TUSCALOOSA, Al. — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is entering the NFL draft, ending a college career that began with splash and ended with a devastating injury.
Tagovailoa, who had surgery on his right hip in November, announced his decision Monday, ending two months of speculation regarding the star quarterback’s plans as he tries to return from the serious injury. He was projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick before the injury Nov. 16 against Mississippi State.
That made his draft status less clear. Alabama team surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain has said Tagovailoa’s prognosis was “excellent” and predicted a full recovery.
Tagovailoa said he’s optimistic he’ll be able to play next season, but even he said it’s hard to predict how high he’ll be drafted.
“It’s a unique situation, for sure,” Tagovailoa said. “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.”
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 has 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. He’s got great character. He’s a great leader. He’s done a wonderful job in the classroom.
“There’s a spirit about him that has impacted myself and everybody around him in a very, very positive way.”
Tagovailoa also had other injury issues during his career. He left the Southeastern Conference championship game as a sophomore with an ankle injury and missed the second half of the Tennessee game and the Arkansas game with a high ankle sprain.
He returned to throw for 418 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to No. 1 LSU and was injured late in the first half of the next game.
The left-handed passer from Hawaii became one of Alabama’s most prolific passers, and most popular players. Tagovailoa became a sensation in the national championship game two years ago. The freshman came off the bench to lead the Crimson Tide to a comeback win over Georgia, throwing the game-winning touchdown to DeVonta Smith in overtime.
He then beat out two-year starter Jalen Hurts for the starting job. After the season, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and was the Heisman runner-up while leading the Sooners into the playoffs.
But it had become Tua’s team well before that.
“My three years at the University of Alabama have been a roller coaster,” Tagovailoa said. “I’ve had my fair share of many ups and a handful of downs. And I couldn’t be happier to know that with all the successes and failures I’ve had at the university, it has prepared me for life in general.”
Mac Jones started the final two regular season games and the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. He passed for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
He finished with a big bowl performance, passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the Western Carolina and Auburn in a 35-16 win.
Jones could face competition from freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, and incoming five-star recruit Bryce Young.