Philadelphia Eagles

Why Jalen Hurts could be the best quarterback in the NFC East in 2021

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The Philadelphia Eagles have enjoyed a pretty strong offseason. That isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing after the end of what was truly a disastrous 2020 campaign. As all eyes turn towards the future, I started to wonder just how likely it is that Jalen Hurts will emerge from the NFC East as the cream of the crop at the end of his second season.

Giving Jalen Hurts a fighting chance

Before we get into what’s changed over the past few months, we have to examine the player Hurts was during his rookie season. After some bizarre two-QB set usage and the sharp decline of Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson finally gave the second-round pick an opportunity in the loss to Green Bay. After that, he never looked back and neither did Hurts.

Regardless of how you view the end to the 2020 season, it’s hard to look at it without seeing a huge contrast in the way the offense executed. While Hurts may have struggled to come off of his first read at times (which can be attributed to the frequent RPO’s he was given at Oklahoma), there’s no denying that there was a sudden surge in actual production.

Hurts completed 52% of his passes for 1,061 yards, 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also rushed for 354 Yards and a hat-trick of touchdowns. Had it not been for some YOLO attempts on third-and-long and fourth-and-long situations, Hurts probably would’ve maintained a pretty impressive QB record. His ability to get outside of the pocket and evade pressure came as a breath of fresh air for an offensive line that let up a whopping 65 sacks.

It’s not like Hurts was dropped into an offense that was functioning normally. The receivers were struggling, the offensive line was ravaged by injuries, and Doug Pederson was desperately trying to save his job without veering from his usual style of coaching. Hurts showed that it didn’t matter who the quarterback was that year, the result was going to be the same. However, he also demonstrated that the team could at least go down swinging and actually move the chains as opposed to just crumbling under their own weight.

A rejuvenated offensive line

That brings us onto our next point. The offensive line is finally going to be healthy in 2021, for the most part. Lane Johnson will be making his return from an ankle surgery, while arguably the best right guard in the NFL, Brandon Brooks, should get back on the field at some point too after suffering a second Achilles tear. This alone immediately gives the Eagles a foundation to work with.

It’s hard to evaluate a quarterback who is running for his life on every other play, let alone one that has to play in a one-dimensional offense where the only ground attack comes from himself for the majority of snaps.

There is an obvious correlation between quarterbacks who get pressured a ton and the success of their team. Against the New Orleans Saints, in his first NFL start, Hurts was pressured 14 times. He didn’t take a single negative play and ended up creating 82 yards. For Jalen Hurts to have been pressured so much yet give up so little only adds confidence to what he will be able to do behind an offensive line consisting of leading NFL talent as opposed to whatever a Jamon Brown is?

Establishing the run

A strong rushing attack may be the quarterback’s best friend and Nick Sirianni knows this. Having worked with the Chiefs during the Jamaal Charles era, the Chargers when Ryan Mathews was at his best, and coordinated a Colts offense that featured a three-headed monster, the new Eagles Head Coach is primed to place an emphasis on the run.

The Eagles did everything they could to not run the ball last year…at least that’s what it felt like. Sirianni enters the fray having pushed Indy’s backfield to the seventh-ranked rushing attack in 2019 and pushed it to new versatile heights in 2020.

A torn Achilles for Marlon Mack pushed rookie Jonathan Taylor into the spotlight where he would go on to finish third in the NFL with 1,169 rushing yards. He was supported by the versatile Nyheim Hines who put up 862 total yards from scrimmage (482 of which were receiving yards), and Jordan Wilkins

If you add in a dual-threat QB who rushed for 1,298 yards at Oklahoma two years ago and showed that he can be just as lethal in the open field as a rookie in 2020, all signs are pointing towards a run-first offense that looks only to elevate Jalen Hurte.

A new era

Nick Sirianni has done nothing but emphasize the fact that he wants to mold his offense around the strengths of his players. What we saw in 2020 was the direct opposite of that. Jalen Hurts will now be playing in an offense that’s better suited to his dynamic style of play and he won’t be alone.

The Eagles drafted Heisman-winning WR DeVonta Smith in the first-round, a former favorite target of Hurts during his time at Alabama. While he’s certainly the Apple of the eye for many, let’s not forget that the Eagles drafted three wide receivers last year, including former first-round pick Jalen Reagor, who could all benefit from the new-look offense that Sirianni plans on implementing, again, tailoring to their strengths.

The competition

A lot of people would immediately point to Dak Prescott when asked who may be the division’s top QB in 2021, but he is coming off of a significant ankle injury. He may be absolutely fine by the time the season starts and of course, has a bevy of receiving weapons at his disposal. However, it may well take him a while to find his groove again. He’s reportedly ‘ramping up’ his efforts during OTA’s in seven-on-seven, but when the pads go on it could be a different story.

