The Philadelphia Eagles uncontroversially selected quarterback Jalen Hurts with pick No. 53 in the 2020 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to SB Nation’s Oklahoma blog, Crimson And Cream Machine, and SB Nation’s Alabama blog, Roll ‘Bama Roll. Sooners writer Jack Shields and Crimson Tide writer Brent C. Taylor were kind enough to answer my questions.

Answers via Jack Shields

1 – Can you recap his time at Oklahoma?

For much of the prior offseason — and, to some extent, a good chunk of the season itself – Jalen Hurts’ focused and emotionless tone and demeanor suggested right out of the gate that he was putting his nose to the grindstone. This, of course, was a major change of pace in comparison to his two predecessors, and I think there was an understandable adjustment period for both the fans and the media. Because of this, there was a slight perception that Hurts was more of a one-year mercenary as opposed to a true part of the program. However, as the year progressed, he began to develop a readily apparent connection to his team.

Things started off as well as could have possibly been expected for Hurts at QB. Lincoln Riley’s calling card is putting his QBs in a position that accentuates their strengths while veiling their weaknesses, and the early results were a clear indication of that. As the year wore on, you began to see a bit of a turnover issue, and it became abundantly clear that he couldn’t make the Baker Mayfield/Kyer Murray-esque throws. In spite of this, he came through as a hero and showed his mettle as a field general on more than a few occasions, the most notable of which was his second-half performance in Oklahoma’s comeback win at Baylor. However, his deficiencies as a QB helped put OU into that 28-3 hole in the first place, so that game is basically a perfect encapsulation of Hurts as a QB.

2) What are his strengths?

His work ethic is definitely the first thing that comes to mind. Mere minutes after giving vanilla quotes during postgame media availability, he’d post a video of himself working out in OU’s facility. Yes, it seems like a major hardo move (and it is), but he’s legitimately a major workaholic in both the weight room AND the film room. He won’t have any trouble latching onto whatever Doug Pederson asks of him.

Then there’s his ability as a runner, which is well documented. He has fantastic vision and instincts as a runner, and when he hits that hole, he’s exceedingly tough to bring down. These attributes at the QB position gave Lincoln Riley a tool that he had never previously had at his disposal, and he definitely put his creativity on display.

3) What are his weaknesses?

His understanding of the game and the QB position isn’t an issue, but his on-field instincts and feel will leave a bit to be desired. He has good arm strength, yet he has issues with the deep ball. He will ace any whiteboard test you put in front of him, yet he’ll still throw mind-boggling interceptions.

One of his biggest issues is his throwing motion, which starts at the hip and gradually progresses. This is one of the reasons why Lincoln Riley had to adjust so much of what he did with his offense last season. Hurts’ predecessors – Mayfield and Murray – had quick releases. His successor – former five-star recruit Spencer Rattler – has one of the quickest releases you’ll ever see. We liked Jalen, and he was a very nice one-year stop-gap for this program, but I think everyone is ready to see a return to normalcy offensively. The fact that Riley’s offense was able to function as well as it did in 2019 might be the coach’s crowning achievement up to this point.

4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?

In some ways, I’m surprised. A second-round QB is someone who’s expected to eventually ascend to the role of starting QB (and potentially the franchise QB), which is not what most people (myself included) see in Jalen Hurts. I don’t imagine Pederson sees him in this way either, which leads me to believe that Carson Wentz really shouldn’t be worried in this instance. I assume Pederson sees Hurts as 1. A player who could be of use in short-yardage situations and gadget plays, which will allow him to add yet another layer of creativity to that offense and 2. A serviceable backup QB who can keep the wheels from falling off if Wentz goes down again.

Am I surprised that the Eagles used a second-round pick to add this piece? On the surface, yes, but things seemed to be trending in this direction for Hurts after predictably knocking his combine interviews and workouts out of the park.

