Much was made of the performance of some freshmen in the second half of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. But, the contributions of NSD17 went far deeper than just Tua’s 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith. That magical 2017 National Signing Day class paid huge dividends all year, but especially in the final frames — and they did so in all three phases. Over the next week or two, we’re going to look back at what we projected for them as high schoolers versus the contributions they made (and especially in the CFP Playoffs): Dylan Moses, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood, Xavier McKinney, Daniel Wright, LaBryan Ray, Thomas Fletcher, and Isaiah Buggs (not a freshman, I know. #NoRefunds).
Today, we take the Quarterback:
On the evening of May 5th, 2016, I was sitting at my computer, glued to a KHON broadcast of the highest-rated Hawaii prospect ever making his college selection: St. Louis’ Tua Tagovailoa. To say that I was ecstatic is an understatement. I’ve rarely been this happy about a recruit after watching his film:
This kid is an incredible athlete, and, interestingly, a southpaw -- which you just don’t see very often with elite QB talent. And, is he ever an elite talent:
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Besides his nice touch, quick release, and ability to extend the play, Tua has exceptional feet...But, Tua is not a spread-option QB: He is a true dual threat guy and straight baller from a passing-friendly background. As Josh notes below, he does keep his eyes downfield, even when the pocket breaks down -- he’s looking to make the play with his arm. Still, you can’t help but be impressed by his running ability on the occasions when he does take off.
Josh wondered what the future would mean at the quarterback position, where athletic guys like Jalen Hurts, Tua, and Mac Jones were the future. When discussing the offensive shift of the Tide, he made a statement that would prophetic just 20 months later in Atlanta, when Tagovailoa faced his lifelong friend across the field. It did work out for everyone involved:
On a roster that includes Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, Jalen Hurts, and soon Tagovailoa, David Cornwell seems like an odd fit, and previously committed Jake Fromm did as well. In the end, everything worked out well for everyone involved...
Brent broke down the pros and cons of Tua’s game (and his SPARQ score, of course), and noted that it wasn’t necessarily the straight-line speed of Tagavailoa that wows you, it’s his ability to just make plays after he escapes the rush. He’s not even close to the most athletic player on the roster, but he’s got more than enough in the tank when you need it.
Tua has the velocity on his throws to really thread needles across the middle on even intermediate level passes, and can get pretty good distance on his deep balls. He usually puts a lot of spin on his passes, which can make them a little easier for a receiver to catch, as the ball will spin into their gloves.
He’s exceptional at dodging defenders in the pocket and scrambling around to find another receiver. There’s a reason he’s been repeatedly compared to Russell Wilson and Randall Cunningham in the media (and I would add Doug Flutie as an even better comparison). He’s got the explosiveness and fleetness-of-foot to escape any hairy situation, and can turn what should have been a sack into a big play.
In retrospect, the excitement we had about Tagovailoa was well-invested. He is special, that’s plain to see. His ability to extend plays, to avoid the rush, to keep his eyes upfield, and the arm strength to make a big throw all pair well with his background in a pass-friendly offense. We did get a little antsy with Lane Kiffin’s departure to FAU, but CB was able to calm everyone down, noting the strong relationship the entire family had built with Nick Saban, as well as Tua’s personal relationship with Coach Tosh Lupoi.
While it’s politic (and true) to say “we couldn’t have done this without you,” Alabama really could not have done this without him. And, his commitment to Alabama paid equally huge dividends later in the process when it came to the Tide retaining another game-changing recruit, running back Najee Harris.
Up Next: Najee Harris