Outside of that, Ryan Fitzpatrick will quarterback Washington this season on the back of a disappointing end to his Dolphins tenure. Despite clearly lifting Miami to a 4-3 record as a starter and completing a career-high 68% of his passes, the team went all-in on their own former Alabama QB. He’s always been streaky and if he begins throwing a couple of picks per game then it could well prompt a QB change if the team are indeed taking the step forward that the NFL world expects.

Then, there’s Daniel Jones….yeah.

It’s hard to say right now that Jalen Hurts will undoubtedly be the best QB in the NFC East by the end of 2021. But what we can very fairly say is that the Eagles have given him a very strong foundation to build on and an opportunity to prove that if he can take the flashes of greatness we all witnessed last year, then he will at the very least be firmly int he conversation. After levelling the playing field and eradicating the issues that plagued the team last year, the Eagles have given Jalen Hurts a fighting chance to cement his place at the top of the NFC East pecking order.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

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Liam is a 25-year old sports journalist from the UK and founder of the Philly Sports Network. In just five years he turned a hobby into one of the fastest-growing Philadelphia sports sites in the world, amassing 7,000,000 views and writing over 3,000 articles. Drawing attention from the likes of CSN, NJ.Com and Bleacher Report in the process, Liam is set on changing the way Philadelphia sports teams are reported on forever.

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1 comment

  • Dave says:

    I think people dismiss Hurts way too quickly. While also having few negatives like his completion % and fumbles, I think what we saw last year, was only the beginning. Rather than just take the offseason and relax, Hurts immediately got to work with Patrick Mahomes QB guru that he uses for offseason workouts, as well as others. He understands what is in front of him, and he will be nothing but prepared. I loved his statement ” every month the rent is due, and I don’t plan on missing any payments”. The players have already spoken about his leadership qualities. The guy is totally unflappable, no matter how much pressure is around him.

    When you look at his college career, he played at Alabama, and in the championship game, he was having a rough first half, and he was pulled by Nick Saban, who let’s face it, rather than stick with the guy who brought him to the championship, would sooner bench his own mother than lose the game. Hurts took that benching to heart. He then went on to Oklahoma and played so well, he was in the running for the Heisman. Sometimes, a player needs to be humbled. It makes them realize they are not invincible and have to work at their craft every day. That’s exactly what Hurts did. He took that lesson to heart and realized that he would never allow that to happen again.

    Fast forward to his rookie year with the Eagles. Hurts was used sporadically as a QB and quasi-RB on gadget plays. He never even got an entire series to get in any kind of rhythm. I think that was part of the friction between Dougie and management. I don’t think Doug really wanted to play Hurts at all. Wentz was his guy and he was going to live or die wit him. The funeral occurred in the second half of game #13. Wentz was playing so awful, Doug had no choice but to bench Wentz, and we all saw the result. While his completion percentage wasn’t great at 52%, it was clear that he was able to establish a rhythm and make plays with his feet when they weren’t there through the air. Hurts did what Wentz couldn’t. He moved the team and kept them in games. Though he only ended up 1-3, it was clear there was the makings of a lot of potential.

    In Hurts defense, he was playing during the last 4 games of the season, where Doug had already forced both Jeffrey and Jackson back into the lineup, who, unless the ball were coming to them, were basically phoning it in. Same with Jackson. It’s no coincidence when Jeffrey came of of IR and started taking reps with the 1’s in practice, is when Fulgham started to fade. Jackson also cut into Quez Watkins and Hightower’s time. It was a bad situation, but despite that, Hurts managed to produce some impressive stats of 1,061 yds, passing and 354 running in 3 1/2 games. So the potential is clearly there. Now, along comes Sirriani and Shane Stichen with fresh new ideas, and so far Johnson is back and ready to go and you can bet Brooks will be there by camp time, so essentially one of the best OL’s will be ready to go to start the season. There is now sufficient backup in Herbig and Driscoll and Dickerson and LeRaven Clark, along with others. There are new weapons in a back like Gainwell who is a great runner, but is also an excellent pass catcher, so much so that he lined up in the slot or outside as a WR. Now the starting WR’s will be Reagor and Smith and there will be a fight for the slot.

    But best of all, there is a new head coach and OC with fresh new ideas. No more of Doug’s stale play calling. Doug reminded me of coach Kline in the Waterboy. When Reich left, he took Doug’s green notebook with him and it steadily went downhill after that.

    All Hurts has to do is cut down on fumbles and interceptions, and the rest will take car of itself. His completion % will increase, because he will have real receivers, and a real OL to block for him and a 3 headed, possibly 4 headed RB attack. Hurts will have all the tools he needs right from jump. Predictions….4,250 yds. passing, 780 yds. rushing, a 61% completion percentage, 28 TD passing, 8 rushing TD’s, 11 INT.

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