by Alex Poletti
Photo by Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
After a season of adversity, star junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took the leap of faith and declared for the NFL draft. However, his hip injury against Mississippi State in November is still nagging him, which means he will become the first quarterback to participate in the combine while in a wheelchair.
“I’m ready to thank the next step in my career,” Tagovailoa told reporters in a press conference. “I’d like to thank my coaches, my family, the doctors who are helping me through this injury and Nike for giving my wheelchair these sick gold rims.”
The Hawaiin-raised dual threat was on track to become a slam-dunk first overall pick before the season started, fueling the ‘Tanking for Tua’ narrative across the NFL. After setting the Crimson Tide record for most touchdowns in a career, Tagovailoa suffered a heartbreaking (and hip-breaking) injury, shutting him down for the rest of the season and taking him out of Heisman contention. Now no longer a lock for the top 10, Tua will rely on his resume and an unusual combine to set him apart.
“I still think I’ll be able to perform in the combine,” Tua says. “The 40-yard dash may be a little more difficult, but if we can somehow manage to get the field on a downslope, I could easily roll a sub-4.40.”
As one of the best scramblers in college football history, Tagovailoa’s legs matter as much as his arm. Now utilising the assistance of a wheelchair both on and off the field, his mobility outside the pocket is in question.
“I think this helps me overall,” the 2018 Heisman runner-up says. “Sure, I may not be able to escape the pocket like I once did, but no one is going to sack a guy in a wheelchair. That’s a dick move, man. Unless Vontaze Burfict is playing, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Teams are learning to take risks when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. John Harbaugh and the Ravens decided to completely revamp their offense to suit Lamar Jackson’s versatile skill set. With Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman a likely head coaching candidate, perhaps the team that acquires his services will look at Tua as an opportunity.
“I’d take Tua in a wheelchair over Tom Brady with the walker he’ll have to use next year to get on and off the field any day,” Roman says. “At least with Tua, you won’t need a Life Alert when he has fallen and can’t get up.”