Three to six months.
That’s the projected timeline for Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to heal from the dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture he suffered against Mississippi State.
At least, that’s the estimation from an orthopedic surgeon and team doctor for the Los Angeles Rams, Dr. Michael Banffy. Banffy recently spoke to AL.com about Tagovailoa’s injury – and he’s the right person to talk to, as Banffy has experience with hip injuries.
However, even with the best-case timeline, Tagovailoa likely won’t start throwing until the summer, writes The Athletic’s Dane Brugler in a recent Live Q&A.
“One of Tua’s best traits is his body twitch – it allows him to snap off throws, reset his platform in a blink and be an elusive scrambler in the pocket. His hip action is a big part of that,” Brugler writes. “So while I think pro days are generally overrated for quarterbacks, it would be important for teams to see him move out there and create torque from his lower half and hips when he throws. Unfortunately, that seems like a longshot.”
Banffy told AL.com that Tagovailoa’s specific injury is rare, adding that it accounts for about 1 percent of college and pro football injuries. It usually doesn’t require surgery. That’s not the case with Tagovailoa, as he was expected to have surgery days later.
In the immediate aftermath of Tagovailoa’s injury, fans and media alike were quick to point out that former Oakland Raiders running back Bo Jackson saw his career come to an end due to the same injury.
Those fears aren’t completely unfounded.
Jackson developed what’s called Avascular necrosis, or AVN, following the injury. This chronic condition is the result of a temporary or permanent loss of blood to the bone. It can be treated, but it can’t be cured, and the pain can last a lifetime.
Jackson wound up needing a full hip replacement after developing premature arthritis, essentially ending his career.
Therefore, monitoring the potential for AVN will be a big part of the recovery process. Otherwise, doctors will hope for a stable bone structure and no AVN, “but then comes the soft-tissue factor,” Banffy said.
Banffy says Tagovailoa is almost guaranteed to have damage to the articular cartilage and the labrum and now has an increased risk of arthritis in his hip.
At this point, Tagovailoa is unlikely to be ready for physical testing prior to the NFL draft in April. The Combine is Feb. 24-March 2. It’s possible that he could be ready to return sometime late in the summer.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the player who was previously regarded as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 NFL draft.
“I don’t think this will knock him out of the first round, for sure,” Banffy told AL.com. “It will probably knock him out of the top five, which is where people were predicting him in, but I think that it all depends on how he progressively heals and how he looks at the combine.”
Brugler points to teams like Pittsburgh, who would have to trade back into the first round, and New England as teams with aging quarterbacks who might consider drafting Tagovailoa in the bottom of the first round, “… allowing Tua to sit, heal and learn for a year or two.”
“It’s a gamble, but one that might be worth taking,” Brugler writes. ”But it’s just too early in this process to have any idea about the likelihood of any of these scenarios.”