One of the major stories of the college football off-season was the transfer of former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to Oklahoma. Hurts’ career may already be College Football Hall of Fame worthy, as the Crimson Tide’s win-loss record with him behind center is an astounding 26-2.
As a freshman, Hurts led Alabama to the national championship game, though they would eventually lose in the final seconds to a Clemson team led by Deshaun Watson.
As a sophomore, Hurts would once again lead Alabama to the national championship game. Hurts would struggle in that game, but freshman backup Tua Tagovailoa would enter and eventually secure the victory for Alabama over the Georgia Bulldogs.
Last season as a junior, Hurts mostly took a back seat to Tagovailoa, serving as the primary backup. However, in the SEC Championship game against Georgia, Hurts would have his opportunity as Tagovailoa got banged up in the fourth quarter. With Alabama down by 7, Hurts led consecutive touchdown drives to send Alabama to the College Football Playoff. They once again made the national championship game, this time getting romped by Clemson.
Now, Hurts finds himself as a team captain at Oklahoma, for the school that Alabama beat in the national semifinal last season. The outlook is promising, as Oklahoma has produced the last two Heisman trophy winners and #1 overall picks in the NFL Draft, quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Hurts will slide into the starting spot, but presumably doesn’t have the NFL potential that Mayfield or Murray had.
Or does he?
Some people have pointed out that before entering their final seasons at Oklahoma, neither Mayfield or Murray were even considered future first-round picks. It wasn’t until after their Heisman seasons that their draft buzz started to grow, eventually all the way to the top of their respective classes. If there is an offense that best suits Hurts’ skill-set, it’s the offense designed by Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley (and co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy).
While I don’t believe that Hurts has a realistic opportunity to be the #1 overall pick, his film from last season suggests that he’s almost guaranteed to be drafted. Just one year ago, this sentiment would’ve come as a surprise, as Hurts’ two initial seasons at Alabama showed a passer who was too raw for the next-level.
I scouted every Jalen Hurts drop-back from last season to see where he developed, and where he can still improve. His raw passing statistics were impressive, and some added context doesn’t necessarily hurt his case.
Hurts completed 51 of his 70 attempts last season, and 5 of those incompletions came by way of dropped passes. He only threw 2 interceptions, one of which was deflected at his release by an edge rusher who was unaccounted for by the protection. Other than one ill-advised deep toss against Ole Miss that resulted in his other interception, Hurts never really put the ball in danger. That was impressive, especially considering that he only had one true “throwaway” on the season.
While his ball security was strong and he was giving his receivers a chance to make plays with excruciating consistency, it’s important to also contextualize the apparent positives within his production as well.
Alabama has the most talented group of wide receivers in college football with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, and their presence undoubtedly helped Hurts. Additionally, he was aided by about ¼ of his completions being via screen passes.
Here are my notes on Hurts as a prospect, with film clips to backup my findings.
Hurts found success on play-action and RPO type passes, showing NFL-caliber footwork and mechanics. His patience in this area helped pull linebackers down towards the line of scrimmage, and he showed a feel for the tempo of his transition from play-fake to throwing base. Keeping his release quick and tight, he delivered passes with zip over the middle, or was able to drop-back and take advantage over the top.
One of Hurts’ best passes of the season came when he used his play-fake to rip the ball across his body and deliver a strike to the backside slant for a touchdown, despite standing in the face of pressure (last play of the clip):
Trajectory Of Deep Passes
An area where Hurts showed improvement from his sophomore season was his accuracy, touch and trajectory on deep passes. On his film, there were only a few misses on passes down the field or along the sideline, as Hurts was consistently placing the ball in a spot where his receivers could get under it. He showed that he could split windows along the sideline, drop the ball into the middle of the field over linebackers and in-between safeties, and place the ball over his receiver’s outside shoulder on fade routes:
Dangerous On The Edge
Early in his career, Hurts was known for his athleticism and strength as a runner. While this is still one of the best aspects of his game, he continued to improve as a thrower outside of the pocket as well. When Hurts breaks contain and gets on the edge, he’ll always be able to pick up chunks of yardage with his legs. However, Hurts showed improvement at keeping his eyes downfield, and throwing with accuracy while on the run due to his arm strength and weight transfer:
While Hurts’ anticipation as a passer can be lacking (more on that later), there were instances when he saw receivers’ open before their break. This is encouraging that proper anticipation is within him, and when he processes quickly, it results in easy gains:
Hurts showed comfortability reading half of the field, and did a better job of going through his progressions. While he can occasionally be slow to process, playing in more of a passing offense last season forced him to improve his pocket comfortability. All of his pocket mechanics improved last season, including the pacing of his footwork. He can escape interior pressure with quick movements, and showed a willingness to stand in the face of pressure and deliver passes when he sees a route open up.
Lack Of Anticipation
The main thing holding Hurts back as a passer is his anticipation and willingness to throw the ball in unison with the route break of his receivers. He was unquestionably aided by the talent of his weapons, as they would find ways to remain open after their initial break. While Hurts was able to get away with his slow trigger at times last season, his internal clock will need to tick faster, as the pass rush will get into him more quickly and throwing windows will be tighter in the NFL:
Hurts improved from the pocket last season, but that doesn’t mean he’s polished there quite yet. Too often, Hurts will bail from a clean pocket and trust his legs to make a play. This bad habit left some production on the field last season as his targets uncovered as he escaped rather than delivered:
When throwing intermediate passes along the boundary, Hurts will occasionally put too much air under the ball. Generally, this aligns when he is forcing anticipation on throws to his outside receivers, not trusting them to be where they’re supposed to after their breaks. This is concerning because Hurts has proven that he can throw with proper velocity, and passes that have too much air on them along the sideline will result in 6 points the other way in the NFL
Hurts improved his throwing mechanics last season, but will still occasionally stiffen his follow-through leg and throw from an unbalanced base as he swings it out and around his body.
Lastly, Hurts can be late and slightly erratic on quick-game throws, as he’s seemingly more comfortable throwing from play-action.
Somehow, Hurts just turned 21 years-old a few weeks ago, which means he’ll be that age on NFL Draft day. He’ll have this season as the unquestioned starter for a national contender to continue improving, and will be coached by a noted quarterback “guru.”
Hurts will be surrounded by strong talent yet again, and his production will likely peak as a senior playing in the Big 12.
While he isn’t likely to develop as rapidly as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray did in their final seasons, Hurts is an intriguing quarterback prospect who could be available in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
Hurts is a multidimensional talent, will post excellent athletic testing marks with a strong build, and come into the NFL with plenty of college experience on national powerhouse programs.
Hurts has the arm to survive in the NFL, and his development with his deep accuracy is an encouraging progression.
While anticipation is a difficult trait to improve over one off-season, if Hurts continues his development from the pocket, he can take the next step as a passer. Trusting his reads and not leaving clean pockets could eventually be the difference between Hurts being selected on Day 3 or on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.