For the first time since he was drafted with the No. 53 overall pick, Eagles fans are going to get their first extended look at quarterback Jalen Hurts on Monday night in their team’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Yes, there are certainly plenty of important big-picture questions that come with Hurts taking the field over Carson Wentz -- and if Hurts plays well, there will be plenty of fall out.
But for now, let’s concentrate on Hurts as a player, not as the latest figure in the latest Eagles quarterback controversy.
What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses? What are fair expectations for his first NFL action?
Here is everything you need to know about Hurts, and what to look for on Monday night when he does get in.
Hurts (6-foot-1, 223 pounds) was a dominant player in college, totaling 124 total touchdowns in 56 games. His best year was probably his last, when he totaled 3,851 passing yards, 1,298 rushing yards and 53 total touchdowns — 32 passing, 20 rushing, 1 receiving. In what is increasingly becoming a league of dual-threat quarterbacks, Hurts checks all the boxes of being able to pressure the defense both through the air and on the ground.
What really stands out from Hurts’ college career is his overall success. He both won and dominated at two high-level programs. He was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year and First-Team All SEC in 2016. He was a two-time SEC Champion. He was a Big-12 Champion. He took both Alabama and Oklahoma into the College Football Playoffs, and took Alabama into the National Championship Game his freshman year.
Despite a resume that few in the history of college football can match, one of the defining moments of his career was being benched in the 2018 CFB Championship game. Hurts was struggling, and coach Nick Saban went to Tua Tagovailoa at halftime, who lead the comeback. Hurts returned the favor the following season, taking over for an injured Tagovailoa to lead a comeback against Georgia in the SEC Championship game.
The benching is really the only blemish on Hurts’ resume, which overall paints the picture of a player who has succeeded at every single level of high-level football he has ever played.
Hurts has some obvious strengths. He has a very strong arm and, despite the perception that he isn’t a great passer, he is very accurate. He is also a real threat to run with the ball, and defenses will have to account for it each week he is on the field. His ability to take off should be a big help in the running game.
The one question with Hurts seems to be whether he can consistently operate from the pocket. While the league is moving more towards dual-threat quarterbacks as opposed to statues in the pocket, Hurts is still going to have to prove he can consistently read NFL defenses and win from the pocket.
Here is a complete scouting report on Hurts, via Bob McGinn of The Athletic:
Hurts won 38 of 42 starts in a three-year career at Alabama and a final season for the Sooners. “The thing he did in that SEC Championship Game, when he got benched and came in off the bench and won the game, might be one of the greatest moments in sports,” one scout said. “He can run, he’s a great kid and he’s tough. He’s a winner. I just think he’s a packaged quarterback. You’ve got to put certain plays in for him. He’s a third-teamer for me.” NFL passer ratings were 95.0 in 2016, 107.0 in ’17, 134.5 in ’18 and 128.9 in ’19 for a composite of 111.6. “You love the makeup and the intelligence,” said another scout. “On tape, he’s just not a natural quarterback. He’s mechanical, one read. Can make plays with his legs. Accuracy was the question mark. At the combine he was amazing with his accuracy, especially on those post-corners and deep routes. But I just don’t see a starting talent as far as the quick process and making plays with your arm in the pocket or on the move that you need to be a consistent, winning starter. But you want him on your team.” Hurts is from Houston and posted a Wonderlic of 18.
Training Camp Performance:
With training camp closed to the public this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans got a chance to see Hurts in an Eagles’ uniform, not at practice or in any preseason games.
Here were my top takeaways from watching Hurts every day back in August:
Jalen Hurts is a playmaker. That is the biggest takeaway from getting a chance to watch the Eagles’ second-round pick over the last two weeks. Hurts is not afraid to throw the ball deep, and when he doesn’t see a play to be made through the air, he is quick to take off with the ball. It is easy to see why Hurts was so dangerous in college. With Hurts on the field the Eagles’ defense was constantly under pressure, whether it was being tested deep or having to chase him around outside the pocket.
Hurts was especially effective in the red zone, and if Wentz wasn’t arguably the best red zone quarterback in the league (Nov 2020 update: Not the case anymore), it would be easy to see the team putting Hurts under center this season inside the 20. Hurts isn’t Lamar Jackson-quick (no quarterback is), but he is deceivingly quick for a quarterback that still has a very solid build. Part of the reason Hurts was able to do so much damage on the ground was he is very decisive on when he wants to run. Once he takes off he is gone, and in the red zone, that lead to plenty of touchdowns.
Hurts also showed plenty of potential as a passer. The best chance we got to see what Hurts can do from the pocket came on the final day of camp, when he attempted 38 passes. Hurts displays nice touch on balls over the middle, and definitely has a strong enough arm to squeeze passes into tight windows. His deep ball is especially impressive, as he had some of the best deep passes of any quarterback throughout camp.
The one issue Hurts did display with so many reps was not looking completely comfortable in the pocket. That will come with time, but for now, you can see the rookie is still struggling to just drop back and run the offense.
Training Camp Stats:
Reps: 175 (mostly second/third team with some first-team reps mixed in)
Stats: 78/109, 13 TD, 4 INT, 5 Rushing TD
What to Expect on Monday Night:
So what should fans be expecting from Hurts on Monday night if he is indeed given complete series at quarterback?
It is important to note that this will be Hurts first real NFL action, as he got no preseason time at all. He is also going to be playing behind an offensive line without both of it’s starting tackles and a 38-year old Jason Peters making his first start at a brand-new position. The Eagles’ offense is also, overall, a complete mess. Expecting Hurts in his first few NFL snaps to change that would be asking a lot.
Before you scream that Wentz is playing in the same situation, yes, that is true. The difference is that the expectations for Wentz, who is on a franchise-quarterback deal and has made 66 starts, are different. He should be expected to make players around him better and help the offense. Hurts, clearly, is not there yet.
The top thing to look for with Hurts is his decision making.
How quickly does he get rid of the ball? Does he keep the ball away from harm? How does he navigate the pocket? When does he take off to run? Hurts doesn’t have to be perfect in those areas, but those are the long-term indicators of success for a quarterback. Those are also the issues Wentz has had this season, and seeing how Hurts looks in comparison will be interesting.
It will be interesting to see when the Eagles go to Hurts. Will it be in the first few series, regardless of how the offense is playing? Or will he only go in if things are going poorly? It will also be fascinating to see how Doug Pederson handles a successful Hurts. If Wentz is struggling, and Hurts looks great, will he stick with Hurts -- or put Wentz back in?
Overall, just seeing how Hurts looks will be interesting — and almost no matter what happens, it is certainly going to lead to an interesting week of discussion.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at email@example.com!