5) There’s talk that the Eagles could use Hurts in a Taysom Hill role as a gadget player. To what extent do you think he’s suited for that?

He’s perfectly suited for this. If anything, Hurts is a team player (Has ESPN touched on this? I’m not sure if they’ve touched on this), and he’s someone who will definitely embrace the role. NFL linebackers and DBs are obviously a more formidable threat, but his exceptional physical strength and running instincts combined with decent speed make him a major asset. He’s definitely not above laying a dude out as a lead blocker, either.

6) How do you see his NFL career playing out?

I think he’ll be able to carve out a nice niche in the aforementioned Tayson Hill role, which is why I was happy to see him go to the Eagles. I know Philadelphia sports fans are pissed about this pick, and I agree that second round was probably a bit early, but I know Pederson is the perfect person to utilize him properly. Will he be a 10-year pro? Probably not, but I think Pedeson will put Hurts in a position in which he’ll be able to endear himself to your fan base.

I personally can’t wait to watch it unfold. I’m one of the few Oklahomans who doesn’t love the Cowboys, so I’ll be grinning from ear to ear when he makes that fan base squirm.

7) Anything to know about him off the field?

For starters, he won’t be getting into any trouble off the field. He’ll be a major contributor to the community. He’s great with kids and has an extensive history of working with children’s hospitals. He’s incredibly reserved in front of a microphone or a camera and tends to give boilerplate answers, which sometimes rubs people the wrong way. He’s a great human being, but the Philadelphia media isn’t going to look forward to talking to the guy. I can attest that he definitely won’t give them much to work with. There was, shall we say, a sharp contrast between blogging about this program in 2017 and doing it in 2019. What I’m saying is that Jalen Hurts isn’t going to blast opposing players on Twitter or antagonize the upcoming opponent in press conferences. (Or plant a flag at midfield after a road win. Or grab his package on camera. Or run from the police.)


Answers via Brent C. Taylor

1) Can you recap his time at Alabama?

Well, it all started with this fumble on his very first collegiate snap.

Hurts enrolled early at Alabama in the spring of 2016, and quickly endeared himself during the spring practices while the Tide searched for a new starting QB. He made a few splash plays scrambling in the A-Day game, but was mostly considered an afterthought behind a couple of upperclassmen and former 5-star redshirt freshman Blake Barnett.

Barnett wound up getting the start against USC in the season opener, but looked absolutely shell-shocked in front of a huge crowd. After Alabama’s offense totally stalled the first few drives, Hurts was suddenly, without any explanation or build-up, trotting out onto the field. His very first snap was that fumble on a read option, but Nick Saban was ready to give him a second chance. He struggled against a fired up Trojan defense for most of the first half before finally uncorking a deep bomb to ArDarius Stewart for a touchdown late in the second quarter. He started to show some prowess scrambling, and then in the second-half, he quickly diagnosed a flubbed cornerback blitz and tossed the ball to a wide-open Stewart for another touchdown.

Alabama went on to blow out the Trojans, and Hurts cemented himself as the starter for the rest of the season despite only completing 6/11 passes.

Two games later, the Tide faced Ole Miss, the upstart program that had upset Alabama in back-to-back seasons before this game. It became a nutty game of turnovers and special teams, but Hurts stepped up in the face of a potential unprecedented upset and rushed for 150 yards—many on 3rd down scrambles.

Alabama’s 2016 season was buoyed by a defense/special teams effort that was outscoring most opponent’s offenses in every game while offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin relied heavily on wide receiver sweeps, a trio of talented running backs, and Jalen Hurts’ rushing ability on third downs and read options to keep the offense humming along without placing too much weight on the passing game.

Kiffin would use the weaker teams like Arkansas and Kentucky to let Hurts work on developing his passing vision while falling back on the aforementioned strategy for bigger games. Hurts really struggled against LSU in November, but a late game touchdown scramble gave the Tide a 10-0 victory despite the fact he only had 105 passing yards.

