Jalen Hurts: Draft afterthought can succeed as NFL starter

Jalen Hurts may be an afterthought in the draft compared to the likes of Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, but he can succeed as a starter in the NFL.

Jalen Hurts being an afterthought? Nothing new.

Following his benching in the National Championship game at the end of the 2017 season, Hurts played second fiddle to Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama.

After transferring Hurts enjoyed an excellent sole season at Oklahoma, but it was not enough to earn the Heisman Trophy as Joe Burrow won in a landslide.

Hurts faces being overshadowed again in the 2020 NFL Draft, in which Burrow and Tagovailoa will be the headline attractions at quarterback.

Tagovailoa will likely follow probable first-overall pick Burrow in going in the top five. Hurts, however, looks set for a much longer wait to hear his name called.

Doubts over his consistency and decision-making have many slotting Hurts in as a day-two selection. Such concerns are valid, but those issues should not prohibit Hurts from being a success in the NFL, provided he lands with the right play-caller.

Should he do so, Hurts has the potential to be one of the steals of the draft.

There’s no question Hurts has an NFL arm. He excelled at pushing the ball downfield at Oklahoma, recording the fifth-highest Pro Football Focus passing grade on throws of 20 yards or more into tight windows.

Hurts frequently displayed the arm strength to make difficult throws off his back foot. When you add his impressive poise in the pocket, his talent as a runner and ability to make plays outside of structure, it’s a skill set well-suited to the modern NFL.

The problem for Hurts lies in his haphazard decision-making and his questionable ball security. Hurts threw eight interceptions and lost six fumbles in 2019.

That number of turnovers could scare teams off. Yet if his flaws can be minimized and an offense is built around Hurts’ skills as a runner, there is no reason he cannot thrive as an NFL starter.

Hurts is not Lamar Jackson. To liken him to the reigning NFL MVP would be a lazy comparison to make. Yet, while Hurts may not possess the same elusiveness as Jackson, he demonstrates impressive vision in the open field and is a difficult man to bring down once he has a head of steam.

That is reflected in his 2019 rushing numbers. According to PFF, he averaged 7.4 yards per carry on run-pass option plays, 5.8 on read-option runs and 8.5 on scrambles.

Oklahoma’s victory over Texas in October provided a clear example of how effective Hurts can be at the next level.

He ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries while also throwing for three scores in a 34-27 victory. Beyond the raw numbers, though, it was the helplessness of the Texas defense that stood out.

The Longhorns were optioned and motioned to death by Lincoln Riley, Hurts gashing them time after time with Texas seemingly never sure who had the ball.

It was the type of rushing display Jackson and the Ravens produced consistently in 2019, and one that should give the most confidence to front offices considering Hurts.

Hurts is not perfect, and he will deservedly go well after the likes of Burrow and Tagovailoa in the draft. What he does have, though, is a skill set that can deliver offensive production if a coaching staff is willing to invest in building around him.

With the right play-caller Hurts can get defenses on their heels in the run game and, in turn, make things much easier for himself in the passing game. A similar approach worked for Riley last year and, as Jackson has so devastatingly proved, it can work in the pros.

Hurts may be an afterthought in the draft but, for teams needing a different option at quarterback, he is a player worth spending significant time thinking over.