INDIANAPOLIS – Tua Tagovailoa might have felt more like a hospital patient than a premier prospect in this year's NFL draft when he began making the rounds at the Combine Monday.
In fact, he's both – prospect and recovering patient.
Tagovailoa ranks in the top handful – or less – of prospects based on his play at quarterback for Alabama. He checked all the boxes for skill at Alabama – arm talent, athleticism, leadership, clutch performance – and there seems little doubt among scouts that he can take those qualities to the NFL.
Health is a question mark on Tagovailoa's glittering resume, and it's potentially a big one.
View photos media availability at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine on Tues., Feb 25, 2020 in Indianapolis.
His 2019 season ended after nine games when his left hip was dislocated and broken in a game against Mississippi State.
The word from Tagovailoa and his camp has been that he is progressing well, and Tagovailoa repeated that Tuesday in his Combine media interview.
"Up to this point, I've been rehabbing my butt off," Tagovailoa said. "After March 9th, when I get clearance from my doctors, that's when it's full go up until my Pro Day."
Tagovailoa was referring to his personal Pro Day on April 9, just two weeks in advance of the start of the first round of the draft. He has been doing some throwing.
"Nothing too crazy," he said.
He'll be ready to participate fully in the offseason program of any team that drafts him, Tagovailoa said.
"I'll be ready to go," he said.
With 33 TD passes against three interceptions, he was having another big year when he got hurt. He threw 43 TD passes against six picks in 15 games in 2018.
Tagovailoa was in good spirits Tuesday as he talked about a number of issues – the misconception that he wants to play only for the Cowboys, and the possibility of being drafted by the Lions and sitting behind veteran starter Matthew Stafford.
And, of course, his health.
NFL teams want to see for themselves. That includes the Detroit Lions, who have the third pick in the draft. Most projections have Tagovailoa on the board when the Lions make their pick in the first round on April 23.
Under that scenario – Tagovailoa being "ready to go" -- the two most likely options for the Lions would be to draft Tagovailoa or trade down with another team that wants to move up and take a quarterback.
"I'm not eliminating any position right now," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said. "Drafting at three, we have to look at everybody. We'll concentrate on all the best positions in the draft."
A lot will be determined by the certainty of Tagovailoa's health, which is why he put in a long Monday at the hospital. It's nothing out of the ordinary for a player recovering from a significant injury.
"I went to the hospital at 10 (Monday morning)," he said. "I was the last one to leave. I was back about 7:49 – right in time for the formal interviews.
"I would say it's all positive."
The medical exams are one of the key parts of the evaluation process.
"Obviously, that's one of the major reasons we come and send our doctors and trainers to the Combine to get the medical tests," Quinn said. "It's a crucial thing. It's definitely part of the evaluation."
Tagovailoa emphasized that he'll be happy to play for any team that drafts him.
"I grew up a Cowboys fan my entire life," he said. "I understand that a lot of people have changed my words around, saying that's the only team I want to go to. That's not true. I have two dogs that are named Dallas and Star, to tell you guys how big of a Cowboys fan I was growing up."
He was asked specifically about being drafted by the Lions and sitting while Stafford plays.
"As a competitor, I want to play," Tagovailoa said. "You look at a lot of the guys who are really good, and a lot of the greats. They've been mentored by big-time quarterbacks, as well as veteran quarterbacks.
"If the team needs me to go out and start for them, I'll do that. If they need me to sit behind someone, I can't see what's wrong with that as well.
"Whatever team decides to pick me, I'd be grateful – whether it's first, 32nd or 200. I'd be grateful just to be picked."