INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa?
If not for Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip injury in November, there would likely be plenty of debate as to which of these quarterbacks the Bengals would select with the first pick of the 2020 NFL draft.
Instead, Burrow is the presumptive No. 1 pick — based on his Heisman Trophy-winning season and Cincinnati’s obvious need at quarterback, paired with Tagovailoa’s injury history.
Still, when the NFL draft arrives in Las Vegas in April, few players will command more attention than these two QBs. While the Raiders likely won’t have a shot at either — barring a blockbuster trade — where they end up could shape the future of the NFL.
Burrow has become the subject of rumors he doesn’t want to play for the the Bengals. There had been some speculation that Burrow could try to force his way into a trade, like Eli Manning did to the Chargers back in 2004.
But Burrow did his best to quash those rumors on Tuesday.
“The only thing that I’ve said is that I didn’t want to be presumptuous about the pick. So that’s why I’ve been noncommittal — because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Burrow said. “They might not pick me. They might fall in love with someone else. You guys kind of took that narrative and ran with it. But there’s never been anything like that from my end.”
Burrow will not throw at the Combine, citing the length of LSU’s national championship season as one reason why he chose not to do so.
Burrow doesn’t have much to gain by throwing. He set an NCAA record with 60 touchdown passes in the 2019 season and led the nation with 5,671 passing yards and a 76.3 completion percentage. He acknowledged he may not be the most athletic person on the field, but that’s why he puts such an emphasis on preparation.
“My physical traits are limited compared to some of the guys here, right? Everyone can see it,” Burrow said. “So I’ve got to be smarter, I’ve got to prepare better. I’ve got to know what’s happening before it happens so I can play fast.”
Fellow 2020 prospect Tua Tagovailoa acknowledged the kind of strong competitor Burrow is during his media session on Tuesday. “He’s really good,” Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa was a key piece of Alabama’s national championship team in 2017, taking over for Jalen Hurts in the second half of the championship game against Georgia and throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime to win the game. In nine games in 2019, Tagovailoa threw for 2,840 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions, completing 71.4 percent of his passes.
But the big questions about Tagovailoa this week are all about his health — evidenced by the quarterback spending all day at a medical facility on Monday.
“We went to the hospital at 10 yesterday in the morning — I was the last person to leave,” Tagovailoa said, noting he was back just before the start of the formal and informal interviews that night.
Tagovailoa says he expects to be medically cleared on March 9, which will allow him to properly run and drop back — doing all the things a quarterback must do to be successful. He said he still has been throwing, but may not be ready to do a full workout on Alabama’s Pro Day on March 24.
To that end, Tagovailoa will hold his own personal Pro Day on April 9. But he expects to be able to perform in OTAs in May and certainly expects to be fully ready to play by the start of the 2020 season.
Tagovailoa responded to a question asking whether teams may think he’s too injury prone to draft by saying, “If I’m not the person for the organization, then I’m not the person. I just feel like if I’m myself going into these interviews, then the right team will find me.”
Wherever the quarterbacks end up, they’ll have a lot to live up to given the hype surrounding them after all they accomplished at the collegiate level.