Jalen Hurts QB1 of the Future
Listen, I’m not going to dance around the fact that I believe Jalen Hurts is the QB1 of the future. He showed some ability as a rookie, and was able to build on it as a full-time starter in 2021. There’s a ridiculous number of anti-Hurts videos and articles out there, and I wanted to provide a different perspective. Hurts has a lot of things to work on, but he also has a strong foundation of skills that the Eagles would be wise to continue to develop and invest in.
The primary argument against Hurts is that he’s just not a good QB. He has some athleticism and running ability, but he has a weak arm and is unable to process defenses. He can’t make the plays necessary to win the big games in the NFL, and ultimately the Eagles need to move on. To be fair, I definitely recognize the growth areas for Hurts, for him to reach his maximum potential, he needs to take major strides forward as a passer.
But that’s where I diverge from the pack. I watched Hurts in 2021, and then re-watched the vast majority of his games and I liked what I saw. He left me disappointed in a few big moments, but for a 23 year old in his first full season as a starter, he showed a ton of promise. So that piqued my curiosity about how Hurts compares to some of the best QBs in the NFL. I decided to compare five other QBs in their first full year starting to Hurts’s, to ensure that my eyes weren’t lying to me. Having gone through the process, I not only believe that Hurts is the QB1 of the future for Philly, but that he is in line for a big year in 2022.
- Carson Wentz
- Dak Prescott
- Josh Allen
- Kyler Murray
- Lamar Jackson
I started with the “counting” stats because they are a part of the puzzle, and it’s important for us to start with a foundation that’s familiar. As you can see, Jalen Hurts had a season that is on par with the rest of the list despite a slow start to the season and a mid season shift to a more run heavy offense. The run heavy shift led to a significant rushing season for Hurts, rushing for the most TDs (10) for a QB in Eagles history, and the second most rushing yards (784) in Eagles history behind only Randall Cunningham (932).
When looking at the list of QBs in NFL history that have passed for at least 3,100 yards and rushed for at least 700 yards, Hurts is in some really good company. Hurts was also able to do it as a first year starter who was thrust into being a QB1, unlike the others on the list who were drafted to be “the man”. His first year also compared favorably to Cam Newton’s and Russell Wilson’s first years as starters, and we know how their careers have gone.
Of course we have to go deeper than the surface metrics though, because that tells only a small piece of the Jalen Hurts story. Since so much attention is focused on Hurts’s lack of arm strength, I decided to pull some advance statistics from Fantasy Pros.
In 2021 Hurts compiled 1,912 air yards, meaning roughly 60% of his passing yards came through the air. He placed fourth in the comparison group in air yards, third in air yards per attempt, and had the third most passes longer than ten yards. He was third in passes over twenty yards, and tied for fourth in passes over 30 yards. He had the least number of poor passes while also having the third most dropped passes. This is an important subset of stats to keep in mind, because it shows that Hurts was at least attempting his share of passes downfield, while limiting the number of bad throws he was making.
When comparing Hurts’s and Wentz’s rookie year directly, Hurts had less air yards, but more air yards per attempt, passes over twenty yards, passes over thirty yards, and far less poor passes. Wentz of course had 175 more attempts than Hurts, but Hurts was pushing the ball downfield as much, if not more, while operating a run first offense.
I wanted to find an objective way to compare “arm strength”. I like the metrics that Fantasy Pros provides, but I also wanted to compare Hurts to the sample QBs directly. Ourlads provides a comprehensive list of the QB velocity measurements tracked at the NFL combine, which appear in the table above. Hurts is right in the mix from an arm strength standpoint, which makes sense because he’s able to make NFL throws on a regular basis.
Accuracy is another area that people question when it comes to Hurts and his passing ability. To dig deeper into accuracy, I turned to NFL NGS to check out completion percentage above expected. Hurts actually had a really solid year when looking at his actual completion percentage versus his anticipated percentage, where he ranked third out of the pool of QBs I analyzed. He also had the third highest aggressiveness rating, indicating that he was using his arm strength and accuracy to fit passes into tight windows.
The statistics remain pretty consistent with his intended air yards and completed air yards, where Hurts finished second and third respectively in the QB comparison. His longest completed pass through the air was 52.3 yards, which sounds like a strong arm to me. In regards to growth areas for Hurts, he definitely needs to decide what to do with the football faster. His 3.12 seconds to throw was significantly higher than the other QBs, and shows a young player still learning how to process a defense.
