Man, was I wrong about Jalen Hurts
I don’t pride myself on being right. I pride myself on calling it like I see it.
The way I saw it in 2017, Jalen Hurts was an excellent college quarterback without much of an NFL future. In 2017, I did weekly SEC quarterback rankings. Even as Hurts struggled to take that next step as a passer in Brian Daboll’s first and only year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, I put the Tide sophomore at No. 1 on a weekly basis. I saw Hurts as someone with a tremendous floor, but as someone who struggled when he couldn’t target Calvin Ridley or move the chains with his legs.
When Tua Tagovailoa relieved Hurts in the national championship and led the Tide to a comeback win for the ages, I saw any chance of Hurts becoming an NFL franchise quarterback as slim to none.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
You see, this funny thing happened. A 19-year-old kid — wait for it — got better.
Hurts hadn’t maxed out his potential as a college underclassman. Five years later, he’s leading the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship on the heels of a regular season in which a sprained shoulder in the final weeks was the only thing preventing him from winning league MVP honors.
Writing off anybody with Hurts’ physical and mental makeup before the age of 20 was, in every way, wrong. The way I saw it, the NFL wasn’t going to look too kindly on someone who to that point in 2017, was more of a weapon with his legs than he was with his arm. Hence, why Hurts was on the wrong end of the most notable mid-game benching in college football history.
If you were placing bets on who the most successful NFL quarterback from that game would be, there’s a decent chance that it would’ve gone in the following order:
- Tua Tagovailoa
- Jake Fromm
- Jacob Eason
- Jalen Hurts
If you could’ve included incoming 2018 recruits from those respective teams, one might’ve slotted Justin Fields ahead of Hurts, too.
But the thing that college football fans can appreciate about Hurts’ story is that he worked to become undoubtedly the best signal-caller of that group. He took that day as the turning point of his career — a career that included consecutive national championship berths and SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors as a true freshman — despite what all the critics like myself said. That is, Hurts was about to lose his starting job, finish his solid college career elsewhere and probably go on to do great non-football things.
The way I saw it, Hurts became a better player as a backup in 2018. Credit a few people for that. Credit Dan Enos for stepping into that role as Alabama’s quarterbacks coach and working with Hurts to develop his mechanics as a thrower. Credit Mike Locksley for running an offense that actually allowed Hurts to throw in lopsided games so that he wasn’t just practicing hand-offs. Credit Nick Saban for handling what could’ve been an extremely awkward situation in the best way possible to keep both guys on the roster and doing what was best for his team.
Credit Hurts for not listening to this idiot:
“I’ve long had the belief that Jalen Hurts is going to quit the team…Nick Saban has come out multiple times and said he’s not going to pay attention to the redshirt rule so if Jalen Hurts plays vs. Texas A&M he’s going to have to make a decision” – @cjogara pic.twitter.com/t4eAdkaH7t
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 20, 2018
Woof. What an awful read on the situation.
Everyone knows how that played out with Hurts leading Alabama to a comeback win against Georgia in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was the same place that his career changed forever just 11 months earlier.
With Tagovailoa set to return for his pre-draft season in 2019, nobody faulted Hurts for transferring to Oklahoma to play in Lincoln Riley’s Heisman Trophy factory, though many questioned if he could handle the high-volume passing attack in Norman. Granted, Hurts didn’t become the 3rd consecutive Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman in 2019. He was a mere runner-up to Joe Burrow, who put together arguably the best single season in college football history (I said “arguably” Auburn fans).
When Burrow’s LSU squad dropped the hammer on Hurts’ Oklahoma squad, it almost felt like that doubt about his long-term future creeped back in. After all, Burrow was a lock to be the future No. 1 overall pick and the side-by-side didn’t suggest that Hurts was on Burrow’s level. Even though Hurts received high marks at the NFL Scouting Combine, you’d be hard-pressed to find him in the first round of any mock drafts. He was well aware of the continued skepticism about his NFL potential.
“There’s a thrill in not being satisfied. It keeps you going,” Hurts told ESPN’s Outside the Lines in March 2020. “There’s no ceiling on my game. There’s no cap.”
There was a point in that interview when Jeremy Schaap asked Hurts why somebody should draft him. His response?
“I’m a dog.”
Yep. Hurts is a dog.
And yet once again, we were still wrong about him. There wasn’t much of a stir from anyone, myself included, when Hurts was the 5th quarterback taken off the board and he was selected No. 53 overall by the Eagles in the 2020 NFL Draft:
- No. 1 Joe Burrow
- No. 5 Tua Tagovailoa
- No. 6 Justin Herbert
- No. 26 Jordan Love
- No. 53 Jalen Hurts
We now have 3 seasons worth data to answer an interesting question. Besides Burrow, who has been everything and more that Bengals fans could’ve hoped for, who would be the No. 2 quarterback off the board in a re-draft? It probably comes down to Herbert vs. Hurts and depending on who was selecting, both would have the opportunity to select a franchise quarterback.
Either way, any sort of 2020 re-draft probably has Hurts as a top-3 pick overall. And sure, he succeeded for a franchise who invested a ton into its receivers by using a top-10 pick on DeVonta Smith and trading for AJ Brown. The Eagles also have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and most importantly, Nick Sirianni was willing to build his offense around Hurts’ skill set. It helps Hurts that he’s playing in an era wherein the combination of mobile quarterbacks and college offensive schemes are being embraced more universally than ever in the NFL.
But if you think that Hurts is just a byproduct of his surroundings well, you’re not calling it like you see it. Or rather, you’re not seeing what it took Hurts to get to this point.
It wasn’t just the videos of him squatting 600 pounds, nor was it just him playing for 2 elite college programs. You can’t teach someone to be wired like Hurts.
What skeptics like myself failed to realize in 2017 when he struggled to stretch the field — he only had 13 completions of 30 yards in 14 games — and he regressed as a sophomore was that he never lacked the tools to become what he is today. That is, the guy with the best quarterback rating in the NFL on passes of 25-plus yards downfield (125.0) who tied for 2nd in the NFL in rushing scores (13). Hurts might not have been as natural of a passer as a guy like Herbert or Tagovailoa. Shoot, even after all that work he put in to improve in that area, he still might not be as natural as those 2 class of 2020 quarterbacks.
That’s fine, though. The guy can still drop it in a bucket to Smith 45 yards downfield to put a visiting defense on its heels on the first drive of an NFL playoff game. He can still pick up a blitz, get rid of the ball and hit Brown perfectly in stride deep down the sideline to put a game away in the 4th quarter … with a sprained shoulder.
Jalen Hurts made THIS throw after spraining his throwing shoulder in the third quarter. Sheesh! pic.twitter.com/sjmcdPTFHs
— DiBirds (@DiBirdsBlog) December 19, 2022
Hurts proved countless people wrong in the last few years. It’d be interesting to see how he’d be talked about if he were to make it to the Super Bowl and square off with Burrow or Pat Mahomes. In some ways, that might actually make Hurts feel right at home.
Regardless of what happens on Sunday in the NFC Championship, he already showed that we were wrong to doubt his quiet confidence. As I see it, Hurts was right.
There’s no cap on his game.