Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles?
2021 will be a make-or-break season for Philadelphia Eagles sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts. In four and a half games under center last year, there were flashes of potential but also rookie season growing pains. No one will question his work ethic, competitiveness, or leadership but now it’s time to lead by action. The results have to be good enough for the Birds to believe that he can be part of the solution moving forward.
It’s safe to say that Birds fans did not expect to be here just a few years ago. General manager Howie Roseman shocked everyone when he drafted Hurts in the second round in 2020. Not only was it a surprise to see Philly select a quarterback, but it was also a surprise to many that Hurts went as early as he did.
Now, the front office has decided to give him an opportunity to prove himself as the starter. The focal point of Hurts’ upcoming season should be his development as a passer. We already know he can get it done with his legs and elusiveness whether it is on a designed run or a scramble to extend the play.
What can we expect from Jalen Hurts during Philadelphia Eagles training camp?
It’s been a busy offseason for Number 1 including workouts with his quarterback coach Quincy Avery and workouts with teammates. He has worked on his throwing motion and release which should hopefully fix some of his accuracy issues.
Hurts’ 52 percent completion won’t tell the full story. He had 12 throwaways, one spike, four dropped passes, and five passes batted at the line. Even still, he had an on-target throw percentage of just 60.7 and a bad throw percentage of 26.7. Even Drew Lock had better marks in both areas. To be fair, Hurts had an irregular offseason and no preseason due to COVID-19.
This year, Hurts has already had OTAs. He will have his first full training camp and three preseason games. Brian Johnson is an excellent quarterbacks coach. Nick Sirianni has helped produce successful quarterbacks in the past. Fans shouldn’t expect Aaron Rodgers’ level of ball placement from Hurts, but that should be one of the key aspects of his game to keep an eye on in late July and August.
There were instances in which he was smart to throw the ball away, leave the pocket, or make a tough read. At the same time, there were also some questionable interceptions, premature escapes from the pocket, and forced reads.
Yards after catch aren’t just a result of the wide receiver but also the quarterback. Even on completed passes, if the ball is too high or too far behind the target, there might be missed opportunities with green grass ahead. That doesn’t show up in the box score.
Under Sirianni, expect the offense to try and generate YAC opportunities for playmakers like DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor. Hurts has to be on point with his ball placement and let his playmakers do the rest in space.
Speaking of the offensive personnel, it’s important to see a level of comfort from Hurts with both his teammates and the concepts. As mentioned, he has to know his personnel. The ball needs to be placed differently for a wideout like Travis Fulgham than it needs to be for Reagor.
You are going to ask Fulgham to high-point the ball more and make more back-shoulder catches. In terms of concepts, Hurts will have to adjust to new terminology with Sirianni and show that he is capable of processing at a high level.
Here’s what Philadelphia Eagles fans should expect from Jalen Hurts in 2021.
Going off of that, how Hurts reads the field in year two compared to year one will probably be the biggest factor in determining his future in Philly. Everything starts pre-snap. Every opponent will have different defensive fronts to throw at Hurts and various blitz packages off of those fronts. If the blitz comes, he needs to adjust and know where the ‘hot’ read is post-snap while maintaining a level of comfort if some defenders bail out and drop back into coverage.
In addition, it’ll be key for Jalen to read whether the middle of the field is open with two high safeties (Cover 2 or 4) or if it is closed with one high safety (Cover 1 or 3). This might seem simple but reads are often simplified for young quarterbacks at the collegiate level.
For example, Lincoln Riley often runs a shallow cross-screen as JT O’Sullivan mentioned in his breakdown. Three receivers are on one side of the field running vertical preparing to block with one receiver on the other side of the formation on a shallow crosser. It is designed so that the receiver on the short crosser has room to work after the catch with the other receivers as blockers.
The quarterback has the option to either throw it to the wideout or take it himself on the quarterback draw depending on what the defense is doing. The Eagles ran this in the Week 14 matchup with the Saints but Reagor ran a few yards too far upfield on his crosser.
Getting back to the point, reads can and should be simplified for young quarterbacks whether it is with RPOs, screens, five-wide formations, or other concepts. At the same time, there is a certain level of processing that is required to stick around as a quarterback in the NFL.
Hurts needs to demonstrate that he can consistently read and react to defensive fronts and coverages and adjust accordingly as he goes through his first, second, third, and fourth progressions. If he can become a bit more consistent with his accuracy and processing, he should play well enough to earn the nod in Year 3. If not, the Birds will need to get their guy in the 2022 NFL Draft.