2020 N.F.L. Draft

Who Is Tua Tagovailoa? A Great Mystery of the Draft

The Alabama quarterback was brilliant when healthy enough to play, but an array of injuries has raised doubts about his N.F.L. prospects.

Tua Tagovailoa in a November game, before dislocating a hip. He has been training with Trent Dilfer, a former N.F.L. quarterback, since January.
Credit...Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

Once projected as a top pick in the N.F.L. draft, Tua Tagovailoa ultimately became one of its biggest mysteries.

A dynamic left-hander who won two national championships as Alabama’s quarterback, Tagovailoa has been recovering from a hip dislocation sustained in a November game. He was cleared to begin football activities in March, but teams were unable to scout him in person because of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although this has affected all potential draft picks, it may be especially detrimental to Tagovailoa, because scouts have been unable to assess his progress in person.

During his time at Alabama, he also fractured his left index finger, sprained his right knee and hurt both ankles, and his draft hopes may have been undermined by perceptions that he will always be at risk of injury.

“Durability is as big as ability,” Michael Lombardi, a former general manager for the Cleveland Browns, said. “When you have a history of injury, I think people are concerned. You can’t overlook it.”

Tagovailoa moved to Nashville in January and started training with Trent Dilfer, a former N.F.L. quarterback who now coaches a high school team.

Dilfer said their approach borrowed a philosophy from the movie “Rocky IV”: Like Rocky, who traveled to Ukraine to train without telling anyone, Tagovailoa was to keep his plan a secret. Even his social media pages had to go quiet.

The goal, Dilfer said, was to ensure that Tagovailoa could focus solely on getting back into shape.

After lying low for January and February, Tagovailoa began making appearances on ESPN to talk about his recovery and his draft preparation.

“If I had to go out there and perform the same way I did my sophomore year and my junior year, being 100 percent healthy, I feel like I’d be able to go out there and do that,” he told ESPN.

He has also been using videos and social media to try to allay concerns teams may have. After his pro scouting day on the Alabama campus was canceled because of the pandemic, Tagovailoa set up an alternative version at a private facility. To comply with government regulations, fewer than 10 people attended. Footage from his one-hour workout was sent to N.F.L. teams, and parts of it were later posted online.

“He could go play a game tomorrow without question,” Dilfer said. “He wouldn’t even flinch.”

Tagovailoa’s agent and doctors have also been vocal on his behalf, telling the news media that he will be fine by the time training camp starts — with the same strong, accurate arm that made him the F.B.S. leader in quarterback rating last season — and that he is expected to make a full recovery.