As a former player and head coach in the NFL, June Jones certainly knows a pro quarterback when he sees one.
When it comes to the 2020 NFL Draft class, two intriguing options with Hawaii ties are on the board in Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and UH’s Cole McDonald.
Jones is more than familiar with both. He saw Tagovailoa’s transcendent talent firsthand when the lefty was a junior at Saint Louis. For McDonald, Jones was a keen observer of how the two-year starter operated the run-and-shoot offense he helped bring to the UH when he was at the helm from 1999 to 2007.
Jones’ first memory of seeing Tagovailoa was during the practices the Crusaders held on their campus. While Jones noticed Tagovailoa’s competitive spirit, as well as how aggressive he was as a runner, his accuracy with the football remains what stands out the most to this day.
“What I know about Tua from a personal standpoint, I would take him because he’s a winner,” Jones told KHON2. “I think accuracy with the football is obvious. The guys that have success put the ball 18 inches out in front of every receiver and they don’t have to work for the ball. That’s what it takes to be a successful quarterback at any level is accuracy. And he’s accurate with the ball. If you watch his workout after the hip (injury), the ball was right on the money every time he throws it. That will be the reason he’s successful — his accuracy.”
Regardless of where he gets picked, Tagovailoa will be playing for his fifth different offensive coordinator in as many years. The last time he played for the same OC in consecutive years was Ron Lee from 2014 to 2016. Brian Daboll, Mike Locksley and Steve Sarkisian were the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinators during Tagovailoa’s time in Tuscaloosa.
To Jones, Tagovailoa will be fine as long as he goes to a franchise that adapts to his skillset.
“He’ll have no problem. It all comes down to the repetitions,” said Jones, who played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1977 to 1981 and was their coach from 1994 to 1996. “I think if they put him in things he’s familiar with, he’ll excel very quickly. I think his production at Alabama was phenomenal, really. A lot of different formations, with the looks that they get, I think he’ll have that same success and you say ‘the receivers were so open.’ Well, you still have to put the ball on them. And he’s accurate.
“He’s gonna get his shot obviously because when you’re drafted that high, he’s not gonna sit on the bench for three years or four years like they did 20, 30 years ago before you played. Now you played right away so that’s why I said I hope he gets into something he’s familiar with, otherwise he’s gonna struggle. You gotta be in the right place.”
As for McDonald, Jones liked the pro potential he saw from afar. McDonald threw for 70 career touchdowns and 8,032 yards in a UH uniform.
“I kind of like him. I think he’s gonna be down the line what Tom Brady was. I think when he gets to where he’s going, coaches will be surprised with his arm talent,” Jones said. “I think if he gets to the right place where he can develop as a quarterback, and being a sixth- or seventh-round pick, you’re never rushed into it, he’s gonna have a chance to make a team. I think that he’ll make a team as a quarterback.”
For both Tagovailoa and McDonald, Jones stressed that finding the correct fit and being in the right place will be the deciding factor in how their respective NFL careers go. But from a pure talent standpoint, he believes both have what it takes to last in the league.
“Anytime the quarterback can throw the ball, and he can run too, which nowadays you gotta move in the pocket and make things happen,” he said. “That’s something you gotta be able to do. Both (McDonald) and Tua have the ability to do that. That’s part of looking for a quarterback now.”