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Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are NFL saviors — or are they?

Et Tua, Justin?

For all their widespread appeal, all their unmatched gifts, all their potential to lead a downtrodden NFL franchise back to glory, quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert have generated a lot of questions.

How much of a concern is Tagovailoa’s hip recovery? Will he even be able to make it through a full season given an injury history at Alabama that also includes wrist and ankle issues?

Can Herbert make the transition from a no-huddle offense at Oregon heavily reliant on the shotgun formation to one that’s more traditionally used in the NFL? Can he show a little more precision on short and medium routes?

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Those are the primary issues that have led Tagovailoa and Herbert to being slotted behind Joe Burrow in most projections ahead of the draft that starts Thursday.

A pick-by-pick breakdown of the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, which was held virtually for the first time because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner and reigning national champion from Louisiana State, is almost universally expected to go No. 1 to the Cincinnati Bengals despite generating his own questions about having a short track record while being surrounded by the sort of high-end talent that can offset deficiencies.

One professional scout told NFL.com that Burrow would be the perfect pick — for a team seeking a quarterback in the second or third round.

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“He’s not a natural thrower, can’t really pump it down the field,” the scout told the website. “Now, he can throw it back-shoulder and uncovered and he’s got anticipation, but that ball’s wobbling. Love him, but I think he’s a high-risk guy at 1.”

Cincinnati will probably take that risk, leaving the intrigue to follow in the next handful of selections. The Miami Dolphins, with the No. 5 pick, and Chargers, at No. 6, are both seeking quarterbacks. The Dolphins will presumably have their pick of Tagovailoa or Herbert unless another team in need of a quarterback trades into a higher draft slot.

The debate over which quarterback is the best pick was recently put to a pair of biased observers in Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott and Southeastern Conference counterpart Greg Sankey.

“We’ll go with Tua, clearly,” Sankey told the LightShed Live podcast. “I hear good reports about his recovery, both locally and on the national news, so hopefully that’s true and he was pretty remarkable in his time in Tuscaloosa.”

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Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert could be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert could be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft Thursday.
(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

Scott, always measured in his remarks, spoke highly of Herbert on the podcast without openly saying he should be the higher pick.

“Justin Herbert will score really high on all the tests the NFL teams do,” Scott said, “is a really solid leader, Campbell Trophy winner this year, which means highly respected nationally in terms of not just what he’s able to do on the field but off the field. He’ll be a great leader of a team in the NFL, I’m sure.”

Another professional scout told the Athletic that Herbert was the “safest QB” in the draft, citing worries about Tagovailoa’s injury history and Burrow’s relative inexperience after having played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore at Ohio State before transferring to LSU.

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Herbert showed his level of commitment when he returned to Oregon for his senior year rather than go as a sure top pick in the 2019 draft, leading his hometown Ducks to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships while topping his impressive statistics from the previous season.

At an imposing 6-feet-6 and 236 pounds, Herbert has been compared to Buffalo’s Josh Allen while exhibiting some of the same strengths, including a powerful throwing arm, on-field savvy and the mobility to make something out of broken plays.

The 2020 NFL draft is on Thursday, and NFL team beat writers have made their first-round picks in The Times’ annual reporters mock draft.

The allure of Tagovailoa is closely tied to his health. The 6-foot, 217-pound left-hander is a dynamo when he’s able to play, having led Alabama to a national championship as a freshman in 2017 thanks to his accuracy as a thrower and speed as a runner. In three seasons, he completed 69.3% of his passes while accounting for 87 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.

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Then there’s those pesky injuries. High-ankle sprains twice required surgery and Tagovailoa couldn’t complete last season after being knocked out with a hip injury in November.

His recovery was the talk of the NFL combine in February, with Tagovailoa unable to participate in football activities but enduring nearly 10 hours of medical exams in a single day. The coronavirus outbreak prevented teams from conducting individual workouts, forcing teams to go off his college tape and a video he posted last month of himself throwing a football.

All of which led to a familiar place with the top quarterbacks in the draft: just a few more questions.


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