INDIANAPOLIS — At this time last February, three questions stood out above the rest: Who would end up sitting on the Iron Throne in the season finale of Game of Thrones, what was Kyler Murray going to measure at the NFL Scouting Combine, and where would Murray be drafted?
Spoiler alert: There was a nasty breakup in Game of Thrones, Murray checked in at 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds, and the Heisman Trophy winner ended up going first overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
Now, we all want to know if Joe Burrow will be the king of House Cincinnati. Or perhaps the more interesting question is, which kingdoms will be vying for the services of Tua Tagovailoa? (Sorry, I really miss Game of Thrones.)
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Tagovailoa received overwhelmingly positive reports from teams who examined his hip at the combine. The fracture has healed, there is no loss of blood flow and his range of motion is good. Tagovailoa expects to be medically cleared on March 9 and plans to hold a personal pro day for NFL teams on April 9.
With that information in mind, I wanted to identify the teams that are most likely to target Tagovailoa at the 2020 NFL Draft, which takes place April 23-25 in Las Vegas. As you can see, I’ve categorized the teams by probability of landing Tua.
FRONT-RUNNERS: Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions
Chance of landing Tagovailoa: 30 percent
Dolphins (Nos. 5, 18 and 26 overall picks): Dolphins fans started their “#TankForTua” hashtag early on in 2019, and Miami has been the default team most frequently linked to the talented quarterback ever since. The Dolphins are in desperate need of a franchise QB to begin building around, and with five first-round and four second-round picks over the next two drafts, they are well-stocked and uniquely positioned to climb up the draft board (if need be). Miami would be able to redshirt Tua for the 2020 season, while sticking with last year’s quarterback duo of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen. In an ideal world, Rosen shows growth and makes himself a viable trade asset Miami can move when Tua’s ready for action.
Lions (No. 3): If we work off of the understanding that Tagovailoa would be best-suited to sit part (or all) of 2020 as he continues to heal his hip, then Detroit could be a very intriguing landing spot at third overall. Matthew Stafford would clearly be the starter for 2020, but his contract becomes more team-friendly next offseason, which could allow the Lions to deal Stafford and open the door for Tua to step right up in 2021. However, there is a school of thought that the Lions are pushing to win now and would rather stay away from anything resembling a rebuild, even if momentarily.
VIABLE TRADE-UP TEAMS: Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers
Chance of landing Tagovailoa: 12 percent
Chargers (No. 6): While I’m pouring one out for Philip Rivers and his Chargers career, time never stands still and the Bolts are in position to look for their quarterback of the future. The franchise is still a newcomer to Los Angeles and is in desperate need of excitement to rally the existing fan base and excite factions of Angelenos who have yet to buy in. Nothing would complement the Chargers‘ move into a new stadium better than a new face of the franchise with a big name and reputation. The Bolts would almost assuredly have to move up the board to nab Tua, and they don’t anywhere near the amount of draft currency as Miami, so that could make this pairing difficult.
Panthers (No. 7): One of new head coach Matt Rhule’s most important moves was luring LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady away from Baton Rouge to become the Panthers‘ offensive coordinator. Rhule provided a ringing endorsement of Cam Newton on Tuesday: “I absolutely want Cam here. There’s no doubt about that.” Even if that’s true, Newton still only has one year remaining on his contract. And given Tua’s potential redshirt year, keeping Cam for another year — even after spending a first-round pick on a QB — would make sense. It feels reasonable to assume Tua could potentially flourish in the same passing scheme that helped unlock a monster season from Burrow. Marty Hurney traded up in the first round in 2004 (Chris Gamble) and 2008 (Jeff Otah), so he might be willing to do the same for his new head coach and offensive coordinator if they fall in love with the talent.
OUTSIDE SHOT: Las Vegas Raiders
Chance of landing Tagovailoa: 10 percent
Raiders (Nos. 12 and 19): Stop me if you’ve read this before: This NFL franchise is headed into a new stadium and might be able to further capitalize on the excitement by drafting a future face of the franchise. With their move to Las Vegas, the Raiders could look to roll the dice and put a package together for a move up the board. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock focused on football character and players who could help build a culture of winning in the 2019 draft. It shouldn’t be out of the question that they might look to continue down that path with a talented quarterback who was groomed in a winning program.
LONG SHOT: Indianapolis Colts
Chance of landing Tagovailoa: 6 percent
Colts (No. 13): In all reality, there is probably as great a likelihood of this happening as there is for Andrew Luck to come back to the Colts, but it is certainly worth consideration. Jacoby Brissett showed he could be a solid starter at times during the 2019 season, but it wasn’t enough to inspire confidence that Indianapolis could win at the highest level with Brissett leading the charge. Tua would be a great fit for Frank Reich’s offense, but Indianapolis might not be willing to pay the steep price it would take to jump way up the board in order to land him.
Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.