MIAMI, Fla. – Tua Tagovailoa said hearing his name called as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft was “a dream come true.”
Dolphins fans seem to agree.
Miami took Tagovailoa with the No. 5 selection Thursday night, betting that the former Alabama star is their quarterback of the future despite questions about his injury history.
Tagovailoa, 22, dislocated his hip in a November game, ending his final college season and hurting his chances of being the top overall pick. He also battled ankle issues before the hip injury.
But the left-handed passer was the target for many Dolphins fans for months, as the “Tank for Tua” mantra took life last season.
Here it is, Dolphins fans: the moment you’ve waited years for. pic.twitter.com/UBMLZitPlI— Clay Ferraro (@ClayWPLG) April 24, 2020
Doctors cleared Tagovailoa (pronounced Tongue-OH-vai-LO-uh) to run and begin football activities last month, and he said he’ll be ready to go.
“I think what makes me confident in the aspect of me being able to play would be what the doctors have told me,” Tagovailoa said Thursday night after being picked. “As far as rehab, as far as the medical rechecks, I’ve checked off all the boxes, so that’s what I’ve been really standing on and that’s kind of what I’ve been going with. That’s why I would say I’ve been really encouraged to say that I’m able to play if need be; but I think the biggest thing for me right now is just being able to take it in, soak it in, enjoy it with my family and get to work.”
The Dolphins used their second pick of the first round on someone to help keep Tagovailoa healthy, taking offensive tackle Austin Jackson at No. 18. Jackson is a 6-foot-5, 322-pound junior from Southern California.
Then the Dolphins traded back from No. 26 to No. 30 and selected Noah Igbinoghene (pronounced IG-bin-OG-gah-nee), an athletic cornerback from Auburn.
Green Bay swapped with Miami to move up and pick Utah State quarterback Jordan Love at No. 26. The Dolphins received an extra fourth-round pick (136th overall) in that exchange.
The Dolphins have 12 more picks when the draft resumes on Local 10 Friday at 7 p.m. for Rounds 2-3, and Saturday at noon for Rounds 4-7.
Dolphins fans hope Tagovailoa can take the team to success not seen since Dan Marino was under center. Tua wore that familiar No. 13 at Alabama but says he’s OK not wearing it in Miami, where it belonged to Marino.
“For me, I’m not too worried about what number I have. I understand number 13 is retired and it should be. Dan Marino, he — he’s the GOAT,” Tagovailoa said. “He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him. Whatever number I’m given by that organization if it’s 7, 8, 9 — I’ll wear it. It doesn’t matter.”
Tua Tagovailoa calls getting picked by the Dolphins, “a dream come true.” pic.twitter.com/wB2HKTki4Q— Will Manso (@WillManso) April 24, 2020
Tagovailoa burst onto the scene when, as a freshman, he replaced Jalen Hurts in the second half of the national championship game in 2018 to lead Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia.
He went on to be the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-American as a sophomore when he passed for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and six interceptions.
In his injury-shortened junior season, he threw for 2,840 yards, 33 TDs, three INTs in nine starts.
The Dolphins’ decision-makers said they were comfortable with Tagovailoa’s medical information.
“Football is a violent game,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said. “Guys are going to get hurt. So, for us, we did a lot of work on him as we do with every player. Our training staff and doctors, led by [head athletic trainer] Kyle Johnston, does a fantastic job. So, we’re very comfortable.”
Added coach Brian Flores: “He fit a lot of the criteria we talk about at the quarterback position. Good player, good person, leadership qualities. We’re very happy with the pick.”
As for Jackson, he notably donated his bone marrow to his younger sister in the summer of 2019 before starting all 13 games at left tackle for USC last fall. The long-armed lineman was an All-Pac-12 selection.
Jackson said he’s comfortable playing either left or right tackle. (Right tackle would protect the lefty Tagovailoa’s blind side.)
“I’ve played both tackle positions my whole life," Jackson said. “I’ve played guard. I’ve played everywhere on the line. I don’t have an ego that tells me I’m only a left tackle. I’m a football player at the end of the day. I just play football and help out the team in any way I can.”
Jackson’s grandfather Melvin played five years with the Green Bay Packers as an offensive lineman and was also on USC’s 1974 national championship team.
Igbinoghene, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound junior, also has strong bloodlines. He’s the son of two Olympic-caliber track athletes from Nigeria.
Igbinoghene came to Auburn as a receiver and also competed on the Tigers’ track team, finishing seventh in the long jump at the SEC Indoor Championships. He started all 13 games last season, making 42 tackles with seven pass breakups, and he returned nine kickoffs for an average of 35.2 average yards and one touchdown.
That pick comes from a position of strength, as the Dolphins already have highly talented — and highly paid — cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones on the roster.
“Best player on the board for us,” Grier said of taking Igbinoghene. “We felt really good about Noah. We got to know him. This is a passing league as everyone says. You can never have enough corners.”
Igbinoghene called it “truly a blessing” to have a chance to learn from Howard and Jones.
“It’s crazy because [they] are two corners I’ve looked at for a very long time. I know they don’t know that, but those are probably the top two cornerbacks in this whole entire league,” Igbinoghene said. “Just to come in and learn from them, that’s just a blessing in disguise.”
Heisman Trophy-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow went No. 1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals in what has been an unconventional draft held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. The draft was supposed to be in Las Vegas.
Who is Tua?
Full name: Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa (last name pronounced Tongue-OH-vai-LO-uh)
Hometown: Ewa Beach, Hawai’i
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 217 pounds
Dolphins’ 2020 draft picks
1st Round – 3 picks
5th overall – Tua Tagovailoa, QB Alabama
18th overall – Austin Jackson, OT, USC
30th overall – Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
2nd Round – 2 picks
56th overall (2019 draft-day trade with New Orleans)
3rd Round – 1 pick
4th Round – 2 picks
136th overall (2020 draft-day trade with Green Bay)
141st overall (compensatory)
5th Round – 3 picks
153rd overall (Kenyan Drake trade)
154th overall (Minkah Fitzpatrick trade)
173rd overall (Aqib Talib trade)
6th Round – 1 pick
7th Round – 3 picks
227th overall (Evan Boehm trade)
246th overall (Jordan Lucas trade)
251st overall (compensatory)
(Source: Dolphins’ website)