With the 2020 NFL Draft just days away, the Dolphins — who had been accused of “Tanking for Tua” this past season — are reportedly more interested in talking to Justin Herbert amid growing concerns about Tua Tagovailoa’s health.
“No team has done more work on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert over the past two years than the Dolphins,” a college football source told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “That continued recently when Miami held a video-conference session with him.”
The months leading up to this year’s draft have been disproportionately unkind to Tagovailoa, and the 22-year-old Herbert appears to be the beneficiary in this zero-sum game. Once a prospect who could have vied for the No. 1 selection, Tagovailoa’s assessment is now rife with apparent uncertainty.
The shift in momentum has little to do with Herbert and is much more of an indictment of Tagovailoa, 22, who suffered a season-ending hip injury on Nov. 16 and finished the season at Alabama with 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 71.4 completion percentage through nine games. Since then, LSU’s Joe Burrow has become the presumed No. 1 pick after capturing the Heisman Trophy and leading the Tigers to a national championship.
Reports of Tagovailoa’s rehab and medical assessments have been positive, though he opted out of participating in drills at the 2020 NFL Combine in February with the plan of showcasing his skills at his own Pro Day like other high-profile prospects, including Burrow. The Pro Day had to be conducted virtually to adhere to social distancing measures, which may have done little to mollify anxiety among teams betting their immediate future on them.
Herbert finished his senior year with 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 66.8 completion percentage. Though he has drawn criticism for his pocket awareness, conservative style and demure personality, with no serious injury concerns and an ideal 6-foot-6, 238-pound stature, he has the edge over Tagovailoa physically.
“From people who have spoken to members of the Dolphins’ front office, what’s known is the Dolphins appreciate Herbert’s skill set, his size, his build and his arm strength,” Jackson wrote.
This latest report from Jackson adds to a growing sense that teams and analysts remain uneasy about Tagovailoa. In an April 7 mock, NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah projected Herbert, whom he refers to as a “clean” prospect, to be taken by the Dolphins at No. 5 ahead of Tagovailoa.
“I have Tua Tagovailoa rated higher than Herbert, but I think there’s a legitimate chance the Oregon QB goes ahead of Tua,” Jeremiah wrote.
NFL draft analyst Matt Miller wrote on March 30 that “multiple teams” now prefer Justin Herbert “because of [Tagovailoa’s] injuries and the unknowns.”
“Don’t be surprised if Justin Herbert is the second quarterback picked because there are no questions about injuries when it comes to his evaluation,” Miller wrote.
“I’ve had Tua No. 2 for a long time, I love the kid … but as I get closer and I keep thinking deeper with this, the injury — he’s healthy now, but he hasn’t taken a snap,” NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said on “NFL Now” in March. “So we start talking about the other guy, Justin Herbert from Oregon, there’s a lot of positive things about him. I’m not sure if I’d put him in the second tier. I think I’d put him up in the first tier because there’s a debate, in my mind, if Tua would go second because of those health reasons.”
A source also told the Herald on March 31 that “the Dolphins will make an attempt to trade to No. 1 in the draft,” presumably to secure Burrow, which could suggest the team isn’t sold on either Tagovailoa or Herbert.