If there’s anyone who can give us a first-hand scouting report on the numerous Alabama prospects in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft, former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa might be a decent source to tap into.
We recently spent some time talking to Tagovailoa about his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins, how he got back on the field 11 months after his major hip injury and his work with Muscle Milk and its “Tua Days” promotion.
Tua’s takes on his former Bama prospects stood out, namely his opinions on this year’s Big Four — QB Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, all of whom could end up first-round selections.
(An aside: Bama has multiple offensive line prospects and defenders we wanted to get to as well, but it just wasn’t in the cards this time.)
Here’s how Tagovailoa broke down his former college teammates, including one he’d love to play with in Miami next season:
QB Mac Jones
Born Michael McCorkle Jones, “Mac” originally signed with Kentucky as a 4-star recruit. Then Nick Saban came in late with a scholarship offer. Despite Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts being on the roster, Jones couldn’t refuse Saban and enrolled early at the school in 2017.
After redshirting his first year, Jones first made his name at the Tide’s spring game. While Hurts struggled that day, Jones lit it up: 23 of 35 passing for 289 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception.
Eventually Hurts transferred to Oklahoma, and when Tagovailoa suffered a major hip injury against Mississippi State in 2019, Jones’ time had arrived. He was solid down the stretch that season and despite the team losing the Iron Bowl to Auburn, Jones led the Crimson Tide to a bowl win over Michigan.
Then Jones broke out in 2020, being named a Heisman Trophy finalist with a 41-4 TD-INT ratio, 4,500 pass yards and a 77.8 completion rate for the national champs. Once considered an intriguing Day 2 candidate, now Jones is routinely mentioned as a possible first-round selection in 2021.
How does Tagovailoa regard his former backup’s game?
“I would say he’s a sly kind of athletic person. He’s a more mobile Tom Brady,” Tagovailoa told Yahoo Sports. “He’s very athletic.”
That might surprise some people to read. After all, Jones’ athletic limitations — at least in comparison to other top QB prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance — are often spotlighted as one of his shortcomings.
Tagovailoa didn’t seem fazed by that reputation of the player whom he watched develop for three years. And during that time, Tagovailoa couldn’t help but be impressed with Jones’ intangibles as well.
“He’s very smart, too,” Tagovailoa said. “Not just on the field, but off the field as well.”
And it’s not just his personality. Tagovailoa indicated that their teammates naturally gravitated to Mac.
“He’s a really great person,” Tagovailoa said. “A lot of the guys, when I was playing at Alabama, they really loved being around his personality and who he was.
“So I’m thinking whatever team gets him they’re going to be very lucky. He’s a great player.”
RB Najee Harris
Like Jones, Harris entered a crowded situation at his position when he arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Tide featured a backfield in 2017 with future NFL runners Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, as well as Brian Robinson Jr., Najee Harris’ backup this past season (who will return to school in 2021, thanks to the NCAA’s blanket eligibility waiver).
Unlike Jones, Harris came in as an elite recruit — named the No. 1 signee in the country, in fact, by Rivals.
Harris split carries with Jacobs and Damien Harris (no relation) his first two years and established himself as a power complement for one of the best run games in college football. The one thing Najee Harris didn’t really do in 2017 and 2018 was showcase much value in the passing game.
In those two seasons, Harris caught seven passes for a mere 10 yards. He looked to be a one-note power back and led to this regrettable take prior to the 2019 season when we suggested Harris might not be a great fit in the NFL with his lack of value on third downs.
Harris turned out to be a more-than-capable receiver, showcasing great hands and body control, diversifying his pro value by catching a combined 70 passes for 729 yards and 11 TDs over his final two seasons.
We asked Tagovailoa about his former lead back’s game.
“He’s a well-rounded running back,” he said. “He’s very athletic. He can run. He can make a man miss. He can power through someone.
“And then he’s very good in the pass game. Not just with his catching, I think what’s overshadowed by his success with the catches and the runs is his blocking.”
Tagovailoa’s most interesting comments — unprompted, for what it’s worth — came when he suggested that the duo might be a tandem again.
“He’s going to be a fun guy to watch this upcoming season,” Tagovailoa said. “Hopefully we’re on the same team.”
It’s worth noting that Tagovailoa didn’t say that last part for the other three Bama players we asked him about. Maybe that was just coincidence. Or maybe there’s something to it.
The Dolphins own two picks in each of the first two rounds (Nos. 3, 18, 36 and 50 overall) and could stand to use some backfield help for Brian Flores’ physical operation.
WRs DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle
The Crimson Tide has had one of the best receiving groups in recent college football history, continuing to churn out elite talent at the position year after year. One of the negatives you’ll hear when assessing Bama offensive prospects (including Tagovailoa when he came out) is that they’re loaded with top-shelf talent.
Smith and Waddle are different players who win in different ways. We asked Tagovailoa what he felt each of their superpowers were as prospects.
“Both really good in space, very athletic,” Tagovailoa said. “They can take the top off.
“For Smitty, he’ll go up and get it. And with Waddle, he’s universal. You can do anything with that guy. Put him at receiver, running back, [in the] slot. He’ll make something happen.”
The knock on Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner who turned in perhaps the greatest statistical season ever by a college wide receiver, has been his slight frame. The 6-foot Smith didn’t weigh in at the Senior Bowl.
But Tagovailoa told a great story about Smith during their freshman seasons of 2017. Alabama trailed Georgia in the national title game at halftime, leading Saban to bench Hurts and bring in Tagovailoa to give the Tide a spark. He did just that, bringing Bama back from down two scores to tie the game.
Trailing 23-20 in overtime, Tagovailoa took a bad sack that put the Tide out of field-goal range, making things dire again for Saban’s team. That was when Smith got in his freshman QB’s ear.
“Going back to my freshman year, the national championship game,” Tagovailoa said. “Before the pass, he told me to give him the ball. So I trusted him, gave him the ball, and you see exactly what he did.”
The pass, of course, was the 41-yard walk-off touchdown throw, Tagovailoa to Smith. Two legends were born that day.
Tagovailoa has no concerns about his former teammate’s lack of bulk — and didn’t seem bothered by the fact that Smith reportedly told one NFL team that he would take Mac Jones over Tagovailoa if he had the choice.
“To me, film never lies,” Tagovailoa said of Smith. “I think the entire world got to see this past year what kind of player that he really is. You give him the ball, he’ll make something happen.
“I mean, they don’t call him the ‘Slim Reaper’ for no reason. I mean, he comes and he comes to kill.”
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