Ron Rivera turned some heads at the combine yesterday when he said Washington had met with both Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa in Indianapolis already. While the world will end before the Bengals pass on Burrow with the top pick, Washington has the pick of the litter with the second slot. Most assume they will take Chase Young, tabbed as the best overall prospect in the draft, to pair with last year's first-round pick in Montez Sweat and give Dwayne Haskins a defense that will help him win games.
It all seems pretty cut-and-dry for us casual fans. Haskins threw for 50 touchdowns in his one season as a starter at Ohio State, and while he looked pretty, pretty bad in his rookie season as a pro, Washington was the second-worst team in the league for many reasons other than his play. Giving up on the 15th overall pick from last year's draft to take Tagovailoa, who may or may not be ready to play this season, doesn't make a ton of sense on paper.
Unless you're Mel Kiper Jr., that is. The draft expert went on First Take on Thursday morning to argue that, if Tagovailoa is cleared by Washington's medical staff, there's "no doubt" he should be the second overall pick:
"This is a quarterback league all the way. What's the difference in the Super Bowl? Mahomes and Garoppolo late in that game," said Kiper. "If you look at Tua, if the medical staff clears him--and this is the leap of faith you have to take. The medical staff is gonna be key to this, more so than the scouts or the evaluators. They're the key. If they sign off, you take Tua at two.
"There's no doubt about that. You take Tua. You don't trade the pick, you don't take Chase Young, you take Tua. And if Haskins turns out to be better, then great! Then we can trade Tua!"
It's undeniable that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and Tagovailoa has the chance to be special at the position. You never want to miss the opportunity to have a guy like that on your team. But Young has the chance to be special in his own right. Pundits are labeling him a better prospect than either of the Bosa brothers, both of whom have already turned into elite players before turning 25. Young and Sweat could easily combine for 15-25 sacks next season, and if you fall on the side of "defense wins championships", that's a more valuable duo to have for the next five years than anyone outside the very upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league.
Plus, Kiper's suggestion of simply trading one or the other isn't as win-win as he suggests. If everything goes perfectly and Tua beats out Haskins, the latter's trade stock will be in the basement. Last year gives us a perfect comparison: Josh Rosen had flashes of potential while playing for a very bad Arizona Cardinals team. The Cardinals then took Kyler Murray at No. 1 and traded Rosen for a 2019 second-round pick and a fifth-rounder in 2020. Given how bad Rosen then looked in Miami, hindsight suggests it was a great haul.
Haskins looked worse than Rosen in his rookie season, even if he was playing for an equally bad team. It seems likely that Washington wouldn't get as good of an offer. Turning the 15th pick in the 2019 draft into, say, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2021 isn't exactly optimal asset management.
Should that stop Washington from taking a swing at potentially landing an elite quarterback? In a vacuum, no. Having Tagovailoa under center as a top-10 QB for 15 years is more valuable than a decade of Young terrorizing opposing offenses no matter which way you slice it. But nothing happens in a vacuum, and Tagovailoa's hip remains a red flag. If Washington takes him and he misses time because he re-aggravated his injury, there aren't many teams that would offer up anything near the equivalent value of the second overall pick to hope his fortunes change with their franchise. If the medical team signs off on it, great. But they aren't soothsayers who can see the future, and the stakes are extremely high for the near and far future of this organization.
The risk-reward factor is high in variance for Washington with this draft spot. Kiper thinks it's an easy decision. We'll see if Rivera and the rest of the franchise's brass agrees.