One of the most confounding picks of the entire 2020 NFL Draft happened in the second round – Pick 53 to be precise. The Eagles selected Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and it took a minute for the entire City of Philadelphia to lift their jaws from the floor. Sure, the Eagles needed a backup quarterback since Nate Sudfeld really hasn’t shown much at all, but not in the second-round…right?
Howie Roseman’s comments after the pick was made were met with more animosity. He seemed a little confused by the fan reaction and grew uncharacteristically defensive as reporters confusingly prodded around to try and gain any sort of logical understanding as to why the Eagles would pass on primary needs to fill a second one.
I, like everyone else, was in that same boat. Hopelessly paddling around the same waters trying to find a different fish. But then my rod got a bite.
Before we get into this super-theory, we need to understand the player in question.
Hurts may have been known for being benched in favor of Tua on the grandest stage under Saban’s guidance at Alabama, but after transferring to Oklahoma, the 6’2, 218 lbs, QB had his best season yet, proving there was more in the tank. In 2019, he threw for the highest amount of yards in his college career (3,851) with a 69% completion rate and his best touchdown to interception ratio (32:8). Hurts also ran for 1,298 yards. That last part is very important.
The ability to brutalize defenses on triple-option looks and the like was absolutely pivotal in the Sooners’ 2019 success, but even before that, Hurts had been used as an actual receiver in Bama’s offense. He’s a player of a very unique stature, skillset, and mentality…and that may have started the ball rolling.
This offseason was very different. Not only had the NFL adopted rule changes with the intent to bring more regular season and postseason excitement to the table, but the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, ruining pro days and pre-draft meetings, making the information acquired prior to lockdown that much more important.
The Eagles never formally met with Hurts, or so we thought. Hurts stated in his first presser as an Eagle that the interest was both genuine and serious.
I had a meeting with them at the combine, an official meeting. And right there, I don’t know how it works, but they met with me, and I just went in there and kind of answered their questions and talked ball. They got an idea of what type of guy I was, and same for me with their organization. From then on, kind of kept in touch and of course Coach Taylor came to my pro day, and here we are now.
So the Eagles were showing a lot of love for Hurts early in the pre-draft process. What many are forgetting is that this came shortly after a total offensive restructure in terms of the coaching staff.
Mike Groh was exiled after a failed promotion to offensive coordinator and although Pederson calls the shots, 2020 saw an infusion of new minds and ideas into the offensive structure. And this is where things get very interesting.
Rich Scangarello – Senior offensive assistant
Scangarello is an intriguing name. He spent last year as the Broncos offensive coordinator but it was very much a tale of two halves. The first was an offense filled with pre-snap motion and using a lot of deception to open up the playbook. Sexy. The other half was bad playcalling that led to numerous players (including star running back Phillip Lindsay) throwing him under the bus. Not sexy.
The good news is that Scangarello won’t be expected to call plays and prior to his stint in Denver (where the offense ranked 28th in the NFL in Yards per game), he spent two years as the QB coach for San Francisco.
Having spent time helping Drew Lock blossom in the second half of the season and a stint working with Jimmy G in San Fransisco, it’s easy to see why the Eagles would be interested. The Niners specifically do a lot of creative things on offense that are based on one premise: Speed.
Andrew Breiner – Pass game analyst
A former Indianapolis Colt, Breiner coordinated Mississippi State’s passing game, where names like Tommy Stevens did ‘okay’ under his guidance. But success isn’t the key here – archetype is.
Stevens was selected by the New Orleans Saints in this year’s NFL Draft and is expected to fill that ‘Taysom Hill’ role. Drafted before the Panthers could snatch him as a UDFA, Stevens wasn’t a prolific passer last year, tossing 11 touchdowns and 5 picks for the Bulldogs, but as a 6’5 QB, he added 4 touchdowns on the ground and 381 rushing yards to his tally.
It doesn’t end there either. In Breiner’s first season at MSU, he helped Nick Fitzgerald lead the FBS in 100+ rushing yard games by QB’s.
We know the Eagles now have an emphasis on getting Wentz into open space and at the time, this was expected to be the end-product. More Play action and more creativity to get Wentz outside the pocket. But connecting these dots only creates a much bigger blueprint.
As a QB coach, it’s hard to judge Taylor. Wentz didn’t make any significant step forward in 2019 outside of returning to his usual self now that his ACL had fully healed and he wasn’t having to over-exert his upper body to generate traction. Wentz still struggled with fumbles and overall ball security, as he did coming out of college, and his biggest boosts came in the way of footwork when he sought outside coaching help during the offseason.
Taylor’s influence is more ‘schematic’ it could be argued. Known as the man who brought the ‘Philly special’ to the table of Dougie P, Taylor also gave a very interesting quote last offseason that slipped through the cracks.
“I think at some point, one of the big things will be having multiple people on the field who can throw the ball,” Taylor said Monday. “That’s something going forward … You’ve seen the ‘Philly Special,’ you’ve seen all different versions of double passes.
I think at some point I can see something like that coming into play. I’m not necessarily saying that [the Eagles will be] doing anything like that. I just think that can be something that’s pushing the envelope.”
And the penultimate piece of the puzzle…
The Eagles announced earlier this offseason that they would be reuniting with Marty Mornhinweg, who was with the team in multiple capacities from 2003 – 2012. The former Baltimore Ravens’ OC also reunites with Head Coach Doug Pederson. The two coached together in Philadelphia from 2009-2012, while Mornhinweg was also Pederson’s QB Coach in Green Bay, back in 1996.
In his time as an NFL coach, he has finished with a top 10 scoring offense nine times, a top 10 passing offense nine times and a top 10 rushing offense nine times. In his 18 years as an OC or HC, he achieved a top 15 offense (in yards) twelve times.
Most recently, in 2018, he was tasked with the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive transition from a pass-happy attack under Joe Flacco, to the league’s most potent rushing attack — harnessing then-rookie Lamar Jackson’s unique running abilities.
In the last seven games of the season, Jackson averaged 79.4 rushing yards per game, scoring 4 touchdowns in the process.
He was also the co-author of Michael Vick’s impressive return to football. Known mostly for his ability to escape the pocket, the new look Vick showed more poise in the pocket, showcasing his rocket arm, while maintaining his ability to make something out of nothing. We saw a more decisive Vick, one with better footwork, more streamlined throwing motion and the same rocket arm.
In a league where offenses are focusing on going east-west and using rocket-speed in the open space to torture defenses who are still leaning on heavier bodies, the Eagles are innovating on both sides of the ball.
We can talk all we want about how Jalen Hurts impacts the Eagles and discuss the idea of ‘flipping’ him. But I really don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think the Eagles drafted Hurts to replace Carson Wentz, or to an extent, be an insurance policy.
The coaches added to this roster ALL have experience with mobile quarterbacks and harnessing ideas of the unconventional. Howie Roseman spotted an opportunity to select a game-changer who completed close to 70% of his passes last year and rushed for close to 1,300 yards. Somebody who could be the catalyst in an offense that has so much speed but no identity to really squeeze every last drop.
Hurts is that x-factor. Somebody that yes, may be the ultimate backup for a team that have ridden into the playoffs needing to rely on one in each of the last three years, but more importantly, can help facilitate every spark of creative flair from within that front office.