PHILADELPHIA —If you imagined the Philadelphia Eagles’ allegiance to Jalen Hurts was a smokescreen, and the team was considering drafting a quarterback with the sixth pick, then the shock from Friday's trade with the Miami Dolphins may not have settled in quite yet.
Trading back in the first round signals the end of any pursuit the Eagles potentially had hidden behind the scenes for one of the prized quarterbacks among the draft class.
Hurts should be behind center for the season opener and beyond.
The Eagles owe the second-year quarterback the opportunity to prove to be more than what the team anticipated him to be, a quality backup, and an affordable insurance policy behind their oft-injured former franchise QB, Carson Wentz.
Hurts has already begun to exceed the team’s expectations, so why shouldn’t Philadelphia give him the chance to show them he can be their new face of the franchise?
What do they have to lose?
Remember, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley was the coach to first tap into Hurts’ raw talent as a natural thrower. The former Heisman Trophy runner-up is still coming into his own as a passer, and Philadelphia hasn’t seen what a fully developed Hurts can look like.
The 2020 second-round pick deserves a fair developmental process other young quarterbacks are afforded when asked to take over as the starter.
With Nick Sirianni, a young head coach who was referred to as “Philip Rivers’ right-hand man," and Brian Johnson, a former college quarterback who has a personal relationship with Hurts, the Eagles are in prime position to give the quarterback an environment to hone his potential.
If Hurts shocks the Eagles similar to the way Dak Prescott, a former fourth-round pick that unexpectedly replaced former Cowboys legend Tony Romo due to injury, and never gave the starting job back, then The Eagles are equipped to build around their young quarterback with a ton of draft capital.
If Hurts were to fizzle out and prove to be nothing more than a polarizing backup quarterback, the Eagles are in a position to have potentially three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft and quickly right their wrongs by securing their potential franchise signal-caller then.
In some ways, the quarterback has already become more than the Eagles anticipated.
For a rookie quarterback to come into a situation where he’s already labeled nothing more than an insurance policy, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic and its limitations put on first-year players entering the NFL, yet be able to put all of that aside, start a couple of games while the incumbent starting quarterback phases out of the picture, is a big accomplishment.
It’s not something that should be taken lightly when evaluating Hurts.
His first two starts were more electric and productive than his final two, but even with the small four-game sample size, there were positive signs to build upon.
The rookie quarterback was much better at reading NFL defenses than expected and thrived when defenses used zone coverage with a 64.1 passing grade, charted by Pro Football Focus, for 8.3 yards per attempt, 72 completion percentage, and an 82.7 passer rating.
The numbers pale compared to how the quarterback fared versus man coverage (38.8 passing grade, 4.2 yards per attempt, 53 adjusted completion percentage, and 65.9 passer rating).
Still, timing and chemistry are everything between a receiver/quarterback duo. It’s fair to suggest Hurts’ struggles with man (along with Carson Wentz’s nearly identical struggles versus the same coverage) were caused by lack of chemistry with receivers and overall talent, especially when comparing the vast differences on how the quarterback fared versus zone.
The rookie quarterback has his share of issues to work on, as does every young signal-caller, but he has been putting the work in vigorously with well-known quarterback trainer Quincy Avery this offseason through the trainer’s skill sharpening program.
Hurts doesn’t possess the arm talent fans grew accustomed to from Wentz, but in an era where arm talent gets overrated, and overall passing efficiency gets overlooked, Hurts finds himself a victim to comparisons.
One aspect of his game Hurts has the edge over Wentz - faith in his receivers.
When Hurts replaced Wentz, the target shares from Philadelphia’s projected top two pass catchers increased noticeably.
Reagor received a 20-percent target share (ranked first on the team) and Goedert 17 percent (ranked second) in the final few games with Hurts as a starter.
Doug Pederson’s Eagles offense this past season lived but died mainly by its downfield passing attack.
Hurts adjusted to what his coach was asking of him and turned into a super aggressive downfield passer. According to PFF, Hurts' deep-ball rate was 13.5 percent, and an average depth of target was 10.8, which rank him seventh-highest at the quarterback position.
For a QB whose arm strength is questioned routinely, Hurts fared well in that aspect as a thrower despite his poor completion percentage and nine turnover-worthy plays. Always taking the downfield throws over short easy completions will certainly hinder any quarterback’s completion percentage and ball security.
But the rookie was obeying his coach.
An insane stat is that 46 percent of his pass attempts went at least 10 yards, which was the highest percentage in the league behind Deshaun Watson’s 41 percent.
With Sirianni’s offensive system aiming to get playmakers in space, given the Colts ranking of fourth in the NFL in total yards after the catch last season, Hurts’ completion percentage will likely improve quickly.
No, Hurts isn’t a natural downfield thrower and most likely never will be, but the sample size proved he’s willing to be a risk-taker: a solid quality to have from a franchise quarterback.
Hurts will never be Wentz in terms of physical attributes. He’ll never be a Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning type of thrower either, but for an organization that accomplished so much with a franchise quarterback like Donovan McNabb, (who never possessed any physical attributes of the players mentioned either) those abilities aren’t mandatory for a quarterback to be successful in the league.
Still, Hurts deserves his chance to prove he’s the franchise's future quarterback, and the Eagles owe him the opportunity to do so.
Conor Myles is a contributor for Sports Illustrated’s Eagle Maven. Listen to Conor and Ed on Eagles Brawl available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and RADIO.com. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesNFL