We don't know when Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be drafted this April, but one thing we can do while we wait to find out is consider which teams would be the best fits for him in the NFL.
First, here's a quick scouting report. Tagovailoa has elite arm strength, which allows him to make all the NFL throws, and athleticism equivalent to that of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He's a very competitive and grounded person who has a real natural feel for football; he has a great sense of anticipation when throwing the ball, and he makes good decisions to keep plays alive.
Modern medicine is such that players are able to recover quickly from injuries that would have ended careers even 10 years ago; think of Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith. A devastating knee injury knocked Smith into the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft and forced him to miss his rookie season, but he's now coming off his third straight 16-game campaign. For his part, Tagovailoa said this week that "everything looks good" and expressed optimism that he'll be ready for the 2020 season, but he also cautioned that much still depends on how his rehab progresses. One thing teams can take comfort in is the knowledge that Tagovailoa will work hard to get right. In this kind of a situation, you're betting on the man, and in Tagovailoa's case, it's a good bet.
Based on what we know at this point, I'd expect Tagovailoa to fully regain the athleticism he showed in college, but even if he were only half as mobile as he was, he'd still be more mobile than half the quarterbacks in the NFL. While further clarity on his medical timeline could have an obvious impact, and plenty might change between now and draft day, I still see Tagovailoa going in the first round.
While practically any team could use a quarterback of Tagovailoa's talent, I see him fitting exceptionally well with the five organizations listed below.
NOTE: This is not meant to be a projection or prediction of where Tagovailoa will be picked, or even necessarily a reflection of which teams have a realistic chance to add him. Rather, I'm zeroing in on the teams that could best use his services at quarterback, regardless of how much draft capital they possess.
1) Miami Dolphins
When I chose the Dolphins (who hold the fifth overall pick) as the most likely team to jump from worst to first in 2020, I highlighted the presence of some real talent on Miami's roster, including receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, who served as bright spots (72 catches for 1,202 yards and nine scores by Parker and 51 catches for 570 yards and five scores by Gesicki) during a challenging season. Tagovailoa's scrambling ability and arm strength should make Parker an especially appealing target, given that the former first-rounder finished with the fifth-most receiving yards (412) on deep passes (20-plus air yards) in the NFL in 2019 despite working with a quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick who ranked 17th in deep passing attempts (53). Parker was open on just 4.2 percent of deep targets, according to Next Gen Stats, tied for fifth-worst among those with 10-plus deep targets, while a league-high 70.8 percent of his deep passes were thrown into tight windows. Imagine what a reliable deep threat he could be for Tagovailoa.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, could serve as an ideal mentor and/or placeholder, depending on how quickly Tagovailoa adjusts to the NFL game. Head coach Brian Flores has the flexibility to get the most out of whichever rookie QB the Dolphins end up with. I've known new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey a long time, and I think he was a great hire. Smart and patient, Gailey knows how to coach young players and would serve as an effective mentor for Tagovailoa.
2) Los Angeles Chargers
Like the Dolphins, the Chargers have some dynamic weapons on offense, including Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. There is the question of what will happen with Philip Rivers, who, at age 38, just posted the third-worst passer rating (88.5) of his career as a starter, while throwing 20 picks, and is headed for free agency. Rivers is a great competitor, but I think he showed signs of slippage, and it would be better for the Chargers to part ways with him as they try to further entrench themselves in Los Angeles during their first season in a shiny new stadium. Taking Tagovailoa sixth overall could provide a serious jolt to the organization and inject life into the fan base.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars already have a veteran (Nick Foles) and an up-and-comer (Gardner Minshew) on the depth chart at QB, but Foles was both injured and benched during the course of the 2019 season, while Minshew alternately showed promise and scuffled while filling in for Foles. Minshew's resume (including an 11-win season at Washington State) and ability to provide a spark after Foles' Week 1 injury should not be overlooked, but I'm not sure he's the kind of quarterback who can lead you to the playoffs. Depending on how the Jaguars feel about Minshew, it would not be unreasonable to restart at quarterback and take a swing on a premium-tier prospect if they have the opportunity (Jacksonville currently picks ninth overall). Tagovailoa has more upside than Minshew and -- though it might be hard for anyone who witnessed Minshew Mania to believe -- could bring even more hope and happiness to the fan base. Yes, the last QB drafted by Jacksonville in the first round -- Blake Bortles -- didn't exactly pan out, but Tagovailoa is a better player than Bortles was coming out of college.
4) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are in a sort of quarterback limbo until they decide whether to bring Cam Newton back as the starter in 2020 after a lost season. That said, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are the kinds of young pieces that could help make Tagovailoa an instant competitor and grow with him as he continues to get a feel for the NFL game. I'm not sure Newton will ever reach the heights of his MVP 2015 season again, given that he's coming off a foot injury at age 30. I think it would make sense to turn the page and let new coach Matt Rhule start his Carolina tenure with a new QB, especially with McCaffrey being in his prime right now as a dynamic, athletic source of offensive mayhem in both the run and pass games.
5) New England Patriots
Tom Brady's future is the immediate concern in New England, but whether he's on the roster in 2020 or not, it's safe to say the Pats could use a quarterback, unless they really think that fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham has serious long-term upside. Highly sought-after quarterback prospects tend not to fall to New England's draft position; I wouldn't expect a prospect like, say, Joe Burrow to still be on the board when the Pats' turn comes around later in the first round. But Tagovailoa's injury history might push the Nick Saban acolyte into the range of Saban's former boss. Should Bill Belichick have a chance to land the quarterback who threw 87 touchdown passes against 11 picks for his good friend, I could see him changing his offense to accommodate Tagovailoa.