How Does Jalen Hurts Compare to 2021 NFL Draft QB Prospects?
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded down from the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to 12th overall, one of the assumptions taken from that move was that the team was fully committing to Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. By moving out of the top ten picks in the NFL Draft, the Eagles would be prospectively out of range to get the highest ranked quarterback prospects with some experts projecting five to be selected in the top ten picks.
So the big picture question is how does Jalen Hurts stack up when compared to the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft? There were 13 quarterbacks selected in the 2020 NFL Draft and Jalen Hurts was the fifth QB taken in that draft.
On Monday's edition of GameNight on 973 ESPN, I spoke with CBS Sports HQ NFL/College Football Analyst Emory Hunt about how Jalen Hurts compares to the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL Draft:
"(Jalen Hurts) is more along the lines of a Justin Fields (type prospect), they are about the same type of (Quarterback) - I have a slightly higher grade on Zach Wilson but Jalen Hurts is right there, right behind him. The reason why is both guys, Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts, they have the same type of mental makeup, they have that assassins' mentality, that killer mentality that you want in the position....Those guys are (Quarterbacks) who don't get rattled, they don't get frazzled by the situation, they are able to play through any type of adversity. That is something that's a key trait to any Quarterback, you want that type of player on your team. So we saw Justin Fields do it (at Ohio State), we've seen Jalen Hurts do it at multiple schools and programs then saw him do it last year in games with the Eagles. So if you have that trait, you are already ahead of the game."
On Tuesday Morning, the hosts of the Inside The Birds Podcast asked NFL Films Senior Producer and Co-Host of ESPN's NFL Matchup Show Greg Cosell almost the same exact question I presented to Emory Hunt on Monday night and Cossell's answer for me came across as an echo:
"A Quarterback coach I know extremely well whose been in the (NFL) for 25 years told me that he thought that Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts were really similar Quarterbacks coming out of college."
So that's two guys whose lives are built around studying film who are saying that Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts has similar traits as a quarterback prospect who is projected to be one of the top QBs available in the 2021 NFL Draft.
As someone who loves watching film, watching college football, and NFL games (part of the reason I have been labelled "The Sports Geek"), I want to take a couple minutes to explain who these quarterback prospects are in the 2021 NFL Draft and explain how Jalen Hurts stacks up compared to those players who will be among the major story lines of this year's draft class.
*Trevor Lawrence, University of Clemson, 6'6" and 220 lbs
-Trevor Lawrence is the top QB prospect for a plethora of reasons and he has been living up to lofty expectations since before he got to college. But removing the hype from the equation, what makes Lawrence special is more than just his physical abilities of elite arm strength and accuracy, it's the intangibles that makes NFL talent evaluators fall in love with him. It's the same things that made guys like John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck the first overall picks in their respective draft classes: high football IQ, hyper competitors, great leaders. If there is a flaw or blemish with Lawrence it is that he still needs to work on his consistency as a decision maker in the pocket. Lawrence had games at Clemson where he would not scan the field thoroughly or effectively in a way that led him to force throws that were unnecessary. The key to Lawrence reaching his potential is for him to continue to be a sponge for learning the game, never settle for being a "good" quarterback when his potential is to be "great".
*Justin Fields, Ohio State University, 6'3" and 228 lbs
-Coming out of high school, many evaluator rated Justin Fields as the number two quarterback recruit behind Trevor Lawrence. Fields is arguably the best all-around athlete of all the quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft; his physical makeup is an amalgamation of Donovan McNabb and Colin Kaepernick. On Tuesday, Fields ran 4.44 seconds in the 40 yard dash, which makes him one of the fastest straight line speed quarterbacks in the last 15 years of the NFL Draft. What separates Fields from his physical comps McNabb and Kaepernick is he is more advanced as a prospect coming out of college than both of those quarterbacks. Fields has advanced maturity, competitive tenacity, and leadership intangibles that makes him a high level quarterback prospect. The only flaws in his game as a prospect are things that can be improved on with a commitment to training: needs to improve the consistency of his throws so to not let defenses read his body if he is going deep or intermediate or short throws. He needs to also improve the consistency of his decision making under pressure, trust his instincts and film study. In the games versus Clemson and Alabama the last two years, you can see him almost second guessing himself in big moments, and making some throws that are unnecessary. I think Justin Fields has the potential be a better NFL quarterback than Donovan McNabb and Colin Kaepernick because of his intangibles, Fields is a natural leader and has a legendary work ethic, so any team that gets him should be very excited.
*Zach Wilson, Brigham Young University, 6'3" and 210 lbs
-The argument could be made that Zach Wilson has the most arm talent of any quarterback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson showcased during his college career at BYU and during his Pro-Day workout that he can make every throw imaginable on an elite level. Wilson has the physical ability to be as good as any quarterback in the NFL today; His arm strength and quick release is among the best QB prospects of the last decade. My concerns about Wilson are with his long term health and his inconsistent play in big games. Zach Wilson has suffered injuries to both of his shoulders that forced him to miss some games and he takes some unnecessary hits when he is trying to make plays. Similar to Andrew Luck whose career ultimately succumbed to the numerous injuries that piled up due to his style of play, I am concerned that if Wilson doesn't stop trying to be a "hero" on the football field, he could suffer that kind of fate. On top of that, Wilson has played inconsistent in the biggest games of his career: In 2020, when BYU played Coastal Carolina in a major top 25 match up, Wilson's performance was underwhelming throwing just one touchdown and taking some punishing hits in the loss. In 2019, BYU finished their regular season with a miserable 13-3 loss to San Diego State in which Wilson had two interceptions and zero touchdowns. For his career at BYU, Wilson finished with a 2-4 record against teams ranked in the top 25 heading into those match ups.
