings. Then the Dolphins could extract a boatload of assets from another team with a high pick (let’s say the Bengals) in a draft day trade for Tua.
Imagine the Dolphins emerging not only with a top five pick in that 2020 draft but an additional second and/or third rounder, among other compensation. Next April, Miami already is expected to have two picks in every round except the first round.
With the possibility of three second-rounders and three third-rounders plus a top-five pick, the Dolphins could fill virtually every hole on defense – plus right tackle and No. 1 receiver – if they draft brilliantly.
Here’s my Tuesday draft-flavored Heat six-pack.
Here’s my Tuesday piece exploring the players the Marlins are considering with the fourth pick in Monday’s amateur draft.