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Hurts So Good?
A year ago, when the Philadelphia Eagles selected Jalen Hurts in the second round of the draft, most viewed it as a strategic investment in depth. Carson Wentz was in the early part of a massive, long-term contract. General manager Howie Roseman had promised Philadelphia would become a “quarterback factory” to develop talented signal-callers behind Wentz, who could eventually move them to other teams for draft picks and players in return.
But the best-laid plans of Eagles and men often go awry, and now Jalen Hurts enters the 2021 season as the starter. But should fantasy managers follow the Eagles' lead and draft Hurts as their starter? The short answer is – Yes. But the longer answer is, only if you recognize he’s the riskiest bet among consensus QB1s and requires you to have a strong contingency plan on draft day.
Baptism by Fire
Carson Wentz’s colossal implosion forced Hurts into the starting role, and whether you consider his debut successful depends on expectations. As a fantasy performer, Hurts was stellar, thanks in part to a Lamar Jackson-esque rushing output. As a professional quarterback, it was less convincing as the team finished 1-3 in his four starters, and the offense scored 20 points per game. Hurts completed less than 52% of his passes and looked uncertain and erratic in his passing progressions at times.
Hurts’ 2020 Per-Game Average (4 Starts)
- 17.3 completions
- 33.3 attempts
- 51.9% completion rate
- 229.8 passing yards
- 1.3 passing touchdowns
- 0.8 interceptions
- 11.5 rushing attempts
- 68.0 rushing yards
- 0.8 rushing touchdowns
Can a quarterback learn accuracy in the NFL?
For much of our lives, conventional wisdom questioned whether accuracy is teachable. Scouts believed an inaccurate passer in college – where the opposing competition is easier and the system more conducive to easy completions – would never become accurate in the NFL. But, as is often the case, conventional wisdom can be wrong.
Take a look at all rookie quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in the last 25 years (1996-2020), and you’ll see some surprising things.
- 97 quarterbacks qualified
- Michael Vick ranked 96th (44.2%) – He went on to four Pro Bowl appearances and six top-12 fantasy finishes
- Eli Manning ranked 91st (48.2%) – Manning won two Super Bowls, made four Pro Bowls, and has seven top-12 fantasy finishes
- Matthew Stafford ranked 71st (53.3%) – Six top-12 fantasy finishes and still playing
- Andrew Luck ranked 63rd (54.1%) – Four Pro Bowls in seven seasons, five top-10 fantasy finishes, including four top-5 seasons
- Peyton Manning ranked 50th (56.7%) – Arguably the best passer in NFL history
Yes, these are cherry-picked players and by no means predictive of the broader sample, but they’re important reminders of how a poor completion rate in Year 1 doesn’t portend a disappointing career, necessarily.
The Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson Blueprint
Had Jalen Hurts come out of college a decade ago, he would’ve had a much harder path to starting. But the NFL adapts when presented with overwhelming evidence, and Hurts’ fate has undoubtedly benefited from coming out a few years after Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Both players were first-round draft picks, but neither was considered a pro-style passer. Their rookie seasons did little to assuage those fears. But both enjoyed a monstrous improvement in Years 2 and 3.
Allen and Jackson both managed to maintain elite rushing output while also becoming efficient, high-scoring passers.
Forecasting is an inexact science, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
- Hurts got the jitters out of the way last year
- He’ll have the benefit of a full preseason and training camp as the starter
- New head coach Nick Sirianni is a promising, young, innovative offensive mind
- The offensive line – in shambles in 2020 – is much improved
- DeVonta Smith gives the team a legitimate No. 1 receiver
- Players rarely peak in Year 1, and there’s a natural progression to an NFL career arc
The Overpowered Nature of Rushing Stats
Let’s say you’ve read this far and still aren’t willing to bet on Hurts becoming a better passer. Should you avoid Hurts altogether?
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