*Mac Jones, University of Alabama, 6'3" and 214 lbs
-The man throwing the ball to top NFL Draft wide receiver prospects like Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, and Jaylen Waddle over the last two years is quarterback Mac Jones. In his last 16 games, Jones didn't just throw 51 touchdown passes, he showcased the ability to be an elite accurate passer and the leadership qualities you want from your franchise quarterback in the NFL. While he is not as athletic compared to his quarterback draft classmates, Jones has the arm talent and high football IQ to be a very good NFL starting quarterback. The lack of elite power behind his throws and limited mobility to escape the pocket from pressure makes him less appealing for some NFL teams. The elite intangibles and passing accuracy are what will give him the opportunity to be a potential top ten first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but his projections as a prospect are definitely below Lawrence, Fields, and Wilson. If Jones goes to a team that knows how to maximize the talent from the quarterback position (for example: Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers), then he can be a NFL franchise quarterback for a decade.
*Trey Lance, North Dakota State, 6'4" and 224 lbs
-The most raw talent in the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class, Trey Lance is great athlete who has elite arm strength and great leadership traits. Only starting 17 games while playing at the FCS level, Lance was not offered the chance to answer many questions due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting his team to play only one "showcase" game during the 2020 season. Having physical talent that is unrefined does not mean that a player will be successful in the NFL though and Lance needs to go to an organization that will let him sit, learn, evolve for a year or two before he is ready for NFL action. Lance has to learn to operate in the pocket, not scrambling once you go through your options or running after 2-3 seconds. Also, Lance has to protect his body after a college career where he was trying to run over defenders in the open field, he cannot get away without without being injured at the NFL level. Superstar Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes both sat behind the established starter while learning the game, they both have won MVP awards and Super Bowls. So saying Lance needs time to learn and develop while not being ready to play day one is not to be a real "negative" towards him, instead a statement of the reality of what he is as a prospect.
So if Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields are similar NFL quarterback prospects, while Hurts is graded right behind Zach Wilson, it makes even more sense why the Eagles traded down from the sixth to the twelfth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, the Eagles are not settling for Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback for the 2021 NFL season. The reason why Jalen Hurts was a second round pick in the NFL Draft had less to do with his ceiling as an NFL player as it is a reflection of the incredible depth of talent that was available in that draft class.
Physically, Jalen Hurts is a special athlete at 6'1" and 223 lbs who had a better vertical leap (35.0) than arguably the best athlete in the 2021 NFL Draft Kyle Pitts (33.5). Hurts is not as fast linear speed at Justin Fields who ran an unofficial 4.44 seconds 40 yard dash (Hurts ran 4.59 at last year's NFL Draft Combine) but Jalen is a powerful, sturdy athlete who is a monster in the weight room.
On the field, Jalen Hurts has shown the talent that puts his potential on the same level as the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class. In Hurts one year playing for the Oklahoma Sooners, he was sixth in FBS college football in completion percentage (69.7%) with the second best passer efficiency rating (191.2) and number one in all of college football in passing yards per attempt (11.3). Hurts is capable of playing quarterback at a high level as he showed in college in the Sooners Offense that demands a high level of production from the quarterback position. Among the QBs who played in OU Head Coach Lincoln Riley's offense who are now starting in the NFL includes Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Some of the Jalen Hurts detractors typically point to his 52% completion percentage in his first season with the Eagles as a huge flaw in him as an NFL quarterback. But pointing to that stat is flawed in itself: Go back to the Packers game and you will see that three of Hurts seven incompletions were throwaways while four of his 13 incompletions versus the Saints were also throwaways. If you remove those seven passes from the stat lines, Hurts real completion percentage combined in the Saints and Packers games was 66.7% (22 completed passes on 33 pass attempts). The truth is that Hurts plays within himself, he is not a gunslinger or takes any unnecessary risks as a passer, concerns I have with hyped NFL Draft quarterback prospect Zach Wilson.
Just because the Sports Networks are going to be talking about the 2021 NFL Draft Class every day from now until the end of the month and there is so much hype every year around the quarterback position, none of that means that the Eagles are "settling" for Jalen Hurts. Just because he is no longer a "new car" or the "bright and shinny toy" doesn't make him any less of a prospect who could develop into the Eagles next franchise quarterback. So the next time someone bloviates about drafting a quarterback in the first round, remember this:
From 1999 to 2019, 61 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft; Only 28 of those quarterbacks have been been Pro Bowl selections. That means 45.9% of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft over 20 years were living up to expectations as NFL starting quarterbacks. So Eagles fans can take solace in the reality that the grass is NOT always greener on the side of the NFL Draft.