He followed that up with the best passing performance of his career against Mississippi State, and then overcame a couple of bad interceptions against Auburn to put together a convincing shootout win.

That was probably the highest point of his career, and he won SEC Offensive player of the year after those two impressive performances. In the SEC championship game against Florida, the Gators’ top notch defense totally shut him down, but their offense was so woefully overmatched by Alabama that it didn’t matter. The same thing happened against Washington in the semifinals, but the 50 yards passing and 50% completion rate was probably the worst performance of his career. Again, Alabama’s defense and breakout running back Bo Scarbrough made it a moot point.

Until the championship game, that was. Lane Kiffin suddenly took a head coaching job, and Alabama was left with promoting Steve Sarkisian from an off-field role as an emergency OC. Things were going well against Clemson at first, but then Bo Scarbrough broke his leg after a pair of touchdowns, and suddenly Sarkisian was left with no healthy running backs, as Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris were both nursing injuries. The Tide offense totally stalled for the entire second half as Sark called pass after futile pass, and the Alabama defense wore down after defending almost 100 plays.

Hurts did finally break away for a huge touchdown run to reclaim the lead, but Clemson was left with just enough time to drive back down the field and score on the final play.

In 2017, Alabama hired Brian Daboll from the New England Patriots to be offensive coordinator. While Kiffin had done his best to make an offensive scheme fit his players, Daboll seemed determined to force Hurts to play with a Patriots-style offense. It mostly didn’t work.

Hurts was still used on designed runs, but was obviously being coached to not scramble for more yards. This led to him doing a lot of side-to-side scrambling before ultimately throwing the ball away. With freshman phenom Tua Tagovailoa making splash play after splash play in mop-up duty early in the season, Hurts seemed to get more and more risk-averse with his throws. If Calvin Ridley wasn’t wide open (which admittedly, he was wide open A LOT), Hurts was either throwing the ball away or scampering out of bounds after rolling right. He only threw a single interception all season, but most Alabama fans had long since come to unanimous agreement that an interception or two would be much preferable to just never attempting any passes other than screens.

He had a couple of rough games against LSU and Mississippi State before going full turtle against Auburn in the 2017 Iron Bowl for the Tide’s first loss of the season. Alabama snuck into the playoffs anyway, and Hurts was, again, unable to complete any pass of note against Clemson. Fortunately, the Tigers were led by their own QB with issues in Kelly Bryant, and Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne scored two touchdowns on his own.

That 2017 National Championship against Georgia needs little introduction. Hurts completed all of three passes in the first half, including throwing the ball 15 feet over the head of a wide-open Ridley in the endzone. He was benched at halftime, and Tua Tagovailoa led the Tide on an explosive comeback victory.

In 2018, Hurts was the primary back up, and new OC Mike Locksley did a great job of mixing the zone read and RPO concepts with a vertical passing attack that saw Tagovailoa‘s stats skyrocket. Hurts typically played most of the second half of every game for much of the season, and showed remarkable improvement over his 2017 version. He still displayed some of the same tendencies, but not having the pressure of being a starter with Tua pushing for playing time (plus only being in the game after Alabama had a huge lead) allowed him to play much looser, and he showed a lot more willingness to try to make downfield throws.

He also got about one drive every game where he and Tua did a two-QB formation where he would sometimes throw it, run it, or catch it. The two guys obviously had a lot of fun with it, and the Alabama fans absolutely loved the spectacle of it.

He missed a few games in November with a sprained ankle, but was ready to go by the time the SEC Championship rolled around. I’m sure you all know this story by now. Tagovailoa entered the game limping on a sprained knee, and was unable to avoid a sack early in the game that sprained his ankle as well. Robbed of his mobility against a hungry Georgia defense, Tua looked worse and worse as the game went on before having to go to the bench permanently. Hurts took over with only time for a couple of drives, and he completed 7/9 passes (5 of which were third down conversions that likely would have ended the game had he not completed them) and put the final dagger in Georgia with a QB draw for a touchdown.

