November 16, 2019, stands as a dark day for Alabama football. The images of watching number 13 for the Crimson Tide rolling on the field in agony and being carted off was a horrific sight for any fan to swallow. After a gutsy showing in a loss to LSU, their star quarterback being rewarded like this proves the football gods have a sick sense of humor, both for collegiate and professional athletes. Alabama would end up winning the battle that day, but the fact that they are missing the College Football Playoff for the first time since its inception signifies that the cost was far too great.
For Tua Tagovailoa, the hip injury cast a dark cloud over his draft status, putting up a serious red flag and limiting his chances of a high draft pick. For Alabama, losing their star quarterback played a role in a season that fell short of expectations. Both sides came out disappointed, and nothing cures disappointment more than redemption.
Which brings us to the core of this article: what happens if Tua decides to prove himself and remain in Tuscaloosa for his senior year?
For one thing, it makes 2021’s quarterback crop one of the most exciting in recent memory, maybe even more so than 2018’s quartet of Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen. Likely joining Tua would be Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Justin Fields of Ohio State, two of the most exciting young players in college football today. Depending on what Jake Fromm of Georgia, Jacob Eason of Washington, and Jordan Love of Utah State choose to do, more prospects may arise for the upcoming year. And that’s not counting any breakouts or star transfers that 2020 will inevitably provide. Either way, if Tua stays, that’s at least three potential lottery tickets at football’s most important position.
As far as this year is concerned, Tua deciding to stay ends the current debate between whether he or LSU’s Joe Burrow is better. The likely Heisman Trophy winner becomes the undisputed top guy at the quarterback position, and his stock will skyrocket even more than it already has over the last few months. It would sound like Burrow is the shoo-in for the number one pick, which currently means heading off to the Cincinnati Bengals with hopes that he can turn the franchise’s luck around.
However, let’s present another question: with all of the information provided, and with all of the players likely available for the 2020 draft, is Burrow to Cincinnati truly a guarantee?
Think back to the 2021 draft for a second. Three relatively good chances at landing a franchise quarterback, three potential rises in stock if the players stay, and at least one theoretical breakout that turns the college football landscape on its head. There’s enough promise to get NFL scouts salivating, hoping to get their hands on a hot commodity or unearth any hidden gems laying around. With a theoretically better chance for success in 2021 than 2020, it’s highly possible that the rebuilding teams are willing to sacrifice another season in order to land a potential superstar.
Also working against Burrow is the talent that this year’s draft class, providing multiple answers for different positions. Need a surefire number 1 receiver? Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) have you covered. Need someone to protect the edge and keep the quarterback upright? Say hello to Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), and Austin Jackson (USC). On the other side of the ball, Chase Young of Ohio State is a Heisman finalist himself, an edge rusher who a team can build their defense off of for the next decade. A.J. Epenesa (Iowa) is also another intriguing option, as is Derrick Brown (Auburn) if looking at interior defensive linemen. Defensive backs also come in nice supply, with Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) and two LSU defensive backs in Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton leading the charge. With all of this talent at the top of the class, teams will have no problem if they’re looking to draft based off of pure need.
Now let’s look at the current top 10 in the draft order and assess the situation. The Giants (#2), Redskins (#3), and Cardinals (#6) all drafted quarterbacks this past season. The Jaguars (#7) and Jets (#9) both have at least another year before they start thinking about another quarterback. The Lions (#5) and Falcons (#8) both have established QB1s and have more pressing needs to attend to. With that, the choices are whittled down to three. There’s the obvious choices in the Bengals (#1) and Dolphins (#4). It was once the consensus that whoever between Burrow or Tua was not drafted by Cincinnati would be heading to South Beach as the centerpiece of the Dolphins’ rebuilding effort. However, without Tua and with the added prospects of Lawrence and Fields, would anyone really fault either team with going for a top all-around prospect? Young would be a slam dunk first pick for the Bengals, while the Dolphins could use help almost all across the board. Getting another franchise cornerstone outside of a quarterback now may be risky, but if a top quarterback prospect is at the other end of the rainbow, it will be all worth it in the end.
Which brings us to the last team up: the Chargers with the number 10 pick. Philip Rivers is enduring a rough season, and at his age, there may be reason to believe he’s in decline. Tyrod Taylor is there, but he’s more of a stopgap option with familiarity to head coach Anthony Lynn. If Burrow somehow slides all the way to them, the Chargers could be the team to swoop in on him. They have no real intention to be close to the top of the draft order next year, so landing a quality prospect like Burrow and building him up for at least a year is definitely in the realm of possibility. Of course, with the poor offensive lines the Chargers have consistently trotted out over this decade, they have more than enough reasons to go after an offensive lineman as well. At least one of Wirfs or Jackson should be up on the board when the Chargers are on the clock, so if this situation plays out, the ball would be firmly in GM Tom Telesco’s court.
There’s also the chance that a team trades up into the top 10 for Burrow, as well. The Panthers can use a quarterback if Cam Newton truly has played his final down in Charlotte. The Buccaneers will need a replacement for Jameis Winston. The Titans look to move on from Marcus Mariota, and might also look at insurance policies for Ryan Tannehill. Maybe even the Cowboys could look into options if they botch Dak Prescott’s extension and he wants out.
No matter how the situation plays out, Tua deciding to forego the 2020 Draft in favor of cementing himself as a top-flight quarterback has the chance to cause some chaos. 2021 becomes the new year of the quarterback, and teams might think about taking this next opportunity to build up their overall team before pouncing on the quarterback position. Maybe Tua decides to take his chances this year and the debate rages on for the next decade. There are many college football players who will make waves with their choices to declare, but very few, if any, will make the same impact that Tua’s decision does.