Lastly, let’s examine the prevalent theory that the Eagles implemented a completely run dominant offense to hide Jalen Hurts’s inability to throw. The Eagles’ 52.7 run % led the NFL in 2021, but wasn’t as completely run oriented as LJax’s offense in 2019 or Wilson’s rookie season in 2012. The shift to a more run focused offense made sense for the Eagles for a number of reasons, mainly to take advantage of Hurt’s athleticism while also giving him time to acclimate to being a full-time starter. This isn’t unheard of, as teams often lean on their running game as their passers grow more confident in the NFL.
Areas for growth
So far we’ve been able to dispel the myth that Jalen Hurts had some objectively terrible year as a full-time starter. He built on his rookie season and when compared with the other sample QBs he performed about as well as they did. He also was able to take Philadelphia to the playoffs as a first time starter, despite laying an egg in the playoff game against Tampa. While I honestly believe that Hurts is the future for Philly at QB, he still has some glaring issues that need to be addressed.
The first issue is his unwillingness to trust the pocket around him. Like most young athletic QBs, when he doesn’t see his first or second read get open, he tends to get antsy and wants to use his legs to make plays. While that isn’t a terrible thing overall, it does become an issue when Hurts is not making the correct throw downfield but instead decides to run for it.
Hurts… you can’t be successful long term if you are this frantic in the pocket. Just calm down & trust the projection! The OL are playing great! Literally no need to run out of this pocket. pic.twitter.com/2p7TDpa1G9
— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 2, 2021
This is another instance where Hurts just has to calm down and let the game come to him. There were numerous instances on tape where he had chances to make a bigger play, but instead opted to run for it. These are the plays that we have to see less of in 2022 for Hurts to prove that he is “The Guy” going forward.
Hurts needs to continue to make strides with reading defenses and making quick decisions. His propensity to misdiagnose what’s happening around him led to bad throws and some egregious missed opportunities. Like a lot of young QBs he waits to see the route get open as opposed to anticipating and delivering the ball to the right spot. He also has the habit of holding the ball too long, again waiting to see things open up, as opposed to trusting his technique and the timing with his receivers.
Why I’m Optimistic
Despite the clear growth areas, I still remain optimistic about what Hurts can become in 2022 and beyond. First off, he’s an intelligent and hard working person that is committed to becoming the best QB he can be. He spent a significant amount of time this off-season addressing his shortcomings by working with QB Guru Tom House, and studying ample amounts of film.
His biggest areas of development are also the two areas where he’s most focused on improving: refining his mechanics, and developing a deeper understanding of the offense. In camp he has shown some progression as a passer, and we’ll get at least a brief look at what Hurts has in the pre-season. Hurts being in his second year with the same play caller will also be huge, as he was able to spend the offseason building on a strong foundation versus having to learn new terminology.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman made an intentional investment in his young QB, by pulling the trigger on the blockbuster trade for WR A.J. Brown. The Cardinals and Bills also made similar moves, trading for DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs respectively to provide an alpha WR for their young QBs. Josh Allen specifically saw a huge jump in production, going from a QB that was at one time called a bust, to a second team All-Pro. I expect a significant step forward for Hurts, as he now has A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Quez Watkins, and Dallas Goedert at his disposal.
A. J. Brown’s addition shouldn’t be taken for granted, he was brought in to provide a level of toughness and competitiveness that the Eagles have lacked at wide receiver for the past several years. His ability to take short passes the distance, and muscle cornerbacks for 50/50 balls will be extremely helpful for a young and developing QB. Expect Hurts to target Brown early and often, and expect Brown to be motivated to get back to his Pro Bowl level of production after a down 2021 season.
Jalen Hurts dropping dimes to A.J. Brown 🎯
— PFF (@PFF) August 8, 2022
Lastly, steady offensive line play will not only boost Hurts’s abilities from the pocket, but it’ll also make the entire offense better. In 2021 Philly used 11 different starters on the offensive line in 17 games, and that lack of continuity partially led to the move to a more run focused attack. Philly is a solid right guard away from having one their most dominant offensive lines since Brandon Brooks and Jason Peters were in town. Hurts being able to trust his line should lead to less impatient plays from the pocket, and more accurate passes to the deep and intermediate parts of the field.
I’m glad that Philly had the foresight to draft Jalen Hurts when they did, and that they’ve decided to give him another shot at being the QB for 2022 and beyond. 2022 will be the defining season for Hurts, and everything is lining up well for him to show the Eagles players, coaching staff, front office, and fans that he is the person to take Philly into the future.
I can’t disagree with the naysayers that say at 24 years old Jalen Hurts has things to improve on. What young player doesn’t? When looking at the QB position, most of the top QBs are in their mid to late thirties, and there will soon be a changing of the guard in the NFL. The next generation of NFL quarterbacks will be made up of athletic signal callers that can dissect a defense through the air, and shred them with their legs. I firmly believe Hurts is capable of being a big part of the future for the Eagles, and I’m excited to see him get to work this year.