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NFL Draft

Examining The Fit: Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts

  • The Draft Network
  • May 7, 2020
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The name of the game in player evaluation is identifying traits and skills that will translate to the pros; in this case, the NFL. When we watch quarterbacks, we talk about arm strength, field vision, pocket management and, of course, accuracy. 

Those skills translate into prototypes: toolsy quarterbacks with big arms and fearless throws, point-guard passers with pop-gun arms or scramble-first QBs who only win outside of structure. And those prototypes fit into scheme fits, where offensive systems can take imperfect quarterbacks and maximize their strengths, hide their deficiencies and generate success.

We've talked about how good Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Jordan Love and Jacob Eason are. Now, we have to reorient the conversation, not just on what they do well, but how what they do well fits into what they'll be asked to do at the next level.

This will be the fourth examination of team fits for these top quarterbacks using the information offered by The Draft Network’s Contextualized Quarterbacking portfolios. Here, we'll look at how Hurts fits with his new team, the Eagles.

Examining The Scheme

The immediate scheme fit for Hurts is completely unknown; the anticipation is that the Eagles will create a package of plays specifically for him outside of their base scheme. The long-term fit is again unclear, as it's unlikely Hurts would run the same passing offense Philadelphia currently plays with incumbent quarterback Carson Wentz were he to take over for an extended period of time.

We know the Eagles are a horizontal spread offense that wants to get the ball quickly out of their quarterback's hands. They like to throw against leverage in packaged play, run-pass-option concepts and have a high number of sight-adjusted routes that can bend, break or adjust relative to safety rotation and blitz packages.

There's a lot for a quarterback to understand and process post-snap, which is the initial concern with Hurts. He has improved as a processor across his collegiate career, but his worst games still come against fluid defenses that conceal their short-zone defenders and force him to read and react to post-snap rotations. Hurts is a quality first-read passer who has competitive accuracy with top quarterbacks in this class; accordingly, if he can out-scheme his opponent and get underneath separation, Hurts can win as a passer without ever using his legs.

The danger here is that Hurts is risk-prone, even as an underneath or first-read thrower. Hurts threw 16 interceptable passes in 2019, which represented 6% of his chartable pass attempts, the second-highest number in the class behind Love. Those weren't all the result of working beyond his first read; 4.4% of Hurts' first-read passing attempts were interceptable, which is a high number for a player who projects to such a first-read heavy offense in the Eagles' spacing, West Coast passing attack. His accuracy to the short areas (0-9 yards down the field) was also second-lowest in this class, beating only Jake Fromm.

Hurts' ceiling concerns what he can do on the move and in broken plays. No quarterback got beyond their first read more frequently than he did last season, largely because of how willing Hurts is to break the pocket. Hurts like to drop his eyes to the first level early in reps and will escape pockets that don't present an immediate pressure profile, putting stress on defenses with his legs and cutting the field in half for him to read and work with. This actually fits very well with the Eagles' spacing, horizontal spread offense, because it doesn't have many pure progression reads built into it. Hurts is extremely unlikely to get to a second or third progression because he doesn't manage the pocket well and wants to run once his first read is denied. The same was true at Oklahoma: Hurts was given a front-side route combo to read, a possible backside isolation route — deep comeback, nine-ball — and that was it. If he didn't like the front-side look, he broke the pocket.

The legend goes that it's difficult to build an offense around this sort of passer because they're volatile and unpredictable. It was a complaint common in discussions of Patrick Mahomes during his pre-draft process. The reality is that an offense is more volatile with a higher likelihood of explosive plays and a corresponding lower likelihood of nickel-and-dime plays that "keep the offense on schedule." No passer in the class attempted more passes 10-plus yards down the field and 20-plus yards down the field than Hurts did; he was in the same top tier as Burrow and Tagovailoa were as 20-plus yard passers. Hurts will stretch the field, especially when he's able to work outside of structure as a scramble passer.

The Eagles' offense was woefully lacking for deep passes in 2019, and accordingly added a lot of speed on offense. Hurts' running ability and willingness to push deep windows marries extremely well with a newfound focus on vertical speed.

Examining The Weapons

The Eagles' starting wide receivers currently look to feature 33-year-old DeSean Jackson and 30-year-old, disgruntled Alshon Jeffery; they hope that 2020 first-round rookie Jalen Reagor can contribute without much training camp or 2019 second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside can 180 after an incognito rookie reason. The Eagles cycled through offensive coordinators and assistants last offseason and switched their WR coach once again, so who exactly Hurts would be throwing to and what those concepts would look like is hard to say.

But the name of the game is speed. Philadelphia added Marquise Goodwin via trade with San Francisco to try and get an immediate boost, but the late-round additions of John Hightower and Quez Watkins emphasized just how much speed the Eagles feel they need on offense long term. The Eagles' future receiving corps figures to feature Reagor, Arcega-Whiteside (if he turns things around), a veteran and one of Hightower or Watkins as they battle it out on the depth chart

There's a lot of vertical ability on that assumed roster, and if the Eagles do end up with Hurts as a starting quarterback in the future, that makes a snug fit. Hurts' ability to executed designed QB runs will pull defenders into the box as they look to remain gap sound against various option runs and backfield motion, which allows for one-on-one coverage on the outside. Consider how the Ravens have stacked their deck with Lamar Jackson at quarterback; Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Miles Boykin and Mark Andrews at tight end are all best when working as vertical, downfield threats.

It is a bit trickier to see how the Eagles' tight ends, currently the focal point of their passing structure, fit in with a Hurts-led offense. With the QB run as the cornerstone of the system, they want tight ends who can line up as H-backs, block across the formation and with motion, while still presenting as quality seam threats. This is not Zach Ertz's game: He is only a modest blocker between the tackles and does not have the athletic ability of a seam-running tight end. He needs breaking routes and slot alignments to be at his most effective. Dallas Goedert has the better ability here, but again, he's not the ideal athlete to be a vertical TE threat.

There are few offensive lines as talented as Philadelphia's starting five, which is good news for a player like Hurts that can panic under pressure. With good pass-catching backs in Miles Sanders and Boston Scott filling the current and likely future depth chart, the Eagles' offense would likely again be predicated on the running game, using their tight ends as extra blockers, and perhaps adding more depth to the RB room to use 20 series personnel and add to the multiplicity of the backfield.

Examining The Fit

The Hurts pick was always about development and never about immediate fit for Philadelphia, so we shouldn't be surprised to see that the Eagles' scheme isn't a perfect layout for him. Any team looking to add Hurts and even start Hurts would switch up its scheme to fit his unique skillset. It would lay the foundation of a varied, multiple QB run game and then build a packaged play/pass-option game off of that backfield motion, grabbing the greatest hits of the Ravens' and Sooners' offenses of recent years. 

Hurts' fit is quality with Philadelphia in that its offensive coaching staff deserves trust for the work it has done under Doug Pederson in recent years but is largely a projection and at this point is unknown.

For more “Examining The Fit,” see Miami's Tagovailoa, Los Angeles’ Herbert and Cincinnati’s Burrow.

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