Getting benched in a National Championship game might be one of the biggest hits a players confidence can take. After carrying your team that far, you are forced to take a seat and watch someone else finish the job you put in all the work towards. It can cause a player to last out and become bitter, and honestly, I could not even blame them if they did.
Jalen Hurts was benched for Tua Tagovailoa in the 2018 National Championship. The Alabama Crimson Tide trailed the Georgia Bulldogs and things looked dire as their offense could not get moving. Tagovailoa kickstarted the offense, though, leading the Tide to an eventual victory. Hurts permanently lost the job and started the ensuing college football season on the bench.
Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and took over to fill the shoes of 2018 Heisman winner and 2019 top overall pick Kyler Murray. He entered the season with a lot of Heisman attention and could potentially have been the third straight Sooners transfer quarterback to win the most prestigious trophy in College Football.
While he ended up not winning the Heisman—Joe Burrow and the incredible LSU offense won it handily—he certainly was not a disappointment. He led the Sooners to a 12-2 record, their fifth straight Big 12 title and a bid in the College Football Playoff.
Hurts never seemed to let the benching at Alabama really affect his play, and we saw absolutely no drop in play between the Tide and the Sooners—he may have even gotten better. Now he sets his sights on the NFL, hoping to bring his winning spark to the next level.
Hurts’ 70 percent completion rate was one of the best in college football, while he also found himself in the top 10 nationally in yards, touchdowns and passer rating. Though he definitely benefited from playing in a Big 12 that does not play much defense and an Oklahoma offense filled with ungodly athletic receiving talent, he still had to play well to maximize those benefits. His 5.6 yards per carry and 20 rushing touchdowns are impressive feats as well.
Hurts, too, nailed his athletic testing. While he is a little undersized at only 6-foot-2, he has a strong 218-pound frame, and the days of teams needing their quarterbacks to be gigantic may be past us with the recent success of players like Baker Mayfield and Murray. He showed great speed at his Combine and Pro Day, while testing well in explosion drills as well. Hurts proved that he was an elite athlete at the Combine, which definitely gave a boost to his draft stock.
Jalen Hurts is a QB prospect in the 2020 draft class out of Oklahoma.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 11, 2020
He posted an elite #RAS with poor size, elite speed, elite explosiveness, at the QB position.https://t.co/i5qoeHgosq pic.twitter.com/7xwbHxvP9O
The quarterback’s strong athletic talent becomes instantly apparent on film. He is a great runner (as you can tell by looking at a box score), which allows his offense to get creative. The Sooners offense used a lot of read options, play actions and QB draws to open up running room for the quarterback and keep the defense on its toes.
Hurts is also a very creative runner, even when he is forced to go off script. He has a good gauge of when rushing lanes will open in front of him and rarely hesitates to bolt downfield for a big run whenever he has a chance. His rushing does not come at the expense of his passing, though. Hurts usually keeps his eyes downfield, going through his progressions until the last moment where he fully commits to the run.
Some of his rushes provide cause for concern, though. At times, he bails from the pocket just a moment too early when he could instead just step up to avoid pressure and continue his reads from a steady base. While he often does slide, getting down to protect his body, he still takes too many hits. Hurts is very strong for his size and is not afraid to be a power runner up the middle. While he can get away with this for some time, all of the hits he takes will eventually catch up to him, similar to how they did for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Despite his great awareness as a runner, he is lacking in his pocket awareness. He sometimes gets too focused on what is happening downfield and does not feel pressure breathing right down his neck. A lot of the sacks he takes easily could have been avoided, especially with his level of athleticism.
His ability as a runner helps him out as a passer as well. He is a confident passer on the run and can make deep, accurate throws. This helps the offensive coordinator simplify the game for him as well, as it cuts the field in half and can really stress defenses that drop into zone coverage.
Being able to throw well on the run displays his great arm strength and ability to throw off balance. While his mechanics are not perfect, and his arm may not be as strong as some of the other big prospects this year, he still can make plays despite it.
He shows this while inside the pocket as well. Hurts can make great downfield passes when he is forced to throw off of his back foot. Sometimes he even seems more comfortable throwing off of his back foot when he is not under pressure.
These bad mechanics come back to bite him at times, though. He sometimes short arms throws, leading the ball to either floating on him or lose the necessary zip to hit players in stride. This causes him to miss open receivers and even throw interceptions.
Mechanical issues are not the biggest of problems, though. Hurts will get to work with NFL coaches and other NFL quarterbacks once he is drafted, and he will likely be able to clean up his game similar to how many others have in the past.
Hurts has also shown the ability to make throws all over the field at Oklahoma. Unlike some of his predecessors, like Mayfield, the Sooners offense allowed Hurts to do more than just throw over the middle. He threw outside the numbers with ease, and while he does not have the best ball velocity, he has the strength to put enough mustard on the ball to avoid passes getting jumped.
The quarterback can hit throws deep and shallow with touch and on a rope. He can almost always do exactly what he needs to get the ball where it needs to be.
There are a few other huge issues in his game, though. He is a little too loose with the ball as a runner and fumbles more than you would like. Hurts also does not really anticipate throws well, and he more so just throws to open receivers rather than throwing his receivers open. Hurts’ ball placement needs work as well, especially since he will need to throw into tight windows for the first time in his career once he reaches the NFL. While his ball security could most likely be improved with coaching, anticipation is usually more of a natural talent that a player either has or does not. This could severely limit him at the next level.
While many will compare Hurts to Lamar Jackson coming out of college, they are not very similar. Jackson has more natural arm talent than Hurts, is a lot smaller, faster and agile, and his issues as a passer seemed to stem from misreads rather than mechanical failures.
There are not really any great pro comparisons for Hurts. He is similar to Newton as a runner but does not have anywhere near the level of arm talent. He is too small and weak to be compared to the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, and he is mentally a much better passer than the Chicago Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky. If anything the New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill is the closest comparison to a current NFL player, which is not very good for Hurts’ future in the league.
While the recent success the Ravens have had with Jackson may entice some team into wanting to do the same with another quarterback who can also fluently run a read option offense and make plays with the ball in his hands, it works for the Ravens because their quarterback is also a top-tier passer.
Hurts is a Day 3 talent, but the success of Jackson, his leadership, the “winner” label he will receive from his success in college and name recognition may earn him a selection on Day 2. You could see a team select him and use him similarly to how the Saints use Hill, basically as a wildcat, but it will be hard for him to carve out a future as a franchise quarterback given his current skill set.
I cannot imagine he will be on the Lions’ draft board at all. He does not really have enough development potential to be Matthew Stafford’s successor, and he is too different in style to really be a formidable backup who’s skill set Detroit could fully take advantage of if they ever need to.