Will the Real Jalen Hurts Please Stand Up? (Fantasy Football)

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The year was 2020. I had squeaked into my league playoffs with a 7-6 record, streaming QBs all season after losing Dak Prescott in Week 5. It was the semi-final week, and I had just seen my opponent’s stack of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs put me in a hole so deep I could not even see the sunlight. To remind you, that week, Allen threw for 359 yards and two TDs, plus two rushing TDs, and Diggs caught 147 yards. My inner monologue, “well, I had a good run. Look, Jalen Hurts is who I have to start, and he is playing the Cardinals, so at least now I can just root for my team since there will be no chance Hurts will put up numbers big enough to help me win my week.”

Little did I know. That week, Jalen Hurts threw for 338 yards and two TDs and rushed for an additional 63 yards and a TD. I went on to win that league. By helping to win me a championship, Hurts won me over.

But like any player with a sudden burst of talent with a relatively small sample size, Hurts has people polarized. Should we expect the monster offensive show that we witnessed against the Cardinals every week in 2021? Are we looking at the next Josh Allen? Or are we going to see something closer to his 72-yard passing, 35% completion rate game against the Washington Football Team we witnessed in Week 17?

Should we go all-in on Jalen Hurts for the 2021 season, or is he just a flash in the pan brilliance?

So Bad It Hurts

One of the most significant statistics brought up when discussing Jalen Hurts is his completion percentage. Albeit with a small sample size, but Hurts’ completion rate last season was 52%. That’s literally just a pass or two better than chance.  Let’s look at a few potential reasons for this statistic and whether or not this might be remedied in 2021. Jalen Hurts was pressured non-stop in the games he started. According to pro-football-reference, Hurts’ pocket time, which is the average time the QB has in the pocket between the snap and throwing the ball, or pressure collapses the pocket, was 2.3 seconds. There were 24 primary starting QBs – started 12 or more games in the season – that had more time in the pocket than Hurts did. The only primary starting QB with less time in the pocket was Big Ben. The only thing that helped Hurts get out of these collapsing pockets was his ability to scramble. I wanted to look at data from running quarterbacks to see how their pass completion rate varied throughout their first three seasons to extrapolate Hurts’ potential outcomes.

COMPLETION %
Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Rush Att.
Jalen Hurts 52 n/a n/a 63
Josh Allen 52.8 58.8 69.2 89
Lamar Jackson 58.2 66.1 64.4 147
Cam Newton 60 57.7 61.7 126
NFL LEAGUE  AVERAGE COMPLETION %
2018 2019 2020
64.9 63.5 65.2

Looking at the first three seasons for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Cam Newton, all three were under the league-average completion percentage. However, Allen and Jackson vastly improved in their second season, with Allen continuing that increase into his third season. From this data, I interpret a reasonably good chance simply based on maturity and experience that Hurts’ completion percentage will increase.

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In addition to experience, the quality of the Eagles offensive line will be vital in helping Hurts extend his pocket time and therefore aiding him in having a better completion rate. 2020 was a rough year if you were a Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman. The team lost six linemen to season-ending injuries, which led to countless shuffling of starting lineups, 14 overall. In addition to having the veteran O-linemen back and healthy for 2021, the Eagles spent a second-round draft pick on a lineman to further strengthen the protection for their QB. And one more tidbit to consider. Jalen Hurts in college had an overall passing completion rate of 65.1 % – with three years at Alabama and one year at Oklahoma. Perhaps the poor completion rate from last season was simply an outlier year in part due to the small sample size. This is the choice you make when deciding if Hurts is legit or not.

Hurts No More

When making a call on Hurts based on the 2020 season, you have to remember he was thrust into the starting role, the NFL had no preseason, and there was Covid. And trust me, I realize that these circumstances were the same for every player last season. However, I feel that they had a more significant effect on younger, less experienced players. It just seems that with everything against Jalen Hurts, he still managed to succeed, at least fantasy-wise, a good portion of the time. Of the four games he started, only one game garnered you less than 20 fantasy points. Let’s think about what Hurts will get with this luxury of time this preseason. Granted, the Eagles have not officially announced that Hurts has earned the starting job, but I have a hard time believing that 36-year-old Joe Flacco will pull the rug out from under him. Once that job is solidified, Hurts will get a full preseason – the opportunity to learn the playbook, the opportunity to get the reps, and most importantly, the opportunity to take risks and make adjustments in a practice setting. Jalen Hurts also gets to adjust his skill with Nick Sirriani watching this season. Sirianni left his job as the Offensive Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts to become the Head Coach for the Eagles in early 2021. Sirianni, who has thrice been a WR coach in his tenure, and played the position in college, seems to be especially zoned in on the WRs this season. This bodes well for Hurts – it appears that Hurts could be really poised to succeed under Sirriani’s tutelage.

This season Hurts should also have a better WR core to throw to. The Eagles drafted Heisman winner DeVonta Smith who, according to the UDK, is currently sitting at a consensus ranking of 42, to catch passes from Hurts. Jalen Reager and Dallas Goedert also remain. Adding Smith is an upgrade for the QB – as well as losing Zach Ertz, in my opinion – but if Hurts manages to capitalize on these opportunities is still left to be seen.

That Jalen Hurts rushing upside is so difficult to ignore when drafting. In just four games, Hurts had the 4thmost QB rushing attempts and QB rushing yards for the 2020 season. I once again compared Hurts to three other strong rushing QBs in their first season in the chart below to appreciate how strong his rushing ability is. Hurts started the fewest games out of the four, but he could have had a pace very reminiscent of Cam Newton’s first season in the NFL if he would have started all 16 games. A QB with rushing upside is so hard to ignore when drafting.

SEASON 1
RUSH YDS. RUSH TDS GAMES STARTED
Jalen Hurts 354 3 4
Josh Allen 631 8 11
Lamar Jackson 695 5 7
Cam Newton 706 14 16
It Hurts So Good

Jalen Hurts is the epitome of a shoot your shot type of player. According to the UDK, his current consensus ranking is 11, with Mike being the most bullish on him at 7. However, I have seen analysts rank him as high as QB 4 to as low as QB 29. Suppose you firstly believe in Hurts winning the starting job. In that case, you have to believe in his improving accuracy while continuing to have the considerable rushing upside if you are willing to draft him as your QB1 this season. It seems like Hurts might have all the puzzle pieces on the table, but can he figure out how to put them all together consistently? But, if Hurts hits and pays dividends with a top seven QB performance by the end of the 2021 season, and you drafted him as your QB1 in the double-digit rounds, trust me, it will hurt so good.

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