Don’t expect too much from Jalen Hurts. Enjoy the ride with the Philadelphia Eagles
Perhaps my biggest regret as a sportswriter is expecting too much too soon from Donovan McNabb. Now I find myself doing the same with Jalen Hurts.
As my father used to say: the wise make mistakes. Fools repeat them.
We should try not to repeat the mistakes we made with McNabb.
Hurts is a third-year second-round pick who has started just 21 games in the NFL. He has a passable arm, remarkable speed and elusiveness, and a good footballing spirit. It is limited. It develops. It’s the first time since high school that he’s had the same offensive coaches in consecutive years.
We live in a time that places more emphasis on what an athlete could become than what they really are. Hurts is exciting. Professional.
Is he a traditional “franchise quarterback”? No not yet.
The Eagles won the season opener in Detroit last week not because Hurts dissected the Lions defense with a surgical passing game, but rather because Hurts ran for 90 yards and a touchdown, and the new $100 million receiver AJ Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards. .
QB Franchise? Who knows? And, for now, who cares?
Almost as soon as McNabb became a full-time starter, the Philadelphia media, me in particular, started rating him performance by performance as if he was Brett Favre circa 1996.
It wasn’t all our fault. Andy Reid was part of the brain trust that drafted McNabb, and Reid had been an assistant in Green Bay during Favre’s prime. Certainly there were comparisons when it came to their defining skills, although McNabb was much more mobile and Favre had a stronger arm. Both came from second-tier programs; Favre starred in Southern Miss, while McNabb shivered in Syracuse.
Expecting McNabb to be anything other than an exciting long-term project was simply unrealistic. It was unfair.
The team around Donovan complicated things. They were a good group of talented veterans who outplayed their quarterback and amplified their abilities; he went to his first Pro Bowl in his second season, which was his first as a full-time starter. When McNabb developed, he took the Birds to the Super Bowl.
He grew just the way he should have, warts and all. He refused to open receivers, he fled the pocket too quickly, he rarely headed his receivers enough, and he never developed the touch or mechanics needed to best handle a West Coast offense. He looks a lot like Jalen Hurts at the same stage.
McNabb also went to five consecutive Pro Bowls and six overall. He thrived no matter how sparse his receiving corps was. He ended his 10-year run here as a full-time starter with a record of 90-45-1 in the regular season, 9-7 in the playoffs. No matter what the analytic crowd tells you, wins are the most important QB stat because QBs have more control over wins and losses than any other athlete in team sports.
He was, without a doubt, the best quarterback in franchise history. But to this day, in Philadelphia, the discussion of his decade of genius focuses more on what he was not what he has been – a generational talent who was the most impactful player the Eagles had ever had.
Accordingly, we diminish what McNabb was. McNabb harbors resentment for our lack of appreciation.
Let’s avoid that cycle this time.
So, right now, how should we rate Hurts? Fairly.
First, we can’t rank him on a curve against his peers, simply because – with all due respect to John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly – this is the era of quarterbacks- most talent saturated guard in NFL history. We get the end of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the early ones of Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, and the rises of Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow (and maybe Trevor Laurent too) . With a bumper crop of first-round QB talent in next year’s draft, Hurts’ cap may never put him in the league’s top 10 passers.
It is very good. Many quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl with modest skills, and at 24, we have no idea what Hurts’ skills will be.
“You give players a three-year window for each position,” 10-year-old veteran tackle Lane Johnson said. “Jalen is a dynamic player. But the comparison game wins out. Each guy has his traits that make them human beings.
So what about today? What should Hurts’ benchmarks be?
1. Don’t to lose Games. No turnover. That means protecting the ball as he runs and not telegraphing passes by locking onto a single receiver.
2. When the primary targets are covered, perform the single out throws to the ball carriers or loose tight ends. He’s getting better.
3. Stay healthy. The most promising aspect of Hurts’ game-winning performance in Game 1 in Detroit last week was that he learned to fight another day. He became an excellent slider and he became comfortable interrupting a game by throwing the ball.
That’s it for this season.
So what should that look like, statistically, in 2022? Let’s say Hurts plays 15 games because everyone gets injured.
What would you say 3,500 passing yards and 22 touchdowns? He had 3,144 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, but that was before the Eagles landed AJ Brown and got rid of Jalen Reagor.
How about a 65% completion rate? That would be a jump of 4 points. Sixty-five percent would have put it just in the top 20 in 2021, and would indicate improved mechanics and better decision-making.
What would you say eight interceptions and four fumbles lost; a total of 12 turnovers. He had nine picks and six fumbles last year, and three fewer turnovers could mean two more wins. He’s going to keep running, so he’s going to keep losing his balance and he’s going to keep getting hit and spitting the ball out. At this point, it’s just who he is.
What would you say 600 yards rushing? He rushed for 784 yards last season, but did it on 139 carries, or 9.2 carries per game, which is way too many for a quarterback to survive. He didn’t quite survive, you’ll remember; he needed ankle surgery in the playoffs. Let’s cut those runs down to about seven per game, which means one more throwaway option and one less called a QB run or run-pass. That’s still 105 races per season.
Those aren’t Pro Bowl numbers, but Hurts isn’t a runner like Lamar Jackson, or as accurate as Joe Burrow, and he doesn’t have the arm talent of Josh Allen.
It’s not even Donovan McNabb.
He is what he is.
Let’s see what it is.