Justin Herbert-Dolphins NFL Draft momentum grows amid Tua Tagovailoa anxiety

Justin Herbert-Dolphins NFL Draft momentum grows amid Tua Tagovailoa anxiety

With the 2020 NFL Draft just days away, the Dolphins — who had been accused of “Tanking for Tua” this past season — are reportedly more interested in talking to Justin Herbert amid growing concerns about Tagovailoa’s health.

“No team has done more work on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert over the past two years than the Dolphins,” a college football source told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “That continued recently when Miami held a video-conference session with him.”

The months leading up to this year’s draft has been disproportionately unkind to Tagovailoa, and 22-year-old Herbert appears to be the beneficiary in this zero-sum game. Once a blue-chip draft prospect who could have vied for the No. 1 selection, the Alabama product’s assessment is now rife with apparent uncertainty.

The shift in momentum has little to do with Herbert and is much more of an indictment on 22-year-old Tagovailoa, who suffered a season-ending hip injury on Nov. 16 and finished the year with 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 71.4 completion percentage through nine games. Since then, LSU’s Joe Burrow has become the presumed No. 1 pick after capturing the Heisman Trophy and leading the Tigers to a national championship.

Reports of Tagovailoa’s rehab and medical assessments have been positive, though he opted out of participating in drills at the 2020 NFL Combine in February with the plan of showcasing his skills at his own Pro Day like other high-profile prospects, including Burrow. The Pro Day had to be conducted virtually to adhere to social distancing measures, which may have done little to mollify anxiety among teams betting their immediate future on them.

Herbert finished his final year with 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 66.8 completion percentage. While he has drawn criticism for his pocket awareness, conservative play style and demure personality, with no serious injury concerns and an ideal 6-foot-6, 238-pound stature, he has the edge over Tagovailoa physically.

“From people who have spoken to members of the Dolphins’ front office, what’s known is the Dolphins appreciate Herbert’s skill set, his size, his build and his arm strength,” Jackson wrote.

Former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert
Former Oregon quarterback Justin HerbertIcon Sportswire via Getty Images

This latest report from Jackson adds to a growing sense that teams and analysts alike remain uneasy. In an April 7 mock, NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah projected Herbert, whom he refers to as a “clean” prospect, to be taken by the Dolphins at No. 5 ahead of Tagovailoa.

“I have Tua Tagovailoa rated higher than Herbert, but I think there’s a legitimate chance the Oregon QB goes ahead of Tua,” Jeremiah wrote.

NFL draft analyst Matt Miller wrote on March 30 that “multiple teams” now prefer Justin Herbert “because of [Tagovailoa’s] injuries and the unknowns.”

“Don’t be surprised if Justin Herbert is the second quarterback picked because there are no questions about injuries when it comes to his evaluation,” Miller wrote.

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