Drafting a healthy Tua Tagovailoa wouldn't be a gamble for Riverboat Ron Rivera, Redskins

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

Ron Rivera earned his nickname — “Riverboat Ron” — in 2013 when as coach of the Carolina Panthers he repeatedly made what, at the time, were considered risky in-game decisions — mainly going for it on fourth-and-1.

It was really just an early application of analytics and wouldn’t cause many heads to turn these days, but whatever. The nickname stuck.

Rivera is now taking over the Washington Redskins and living up to his nickname (both real and perceived) before he has even coached a game by expressing interest in potentially drafting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the second overall pick.

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News of Washington and Tagovailoa sitting down for a meeting during last week’s NFL scouting combine caused a stir. After all, mock draft boards had Washington inked in on Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young since the franchise already has a young QB, Dwayne Haskins, who was drafted 15th overall just a year ago.

The safe play might be to take the sure-thing edge rusher and see what Haskins can do. Neither a gambler nor an analytics devotee would agree, though. Hence Rivera, who wasn’t there when Washington took Haskins, was talking not just to Tagovailoa, but also LSU QB Joe Burrow (just in case Cincinnati shocks everyone and doesn’t select him first overall).

“We met with Tua, and we met with Joe,” Rivera said on the NFL Network. “And we’ll go from there. But again, we’ve got to do our due diligence. And one of the things that I explained when I was on the podium [at the combine] was, at the end of the day, we don’t know what’s going to happen with No. 1 [pick]. So at that point, we’ve just got to continue to do the work on all the guys that we feel really good about.”

That’s sound thinking.

All of this may have hurt Haskins’ feelings, of course. He took to Twitter over the weekend and posted a James Harden rolling eyes gif and then a quote that read “pissed off for greatness!!

Haskins may have been deemed the quarterback of the future for Washington last spring, but then general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jay Gruden were fired. 

On the actual field, he didn’t do anything to lock down the spot. In nine games (seven starts), he completed 58.6 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. There were times he was good and times he was flat-out bad. 

The NFL is in the competition business and any rookie who seems upset (via passive-aggressive social media posts) about potential competition probably isn’t winning over the new coach.

The common-sense rule for just about any draft pick is to consider taking a quarterback and then work backward from there. It’s by far the most important position on the field. That’s especially true at the very top of the draft.

Washington Redskins head coach Ron Rivera met with top quarterbacks, LSU's Joe Burrow and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, during the NFL scouting combine last week. The Redskins have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Washington Redskins head coach Ron Rivera met with top quarterbacks, LSU's Joe Burrow and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, during the NFL scouting combine last week. The Redskins have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Presuming Cincinnati will take Burrow, then Washington will have a chance to draft Tagovailoa, who when healthy is considered by most to be a far superior prospect to Haskins. If through the draft process Washington becomes convinced that he is just that and is confident in his future health, then it shouldn’t hesitate.

A great quarterback, especially a great quarterback on a rookie contract, is the most valuable thing in the NFL.

No one in Arizona is upset that in 2019, the Cardinals drafted Kyler Murray first overall and in the process dumped the No. 10 overall pick from the 2018 draft, Josh Rosen. It looks like a brilliant upgrade — and a properly bold decision not to let past mistakes cause future ones.

Now, Washington is in a similar spot. Generally speaking, selecting pass rushers might make for a draft night free of second guessing, but it won’t win you a Super Bowl. A truly great quarterback, on the other hand ...

Riverboat Ron knows all of the data on that. And he clearly isn’t afraid of following where his very educated opinion leads him. If he believes Tua is the choice, then Tua is going to be the choice. 

As he should be.

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