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Tua Tagovailoa’s hip evaluation and top of draft order loom large for Miami Dolphins

                                Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa adjusts his helmet before the first half of a game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 16.


    Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa adjusts his helmet before the first half of a game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 16.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. >> Joe Burrow knows he has the leverage as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Tua Tagovailoa has the standout talent — and the medical issue. Justin Herbert may have the highest ceiling, but his accuracy and leadership skills raise concerns.

And the Miami Dolphins, who own the fifth pick in April’s draft, are looking to find a way to land one of these three rising quarterbacks to take their extensive franchise rebuild to another level.

The Dolphins will make some progress toward that effort during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis next week. But the rumors, mock drafts and smokescreens this week do raise some concern for Miami in the next two months.

Tagovailoa, the Alabama standout and Saint Louis graduate who was perceived by many as the top quarterback before he was injured last season, will undoubtedly be the biggest storyline at the combine, which begins Monday.

NFL team doctors will put Tagovailoa through an extensive medical evaluation to see how his hip has progressed from a dislocation and posterior wall fracture suffered in mid-November. He passed the three-month mark in his recovery this month.

While Tagovailoa welcomes the idea of playing for any team in the NFL, a source close to the situation told the Sun Sentinel the young QB believes the Dolphins have a great owner in Steve Ross, great leadership in general manager Chris Grier, a “perfect” coach in Brian Flores and optimism in new Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.

However, concerns about Tagovailoa’s long-term health, durability and how it affects his mobility cast significant doubt about his ability to lead a franchise in the near and distant future, according to a league source.

Tagovailoa’s camp and the Dolphins will keep an eye on the top of the draft order just like eager NFL fans will leading up to April’s draft.

Burrow, the LSU standout who won the Heisman Trophy and a national title last season, is presumed to be the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ohio native, however, did acknowledge this week that he does have “leverage” to potentially force a trade out of Cincinnati.

The Dolphins could match or exceed an offer made by any team looking to make a draft-day trade, with five first-round picks and four second-round picks in the next two drafts among their trade assets.

But it is also likely Burrow might prefer to play for the Carolina Panthers to reunite with Joe Brady, the team’s new offensive coordinator after sparking Burrow’s standout season at LSU last year. The Panthers own the seventh pick in the draft.

“I do have leverage,” Burrow told the Fort Worth Star Telegram this week. “(The Bengals) have their process, and I have my process. We haven’t even gotten to the combine yet. There’s a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered.”

The Washington Redskins could cause a shakeup in the draft, too, if they decide to trade their No. 2 pick. They could draft standout Ohio State defensive end Chase Young — who is considered the best overall player in the draft — or make a trade for a haul of draft picks to a quarterback-needy team.

The Detroit Lions at No. 3 might make the most noise in the draft. Detroit has the potential to draft a player such as Tagovailoa or Herbert, the former Oregon quarterback, or it could trade the No. 3 pick for a bevy of draft picks.

Longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. added to the draft chatter earlier this week when he slotted Tagovailoa as the third pick to the Lions, and Herbert to the Dolphins at No. 5 in his latest mock draft.

Kiper believes Tagovailoa could be an “heir apparent” to Lions quarterback Matt Stafford and could sit behind Stafford while he continues to rehabilitate from the hip injury.

If that’s the case, Kiper believes the Dolphins should go with Herbert if he is the next quarterback available after Burrow and Tagovailoa. Kiper believes Herbert “has the highest ceiling of any of the quarterbacks in this class.”

But Kiper acknowledges the Dolphins may need to make a deal with any of the four teams ahead of them in the draft, including the New York Giants at No. 4, to draft a player like Tagovailoa while taking other teams’ motives into account.

“If you’re a team like Miami and you get a positive medical on Tua, the Chargers sit at six. Carolina’s at seven, the Raiders at 12, Indianapolis at 13. All of a sudden, if the positive medical comes back, teams may be looking to trade up with Detroit at three, the Giants at four,” Kiper said on ESPN’s SportsCenter this week.

“If you’re Miami, do you just sit there at five and wait it out? Maybe not, because if you do that, you may end up with Justin Herbert of Oregon and lose out on Tua. Now if they like Herbert better than Tua, they don’t care.

“But if you like Tua, and he’s your guy, being at five may not be good enough. You may have to jump up to that four spot or that three spot.”

Much of the draft process for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins in the next two months will hinge on his recovery, and how other teams in the NFL perceive his long-term health after his combine evaluation.

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