EAGLES BRASS IS STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHO IS JALEN HURTS
With four games left in a regular-season that the Eagles had hoped would tell them one way or the other whether Jalen Hurts had the right stuff to be their starting quarterback for the next decade, the answer to that question still isn’t known, and may stay that way beyond the end of the season.
In just his second NFL season and his first full season as a starter, Hurts has had his ups and downs this year.
He has been prolific as a runner, but very inconsistent as a passer.
And while his running ability has helped keep the Eagles’ playoff hopes afloat, quarterbacks have to be able to throw the ball, and Hurts still is a work in progress there.
He is sixth in the league in rushing first downs with 50, including a league-high 21 on third down, which is a huge reason why the Eagles are fourth in the league in third-down efficiency (45.5 percent).
He is 16th in the league in rushing heading into Week 15 with 695 yards. He’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry, is fourth in 10-plus yard runs behind only the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook and the Browns’ Nick Chubb, and is tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (8).
But he is 26th in passing (83.9), 28th in overall completion percentage (60.1) and 33rd – 33rd! – in third-down completion percentage (51.2).
He’s thrown just three touchdown passes in the Eagles’ last five games and has zero red-zone passing yards in three of those games.
He had been doing a good job of avoiding turnovers, but then threw three interceptions in that ugly 13-7 Week 12 loss to the Giants, including one in the red zone and another just outside of it.
On top of that, he injured his ankle in the Giants game and didn’t play in last week’s 33-18 win over the godawful New York Jets. His replacement, Gardner Minshew completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
Unless Hurts finishes really strong and maybe gets the Eagles to the playoffs, general manager Howie Roseman is going to get to the end of this season and still not be sold on the kid’s ability to be a franchise quarterback.
He also still won’t know that he can’t be. So what’s a GM to do?
As everyone knows, the Eagles have three picks in the first round of the 2022 draft – their own, Miami’s and the Indianapolis’s.
The thinking at the beginning of the year was that if the Eagles concluded that Hurts was inadequate, they could use a couple of those picks to trade up and get one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
But this isn’t a great quarterback draft class, at least from the standpoint of can’t-miss arms.
The other possibility was that the Eagles could use a couple of those first-round picks to trade for a veteran quarterback like Seattle’s Russell Wilson or Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
But there is absolutely no indication that the Seahawks and Wilson want to end their 10-year marriage. As for Watson, yes, he’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks. But do the Eagles really want to trade for a guy who is being sued by half the country’s female masseuses?
A smarter play might be to stick with Hurts as the starter for another year and continue to evaluate him, while trading one of their three 2022 first-round picks for a package that would give them multiple first-round picks in 2023, when the quarterback class is supposed to be considerably stronger.
Mike Quick, a former Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Eagles and the team’s long-time radio analyst, thinks extending Hurts evaluation into next season and giving him more time to develop as a passer, might be the smartest way for Roseman to go.
“I think Jalen has shown a lot that he’s good at doing,” Quick said. “But he’s also shown his inefficiencies.
“I think for what he has, you have to see more. Because what he has is very unique. I think when you see him play against Washington this weekend, Washington has not seen a quarterback that can give them [the problems] that this guy is going to give them.
“The biggest thing I see that he has to improve on is his ability to work from the pocket and get comfortable in doing that. Being able to feel and sense what’s going on in the pocket.
“At the same time, also figuring out where these guys are going to be in their pass routes and get the ball out with anticipation and putting the ball in the right place.”
Hurts has had spurts where he’s thrown the ball well. He completed nearly 80 percent of his passes in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Falcons. But as we have learned since, Atlanta has one of the league’s poorer pass defenses.
Hurts completed 16 of 23 passes against the Broncos in a Week 10 win. But those have been the only two times this season that he has completed more than 65 percent of his throws.
Just 31 of his 82 pass attempts on third down (37.8%) have produced first downs. That percentage is near the bottom of the league.
Too often, he seems to be late in getting the ball out to his receivers, particularly on deep balls, which is the main reason so many of them have been underthrown.
“There are times when the timing is right and the ball is right where it needs to be and it’s a beautiful thing,” Quick said. But there are these other times where it looks like, what in the heck is he doing?”
Roseman needs to be careful about rushing to judgment on Hurts, because despite his inconsistency, he has the wholehearted support of the locker room like no Eagles quarterback has had in the nearly 40 years . The kid is a natural leader.
“For a quarterback, that is vital,” Quick said. “It’s really important that guys gravitate to the quarterback. That he’s a guy they’ll listen to. And they most definitely do.
“If you see this kid in the locker room or the lunch room when they’re hanging out in there, if Jalen starts to speak, people pay attention to what he has to say. It’s amazing how quickly that happened for him. Even the older guys. Even the veterans like (Jason) Kelce. They really respect this guy, and it didn’t take very long. They like the way he works. They like the way he presents himself.
“There are a lot of quarterbacks that, they’re on your team and they’re your teammates and you’re going to play and fight for them. But you just don’t have the same heart for them that they have for this kid. I think they’ll do anything for this kid. And when you have that, I think you have a lot. You’re a guy who can lead the men. And the men will follow you.” *