Is Jalen Hurts the Philadelphia Eagles’ uncut gem?
Granted, that’s not a particularly surprising outcome, as Hurts led the conference in passing and its best team, the Oklahoma Sooners, to a 12-2 record, but still, it’s always nice to be appreciated.
Fun fact, Hurts is actually the third straight Oklahoma quarterback to win the award, following future number one overall pick Kyler Murry in 2018-19 and future number one overall pick Baker Mayfield in 2017-18. There must be something in the water down in Norman.
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Or maybe, just maybe, Lincoln Riley is just that good.
Since taking over for Bob Stoops in 2017, Riley has fast become the ‘Sean McVay’ of college football, a 36-year-old wunderkind who has amassed an astonishing 36-6 record over his first three seasons head coaching anyone.
Another fun fact: Stoops served as future Cardinals – and Kyler Murry – head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s backup quarterback at Texas Tech in 2002 before transitioning to coaching under Mike Leach from 2003-09.
Boy, with three straight college quarterbacks headed to the NFL in subsequent seasons, two of whom walked right into starting roles from Day 1, it’s worth wondering just how good Riley’s offense would be with the some continuity at the quarterback position. You know… that’s actually a pretty good idea. What would the Sooners have looked like if, say, Jalen Hurts played his entire college career as a member of the Boomer Sooners? Would he too have been a number one overall pick, a Heisman Trophy winner, and a National Champion?
Well, funny enough, both of Hurts’ college head coaches, Nick Saban and Riley, had comments on this very topic. When Hurts was in the process of looking for a new home via graduate transfer, Saban suggested Oklahoma over teams like Miami and Maryland because they had the ‘best weapons’ and a brilliant offensive mind. Sure, Saban was riding pretty with Tua Tagovailoa under center in 2019, but giving his blessing to Hurts to cross conferences and play for a potential CFB Playoff foe is a testament to his belief in Hurts’ ability to develop as a passer.
That happened. Under Riley’s tutelage, Hurts had his best season as a passer ever, picking up 3,851 yards on 340 attempts and an astounding 32(!) touchdowns. Throughout the pre-draft process, Riley lauded Hurts’ abilities, effort, and willingness to learn. He even liked the Philadelphia Eagles as a destination for the former five-star quarterback, assuming, of course, the team uses him as a quarterback, not a purely gadget option.
That one season, 14 games, vaulted Hurts from a fringe Day 3 prospect who probably couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL, to a second-round draftee who will all but certainly get a crack at a starting quarterback spot at some point in his career.
But what if Hurts would have bypassed Alabama all together and just played for Oklahoma. What if he played for Stoops in 2016 and then finished out his final three seasons under Riley in an offensive scheme tailor-made for his set of skills? Now I’m not going to make up any wacky stats or hypothesize the team’s hypothetical records – that’s pretty pointless, to be honest – but I will venture that Hurts would be a whole lot further along as a passer than he is now. Under Saban’s watch, Hurts was initially used a la a traditional Alabama game manager, albeit one who could rip off a 50 yard run with ease. The only reason Hurts would throw under 30 balls a game under Riley’s rule, by contrast, would presumably come in blowout games where the backup got a chance to play the fourth quarter.
If Hurts would have amassed three seasons where he completed 70 percent of his passes over 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards, he would have all but certainly been a first-round pick, right? I mean those are like all-time great numbers.
Alternatively, Hurts could have burned out under an expanded workload and been replaced Kelly Bryant-style by a better fitting five-star recruit, leaving an NFL future a borderline impossibility – Bryant still remains unsigned a month after the draft – but hey at least we’d know Hurts’ ceiling and floor a little more definitively.
As crazy as it sounds, the Philadelphia Eagles made a pretty big gamble by selecting Hurts in the second round – only not for the reason you might think. Sure, it’s a little wacky to select a quarterback in the second round to back up a 27-year-old on a nine-figure contract but it’d make more sense if they knew definitively how good said player is and will be moving forward. We don’t know that about Jalen Hurts. Is Hurts the next Baker Mayfield and/or Kyler Murrey, who used their time in Lincoln Riley’s offense to become top-tier quarterbacks or a system quarterback two years removed from being benched for a 6-foot-tall left-handed quarterback in the middle of a championship game? That question is beyond exciting and just a little terrifying.