This past Monday, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa converged before the press in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Amidst speculation, Tagovailoa divulged that he would be forgoing his senior season at Alabama to enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
The 2017 College Football Championship Most Valuable Player has proven that he can win in the biggest stage at the collegiate level. The question is if his electric play can translate to the National Football League? The Las Vegas Raiders front office will be hard pressed to pass up a golden opportunity to add a premier signal caller.
Cloudy Future for Derek Carr
While eight teams are entrenched in the NFL playoffs , there are 24 other teams that are shifting their efforts into preparing for next season. Free agency looms on the horizon, and shortly thereafter, the 2020 NFL Draft. Prospects from numerous collegiate programs are stating their intents this week of either returning for their senior seasons, or declaring to enter the draft. The Raiders also have tough decisions to make as they are in the middle of a polarizing situation at quarterback. Head coach Jon Gruden formulated this response when he was questioned about Derek Carr’s ‘certainty’ with the team.
“He played good. I’m not going to get into all the next-year scenarios. I’m just going to say that 7-9 is a step forward. We took a step forward. Statistically, I think we took a step forward. We’ve got to get a lot of guys healthy and we’ve got a lot of things to look at and evaluate before we start making any assumptions.”
That isn’t necessarily a reassuring quote on Carr’s future. The Raiders hold the 12th and 19th overall draft picks in April, along with three other top 100 selections. Expect Las Vegas to perform due diligence on the entire roster as they did last year when they worked out collegiate quarterbacks prior to the draft. With that being said, after the Raiders meet Tua Tagovailoa, Gruden will quickly realize that he’s the perfect fit for the Raider offense.
Gruden’s Offensive Mantra
Speaking of offense, Gruden is taking the West Coast Offense (WCO) to Las Vegas. The signal caller of any WCO needs to be a quick thinking facilitator that anticipates the routes his receivers run. He also needs to stretch opposing defenses horizontally rather than vertically. Due to the nature of relying on horizontal throws, accuracy and precision in each pass, Tagovailoa can replicate and succeed as a prototypical WCO for Gruden. Here are a few aspects of the game that the former Crimson Tide quarterback excels at.
Elite WCO Arm
On this play, Tua displays two key essential components of the WCO signal-caller:
- Quick release with anticipation.
- Precision pass that is in stride his receiver.
Perfect throw from Tua to DeVonta Smith on the slant. Puts it right on his face mask. pic.twitter.com/7NF3dsrrhF
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) October 12, 2019
The strongest aspect of the native Hawaiians’ game are his slant passes. As you can see above, he executes with deadly accuracy. The slant is also a pillar Gruden’s offense, another check mark on his potential wish list. Tagovailoa’s short/mid throw accuracy is, arguably, the best in this upcoming draft class. During his three-year college career, the quarterback averaged an incredible 69.3 completion percentage.
Another important aspect of the West Coast Offense is mobility under center. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson level mobility is not required, all that is necessary is enough to move the pocket while operating a smooth and efficient play action. The WCO is at optimal performance when the offense can capitalize on the vertical plays when dialed up. Such as this:
— InsideBamaRecruiting (@RTRnews) November 24, 2018
A reunion of Josh Jacobs and Tagovailoa in the backfield could make the play action prominent in the Silver and Black offense again. In 2019, the Raiders had the fourth least amount of play action attempts in the NFL with 88. That will quickly change with the quarterback as he puts opposing defenses in binds with his ability to maneuver in and outside the pocket.
He’s not going to blow you away with 4.2 combine speed, but he is willing and unafraid of making plays with his legs.
Alabama (-55.5) now lead 35-0 after this Tua 25-yd TD run…
Oh and they are already getting the ball back 🐘: pic.twitter.com/ZXBKXqBh7o
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) September 7, 2019
When you can create plays under center such as that, you make defenders think twice about everything they do. It also opens up the ‘second reaction offense’, which Gruden has been desiring from incumbent Carr.
“Derek is a lot more athletic than people think,” Gruden said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “Hopefully we can get some more scramble, second-reaction offense.”
Carr did use his legs at times this season, but it is clearly not something that comes naturally to him as it does with Tua.
Last but not least, another underrated facet of Tua’s game is his potency with Run/Pass/Option plays.
Per @PFF, Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa passed on 51% of his RPO plays in 2018, the HIGHEST % among CFB QBs.
When running a RPO, Alabama's offense ranked 1st in yards per play and 1st in % of plays with positive EPA. pic.twitter.com/gLPDLPD9hZ
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) August 15, 2019
As evidenced above, his quick decision making, accuracy, and mobility combined makes him a dual threat nightmare that Gruden would crave to have at his fingertips.
As displayed last year, general manager Mike Mayock made an point of emphasis to add championship caliber playmakers to the Raiders roster. Tagovailoa is a college football legend with his 2017 National Championship performance against the Georgia Bulldogs. The freshman entered the game in the third quarter with a 13-0 deficit then rallied and led the Crimson Tide to an overtime victory with a three touchdown performance.
He gave Alabama fans 2nd and 26, a national championship, but most importantly, he gave his all.
— Touchdown Alabama (@TDAlabamaMag) November 17, 2019
When the moment matters, the quarterback has shown he is a winner and champion. That type of will and character is infectious, and his ability to elevate the play of an entire team is undeniable.
The Red Flag
While Tagovailoa has all the football accolades and everything Gruden could ask for in a West Coast Offense signal-caller, there is a large question mark. Midway through the 2019 collegiate season, he suffered a gruesome season ending hip injury. Constant medical care, examinations, appointments and rehab are in full swing for the Crimson Tide standout. Obviously, front offices will inquire more about the injury as he recovers. For a complete diagnosis of what medical professionals have to say, I encourage you to read this article, which contains a complete timeline of what has transpired medically for him.
If all medical conclusions are positive for Tagovailoa, the Raiders will not pass up the opportunity to acquire him. The potential of them to trade up to acquire the Crimson Tide signal-caller should not surprise anyone. They have the draft capital to make an aggressive move for the perfect playmaker in Jon Gruden’s offense moving forward. If medically deemed for a full recovery, expect the Las Vegas Raiders and Tua Tagovailoa to kick off the 2020 NFL draft, with a bang.
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