After seemingly endless hype and anticipation, the Miami Dolphins made it official Thursday night, selecting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the earliest of their three first-round picks.
The Dolphins selected the former Heisman Trophy runner-up amid rampant speculation about his durability at the next level. Tagovailoa's collegiate career ended prematurely with a hip injury requiring surgery, the latest in a string of injuries that knocked him from his preseason perch as the presumptive top overall pick in this draft.
The Dolphins tore down their roster before the 2019 season with the intention of building from the ground up, with owner Stephen Ross making it clear that the foundation would be the new quarterback.
As the project launched, fans took to the battle cry of “Tank for Tua."
Today, they hope the Dolphins have finally found someone to fill a void no one has in Miami since Dan Marino retired.
Tagovailoa’s Miami backers feared that passing on him would haunt the Dolphins in the same manner that injury worries led them to pass on Drew Brees in 2006.
Besides the fortunes of the franchise, the Tagovailoa selection is a landmark move for general manager Chris Grier, head of the Dolphins’ football operations. Some suggested injury concerns would steer Grier to Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
“They’re both interesting kids,” Grier said days before the draft. “I’ve gotten to know both of them through this process. Really good people, good players. They’ve both won.”
But Herbert could not match Tagovailoa’s statistics. In Tagovailoa’s shortened 2019 season, he completed 71.2% of his passes to Herbert’s 66.0%. He averaged 11.3 yards per attempt, dwarfing Herbert’s 8.0. And for his career, Tagovailoa threw 86 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions.
NFL teams had to decide for themselves whether his injury record was a matter of bad luck or an alarming trend. It was a difficult question to answer because the coronavirus pandemic led the NFL to go into lockdown mode, preventing the Dolphins from having face-to-face contact once the quarterback received a clean bill of health from his doctors, according to his camp. The clearance came long after the NFL combine, which also robbed NFL teams a chance to watch him work out in person.
Tagovailoa’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, said his client is back at 100%, pointing to findings of the two doctors who have treated Tagovailoa, Lyle Cain and Chip Routt.
“Neither believe that he’s at risk for a reoccurence," Steinberg told USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones in April. "He’s going to be ready for training camp and won’t miss any time.”
Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer was hired by Tagovailoa’s father to be his personal coach. Dilfer set out to tear Tagovailoa down and build him back up.
Early this month, Dilfer boasted, “If he would have never gotten hurt there would have been no discussion about who the best player in the draft is. He throws the football better than anyone throws the football. He throws better than Aaron Rodgers and Dan Marino. Whoever gets him wins the draft because you are getting a Hall of Fame player.”
To back it up, Dilfer held a virtual pro day for Tagovailoa that involved 55 scripted throws, then sent the video to every NFL team.
Thursday evening, the Dolphins and Grier gave their review by making the pick.
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