He didn’t have any notable playing time in the playoffs after that, and then went on and transferred to Oklahoma.

2) What are his strengths?

Rushing, obviously. Hurts is a solidly built player with sub 4.5 speed before bulking up a little at Oklahoma. He’s a gifted, smooth runner with that uncanny feel for never quite taking a direct hit. He was a monster in goal line situations, as he could power through defenders or beat them to the edge or QB sweeps. He’s extremely tough to sack, and the first rusher almost never manages to get him. Most of the sacks he did take in his career were of the -1 yard variety where he dodged a rusher or two and just barely didn’t get back to the line of scrimmage.

As a passer, he’s got a great release and can really throw a fastball on those short-to-intermediate routes across the middle, and can launch a ball deep downfield with a powerful, horizontal trajectory. When he’s flushed out of the pocket, he’s great at throwing on the run to receivers coming back to him on the sidelines.

An underrated strength of his is his attention to detail in selling play-action. He always did a great job of really acting out the play fake, and also is adept at holding the ball as long as possible on read option meshes.

3) What are his weaknesses?

As a freshman, he struggled with fumbles, but that cleaned up over his career. He’s also never been the most accurate thrower (just in terms of straight up missing intended targets or making his receivers spin around to catch balls), but that’s also something that he has very obviously improved at every single year of his career.

His biggest issue at Alabama was still showing up at Oklahoma, though the Sooners’ high flying offense and Big-12 defenses mostly masked it until the end of the season: he locks on to a single receiver, and if they aren’t wide open, he scrambles sideways out of the pocket to look for a WR on the sidelines or a crossing route. The better defensive coordinators figured that out and started sending delayed edge blitzes which pretty much short-circuited his mid-play processing when his comfortable fall back of scrambling to the side wasn’t available.

Basically, he’s got the running talent and the arm talent to make any predetermined throw in the book, but struggles to pull the trigger if his main read is covered.

4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?

I was a bit surprised he was drafted that high. Granted, I didn’t watch a whole lot of him at Oklahoma, and his stats clearly improved a lot as a senior. What little I did watch, though, he mostly looked like the same QB we saw at Alabama with a bit more confidence than he had in 2017 and eviscerating defenses that couldn’t tackle anyone on Oklahoma’s offense

5) There’s talk that the Eagles could use Hurts in a Taysom Hill role as a gadget player. To what extent do you think he’s suited for that?

He could. He actually did that somewhat in 2018. Here’s a whole piece I wrote about it then. The biggest difference is that Hurts doesn’t quite have some of the short-area agility that Hill does. He can beat people to the sidelines and run over someone, but some of the gadget-like plays that Hill is involved in takes an explosiveness to pull of the misdirection that Hurts doesn’t have.

6) How do you see his NFL career playing out?

To be honest, I think he’ll be a backup for a few years, get a few journeyman 1-year contracts on teams that want a backup that can run an RPO offense without throwing detrimental picks, and wind up getting into coaching by the time he’s 30.

7) Anything to know about him off the field?

Man, there’s likely never been an Alabama player so beloved by fans and coaches that he could be outperformed by his back up for so long without getting replaced and STILL being the center of heated fan arguments over a year later. The entire Alabama team made it clear all through 2018 that Hurts was a team leader despite being a backup. How many people in this universe do you think could handle being benched in a national championship game with as much class as Hurts did?

Off the field, he’s the best you could possibly ask for in a football player… Hence why I think he’ll likely want to go into coaching.


BLG’s take: It’ll be very interesting to see what the future holds for Hurts in Philly. Will he even be the true No. 2 quarterback as a rookie without a true offseason to learn the Eagles’ offense? Will the Eagles really use Hurts in two quarterback sets? There are a number of questions to be answered.

Highlights:

Spider graph via Mockdraftable:

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