Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday he has not yet been told whether quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will return to school or enter the NFL draft.
After Alabama beat Michigan 35-16 in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl to end the season, the biggest question remaining for the Crimson Tide is how many of their draft-eligible players will come back. The list starts with Tagovailoa, who suffered a dislocated right hip in November against Mississippi State, throwing his future into question.
Despite the injury, Tagovailoa remains Alabama’s top-rated prospect on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board, ranking No. 3. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, a big Michigan donor, was in Orlando with a Dolphins contingent and spotted on the Michigan sideline pregame standing where Tagovailoa was on the field — with crutches taking in pregame warmups.
Miami needs a quarterback, and many still project the Dolphins to take him.
Tagovailoa has been noncommittal about his future since the injury. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 17.
“That’s a decision that I think his family needs to make,” Saban said. “And I’m sure when they make that decision, they’ll let everybody know. I think it’s our responsibility and our job to make sure that we give them all the information from an NFL standpoint, from a medical standpoint, from a rehab standpoint. And if there is any way that he could possibly be devalued because of his injury, what are the consequences of that and how does that affect his decision and what he does in the future. But he’s been a great leader for us. He’s a great player on our team. He was elected captain of the team by his teammates. And we just want what’s best for him.
“I think that’s my job with all the players, is to make sure they get the right information from the right people about what their status is so that they can make a business decision about what they do for their future. And that’s what we’re going continue to do and we’re going to continue to do that for Tua and his family.”
Saban was then asked whether Tagovailoa would be ready medically for this year’s April draft, or whether it would benefit him to come back to school for one more year.
“I’m not a doctor,” Saban said. “I haven’t operated on anybody’s hip before. I’m struggling to be a good coach, which is plenty to do for me. That’s a question for a medical person. We have a lot of hip specialists that have given the family a lot of information and we’re going to continue to do that. Our medical staff has done a great job of getting Tua to this point and his rehab is going well, and that’s what we’re going to be responsible to try to help him with in the short term.”
The underclassmen with NFL prospects far exceeds Tagovailoa. Two players, linebacker Terrell Lewis and cornerback Trevon Diggs, opted to sit out the game. But Saban said nine juniors who received draft grades decided to play against Michigan, a rarity in an era when many draft-eligible players skip bowl games to protect their status.
One of those top-rated juniors, receiver Jerry Jeudy, ended with six catches for 204 yards and one touchdown and was named the game’s MVP. Saban said, “He used this opportunity to showcase his ability, so it probably even enhanced his opportunities at the next level.
“I played football all my life, so I couldn’t just sit out there and watch my team play and my brothers be out there,” Jeudy said. “So I just wanted to go to war with my brothers like I’ve been doing the whole season. I love playing football, so I just wanted to come out here and compete with my brothers.”
Jeudy, rated No. 4 on Kiper’s Big Board, didn’t give an update on which way he was leaning. Neither did receiver DeVonta Smith, who had 56 yards receiving and a touchdown and ranks No. 23 on Kiper’s Big Board.
Smith did say that Tagovailoa’s decision won’t have an impact on his.
“Not at all,” Smith said. “I’m my own person, Tua’s his own person. He’s going to make a decision that’s best for him. I’m going to make a decision that’s best for me.”
Alabama received good news on Tuesday when linebacker Dylan Moses opted to return to school. But then a post on the Alabama football Twitter account, showing only a row of dominoes falling, got many wondering whether this was a message about other players like Tagovailoa, possibly returning to school.
“I don’t know what everybody else is thinking,” Smith said. “I don’t know what everybody else’s decision is, but you just have to see.”