Is Jalen Hurts the Konami Code QB of 2021
While we're all waiting with baited breath for the NFL Draft to begin, it's easy to look at a player who is already being anointed the next great late-round QB. Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts is already getting hype as a QB1 and our Best Ball ADP has him as the QB11 currently. That means, unlike previous years, the value of the rushing quarterback is becoming far more widespread amongst fantasy players. A quarterback like Hurts would probably be drafted in the mid-QB2 range in 2015 but the fantasy community is a lot sharper these days. That means it's worth doing a deep dive on Hurts' 2021 prospects.
A Brief Review of the Hurts Profile
Before diving straight into Hurts' 2021 outlook, let's get a grasp on what we were expecting from him coming out of college. Hurts opened his collegiate career with Alabama. He became the first freshman to start at QB for the Crimson Tide in over three decades when he replaced Blake Barnett in Alabama's second game of the 2016 season. Hurts dominated for the entirety of his freshman campaign, setting numerous school records in the process, including most rushing yards by a quarterback (954). He progressed as a passer in his sophomore season, making fewer mistakes while boosting his efficiency. He threw 17 scores with a lone interception while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. Hurts wasn't asked to do much as a passer but rarely turned in a weak performance during the regular season. That changed in the national Cham,pioship when he was benched at halftime for Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts would transfer to Oklahoma after a year of being Tagovailoa's backup and pick up where he left off as Alabama's starter. Hurts continued his upward ascent as a passer and terrorized Big 12 competition in his single season as a Sooner. He completed 69.7-percent of his passes at 11.3 yards per attempt. He also dropped a stunning 1,298 yards on the ground and registered 20 rushing scores. Had it not been for that one crippling performance on college football's biggest stage, Hurts could have been viewed as a premier QB prospect.
Admirable pocket awareness and underestimated arm strength. Does not get rattled easily. Stupendous playmaker off script: When play breaks down, remains focused and poised and keeps chains moving. Excellent at RPOs and absorbs big hits: Bigger and stronger than frame indicates. Spectacular playmaker with legs. Improved dramatically as a passer under Riley's guidance. Very good pocket management: Easily escapes pressure and avoids sacks.
Hurts was far from a perfect prospect but his liabilities weren't crippling according to Football Diehards' resident film grinder:
Must improve release and touch on passes. May need time learning to read defenses and route-scheme progressions.
Hurts possessed some of the downsides of the typical running quarterback but making egregious mistakes was not among them. Hurts was needed to improve in many of the ways that most incoming rookie passers need to but he wasn't a project.
Notes from 2020
Hurts didn't see much playing time as a rookie, just four starts, but he made an impression with his legs. Throwing out his final start, when Doug Pederson benched him to earn a better draft selection, Hurts averaged 12.7 carries for 79.3 yards and scored once across three games. Those are mind-blowing numbers. On an entire season, that would be 203 carries for 1,296 yards (using a 16-game schedule). Two years ago, Lamar Jackson set the QB rushing record with 1,206 yards on 176 carries. Hurts did struggle as a passer. He completed just 52-percent of his throws and threw six touchdowns to four interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst passers from a clean pocket. All of this is on a very small sample so we can't make any sweeping predictions based on his four starts alone but it does provide valuable context.
Projecting Hurts for 2021
Bringing it all together for a 2021 outlook, QB11 is a comically low price to pay for Hurts. ADP has done a far better job of adjusting for rushing quarterbacks in recent years, with Josh Allen and Kyler Murray getting massive bumps heading into last year, but Hurts is only comparable to Jackson as a runner. Despite regressing heavily as a passer and slightly as a runner last year, Jackson still finished as the QB7. Jackson was still a solid touchdown thrower. He scored 26 times through the air but only amassed 2,757 yards. His touchdown total may be out of reach for Hurts but his passing yardage was so low that Hurts doesn't need to score as often to be as useful of a fantasy asset as Jackson was last year. Hurts topped 300 yards in two of his three full-game starts and averaged 282.3 yards. That pace would see him best Jackson's yardage total by nearly 2,000 yards. Even if that number is put in check by an improved Philly defense that doesn't force the offense to throw 40 times per game, we can safely assume Hurts will throw more often and for more yards than Jackson.
With all of this being said, it's hard to believe a player with Hurts' fantasy projection isn't going as a top-five passer in drafts. His ADP is still far too low but there is one obvious downside. His situation is terrible and he made numerous mistakes as a rookie. That means we could see him getting benched before the season comes to a close, even if he is putting up QB1 numbers. The Eagles are in need of talent in their secondary and pass rushing room. Some linebacker and safety help would be nice too. Their offensive line has seen better days and no team trotted out a weaker receiving unit than Philly last year. Unless Hurts turns into Michael Vick, this isn't a team that is going to be winning games in droves this year. Hurts fumbled six times last year and threw another four interceptions. Whether or not it's his fault, Hurts could be the first head to roll if the Eagles are staring down the barrel of being last place in a weak NFC East division. For redraft purposes, this risk is simply one worth taking at his current cost. In dynasty leagues, the hype is going to continue mounting and will likely reach a fevered pitch when he has over 300 yards on the ground through four weeks. At this point, if the Eagles are looking like a team that could take a quarterback with a top-five pick in the 2022 draft, Hurts could become a sneaky sell-high candidate.