TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a projected top-10 pick who missed the Crimson Tide’s final three games while recovering from hip surgery, will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The former Heisman Trophy runner-up made the announcement during a news conference on Monday at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility on campus, calling it a “difficult decision” he made after consulting with his parents, pastors, doctors and coaches.
Tagovailoa, who did not use crutches, as he had in recent weeks, said he met with Alabama coach Nick Saban five times in the past week and had conversations with multiple NFL executives.
“It’s a unique situation,” he said. “With my hip, a lot of the guys and general managers and owners that I’ve gotten to talk to have said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury as a knee injury almost, even though it’s not, in a way that, ‘Are we going to take a chance on this guy or would he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft?’ The biggest thing they want to see is that we can move and be back to how we were playing prior to the injury.”
As to whether he’ll be physically fit enough to participate in a pro day, Tagovailoa said he would leave that up to the advice of doctors, citing a recheck of his hip surgery around the three-month mark.
“I don’t think any of the doctors can tell the foreseeable future,” he said. “None of the guys rehabbing me can tell that. From what they’ve seen in New York, everything looks good. But you can’t really tell until the three-month mark or the four-month mark. That’s the gauge.”
Despite those medical concerns, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him rated third overall in his latest Big Board. The Miami Dolphins are expected to show great interest in Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the draft if he slides that far.
Tagovailoa’s status as a draft prospect has been in question since he dislocated his hip during a Nov. 16 game against Mississippi State. He has surgery shortly thereafter and has been rehabbing with the team since. Alabama team orthopedic surgeon Lyle Cain told ESPN that Tagovailoa wouldn’t be able to resume athletic activity until around mid-February and won’t be ready to begin throwing until sometime in the spring.
Tagovailoa was still feeling the effects of a surgery to repair a high ankle sprain at the time of his hip injury. He had surgery to repair a similar high ankle sprain in his other foot the previous season.
Tagovailoa said he did not consider waiting and entering the supplemental drafts, which would have allowed him extra time to recover from surgery.
Saban, who spoke prior to Tagovailoa’s announcement, lauded the impact the quarterback has had on the entire program. Saban said Tagovailoa’s “spirit” has changed him in a positive way.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on the program here as any player we’ve ever had,” Saban said.
Tagovailoa burst onto the scene as a true freshman when he came off the bench and led Alabama to a win in the 2017 CFP National Championship Game against Georgia.
He went on to beat out Jalen Hurts for the starting job and throw a combined 76 touchdowns and nine interceptions the last two seasons. He was the runner-up to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in the 2018 Heisman Trophy race.
A few weeks after undergoing hip surgery, Tagovailoa spoke with the media about his future, saying there would be “risk-reward” whether he returned to school or entered the draft. At the time, he said being a top-10 or top-15 would be “tough to pass up.” Regardless, he said his goal was to play football in 2020, wherever that might be.
“I’m optimistic I’ll be able to play this coming season,” Tagovailoa said on Monday.
Tagovailoa made a point to thank everyone within the organization, from coaches to trainers to the public relations staff to academic advisers, as well as athletic director Greg Byrne.
Speaking of his teammates, Tagovailoa said, “I’m going to miss you all, from the starting lineup to the scout team.”
Tagovailoa did make a point to tell everyone in attendance that despite him leaving, there will still be a Tagovailoa on campus. Younger brother Taulia, who played sparingly as a true freshman, will be part of the competition to replace Tagovailoa next season.
Alabama has several options, including redshirt sophomore Mac Jones, who started four games in place of Tagovailoa. Jones was 3-1 in games he started, throwing a combined 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Incoming freshman Bryce Young, the No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2020 according to ESPN, arrived on campus this week.
Shortly after Tagovailoa’s announcement, wide receiver DeVonta Smith posted on social media that he would be returning for his senior season. The junior from Louisiana caught 14 touchdown passes this season.
Alabama has a few high-profile games to start next season, including the opener against USC in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5, and a Week 3 game at home against Georgia on Sept. 19.