In exactly a month, the 2020 NFL Draft will commence, with league commissioner Roger Goodell announcing which team LSU quarterback Joe Burrow goes to as the No. 1 overall pick — whether that’s to the team currently on the clock, the Bengals, or one that trades up to get him.
Once Burrow is drafted, let the questions begin — more questions than perhaps any NFL draft in memory has presented teams in need of talent.
In a perfect world with the least possible number of variables, the NFL draft is the sports world’s largest crapshoot. There’s no such a thing as sure thing in the draft — even in the most perfect of worlds.
We, of course, are not living in a perfect world, with the spread of the coronavirus creating chaos across the country.
The part of the chaos that affects the lead-up to the draft is how the state the country is in prevents teams from bringing prospective draftees into their facilities for interviews, physicals and workouts.
This considerably muddies the waters as it relates to the most intriguing player in the draft, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose injury history threatens to overshadow the dynamic talent he is.
Before the 2019 college football season, Tagovailoa was the consensus No. 1 pick for 2020 among draft experts.
Then, in November, he suffered a dislocated and fractured hip that required surgery, wrecked his final collegiate season and left his NFL career in doubt because he’s still in recovery.
The hip injury was merely the latest and most serious injury he’s suffered. There was the ankle injury in October that required surgery, the ankle injury in December 2018 that also required surgery, and in October and November 2018, he suffered knee and quad injuries. Before that, he fractured the index finger on his throwing hand in March 2018.
Those are a lot of red flags for a player whose talent is tantalizing enough for a team to think seriously about mortgaging its future on him as its franchise quarterback.
But with teams unable to have Tagovailoa in for a pre-draft up-close-and-personal visit to assess exactly where his recovery stands from that November hip injury, those flags are a brighter red.
Before the 2019 NFL season began, the Dolphins were considered the weak links of the league and a tanking campaign was created and embraced by fans and Miami media. It even became a hashtag: #TankForTua.
The Dolphins, thanks to an exemplary coaching job by Brian Flores in his first year, didn’t follow the script and played well enough to fall to the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, not the first.
Burrow’s emergence in LSU’s national championship season — not to mention his good health — has elevated him to what seems to be the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick.
He’s the wild card of the draft. He could end up as the best player in it or his NFL career may never get out of first gear because he continues to get injured. No player in this draft has a wider, more dramatic boom-or-bust gap.
In the lead-up to the 2017 draft, I implored the Jets (in a column) to pick Deshaun Watson despite the fact that he’d torn the ACL in his left knee and was a risk because of his injury history and the fact that one of his best assets was his mobility.
The point of the argument was that a team like that Jets, in desperate need of finding a franchise quarterback for decades, needs to stick its neck out and take a chance on a player who might be generational.
Watson was the Tagovailoa of that 2017 draft. The Jets passed on Watson with the sixth-overall pick and selected safety Jamal Adams, who’s become a terrific player. Watson went 12th overall and has been the face of the Texans since.
The Dolphins, who haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino, failed on their tank job. But they can still make it right with Tagovailoa, because they have the draft capital to trade up and make it happen with three picks in the first round (Nos. 5, 18 and 26).
They should follow the advice the Jets never took from me in 2017 and draft Tagovailoa. Let him learn behind veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for a year while he becomes healthier and stronger and then hand him the keys to the franchise in 2021.
The Texans took a chance on Watson in 2017 and, after he suffered a torn right ACL that wrecked his rookie year just six games into it, he’s led Houston to the playoffs the past two seasons, compiling a 21-11 record throwing 52 TDs and only 21 INTs in that span.
In 32 college games, Tagovailoa completed 69.3 percent of his passes for 7,442 yards with 87 TDs and only 11 INTs. His character is impeccable, so there’s no concern of any off-field issues.
That all adds up to this: #DoItDolphins.