What History Tells Us: Projecting the Fantasy Outlook of Jalen Hurts

 

For the third year in a row, Lincoln Riley and the Sooners sent a quarterback to New York for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. While Hurts was unable to make it a three-peat for Oklahoma, his status as a runner-up was a notable accolade that represented the growth he took as a player in his lone season as the team’s starter, following an equally impressive career at Alabama. At his worst, Hurts was a game manager who could make plays with his legs when he couldn’t find the right read. On his best days, the former four-star recruit was an unbelievably efficient dime dropper, equally capable of killing a defense with his arm and his legs. 

 

In his first two seasons as a starter for the Crimson Tide, Hurts was much more raw as a passer, struggling with accuracy and downfield throws quite often, even in an offense that featured future first-round talents like Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs. However, once he stepped foot in Norman, we saw a completely different side of Hurts, as he, like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him, was able to harness his true potential as the point guard on Lincoln Riley’s offense. A quick look at the jumps Hurts made between his final season as Alabama’s full-time starter and his 2019 season with the Sooners displays the developmental leaps he made as a passer:

 

2017 (Alabama): 

 

  • 2,080 passing yards
  • 256 passing attempts
  • 148.6 passing yards per game
  • 8.1 yards per attempt
  • 60.2% completion rate
  • 150.2 passer rating
  • 17 passing touchdowns, only 1 interception
  • 855 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns

 

2019 (Oklahoma):

 

  • 3,849 passing yards (+1,769 yards)
  • 341 passing attempts (+85 ATT)
  • 274.9 passing yards per game (+126.3 YPG)
  • 11.3 yards per attempt (+3.2 YPA)
  • 69.5% completion rate (+9.3%)
  • 191.2 Passer Rating (+41 points)
  • 32 passing touchdowns (+15), 8 interceptions (+7)
  • 1,298 rushing yards (+443 yards), 20 rushing touchdowns (+12)

 

As you can see, Hurts was able to go from an underutilized option threat at Alabama, to a statistical giant with the Sooners, maximizing his potential as both a runner and a passer. It’s a little disconcerting that Tua Tagovailoa was able to put up huge numbers (compared to Hurts) for the Crimson Tide once he took over the starting role, however I am willing to chalk this one up to scheme fit, as Tagovailoa has always been a much better pocket passer than Hurts. 

 

jalenhurts2

 

Thankfully for Jalen Hurts, he was born in 1998 instead of 1968, allowing his limited skills as a ‘pocket passer’ to be overlooked at the NFL level. With the success of Lamar Jackson as a dual-threat at the position, there’s a lot to like about Hurts’ potential in the pros. His 2019 campaign was a prime display of competence as a dual-threat that we saw from Jackson during his MVP campaign, as Hurts graded out as the second best passer in college football (behind Joe Burrow), while also producing the second most carries of 10+ yards for a QB. At 6’2, 225 lbs, Hurts turns to a running back once he takes off with the ball, best evidenced by his 3,274 career rushing yards. 

 

Given the jumps he made as a passer once placed into a scheme that played to his strengths, it’s clear that Hurts — like Jackson — could be a dynamic player in the NFL if he is able to earn starting time. That second part is the biggest if that there is about Hurts, as he was drafted in the second round to act as the Eagles insurance policy for oft-injured Carson Wentz. As fragile as Wentz has been, he is an elite talent with a top-ten pay grade, essentially guaranteeing him the starting role for the next few years. It’s possible that Hurts may never play a down for the Eagles, a fact that seriously limits his floor as a dynasty league pick. 

 

Let’s assume for a minute that Hurts does take over as the team’s starter for Wentz. Maybe they’ve decided his hefty contract is limiting their financial flexibility. Or maybe his glass bones have poked through his paper thin skin just one too many times and retirement has been sprung upon him. Whatever the case is in the completely hypothetical scenario, Hurts is now the Eagles starter, so what could we expect out of him as a fantasy asset?

 

Well let’s start with what the advanced metrics tell us. If we’re assuming that the 2019 version of Hurts is the authentic representation of his quarterbacking skills, then he may be an ideal fit for the West Coast Spread offense run by Doug Pederson and the Eagles. Hurts graded out in the middle of the pack last season in the ‘big time throw’ category, with only 18 in 14 games. Moreover, he played a little bit looser with the football than we saw during his Alabama days, topping his career-high for interceptions while ranking 41st in the nation with 14 turnover-worthy plays. Hurts did rank 7th in the nation with 1,234 deep passing yardage, a deceiving figure when looked at contextually, as he had the benefit of throwing to arguably the best receiver in college football (CeeDee Lamb), in conjunction playing against the construction paper-like defenses of the Big 12. 

 

While he won’t pull out a ton of 40+ yard bombs, Hurts might do a lot of damage on short and intermediate throws, judging from his 78.1% completion rate on passes between 0-19 yards. This proficiency on short throws will get him far, especially when paired with his dynamic abilities as a runner. On an Eagles offense that featured the first-ranked offensive line in the NFL, a pair of dynamic tight ends (Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert), a competent committee of running backs (Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Corey Clement), and some new blood at the receiver position (2020 draft picks Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins, who join holdovers Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Greg Ward), a player like Hurts could become a seriously terrifying fantasy QB to face on a week-to-week basis. 

 

We talked about the success of transfer QBs in the NFL earlier when discussing Joe Burrow, and the same lesson applies to Hurts. An adaptable mind that can pick up and master multiple different systems with completely different teammates and coaches is one that will often succeed when transitioning to the NFL. Given the success of former Oklahoma passers like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, it’s clear that the technical aspects of the position were ingrained in them during their time under Riley, another cosign in favor of Hurts. Interestingly enough, one of the closest comparisons that has arisen for Hurts is none other than Deshaun Watson, a similar sized player who became a fantasy superstar in his first season as a starter. Here’s a look at how these two stack up to one another:

 

Jalen Hurts:

 

  • Overall Passing Grade: 88.7
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.04
  • AIR%: 46.9%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 74.9%

 

Deshaun Watson:

 

  • Overall Passing Grade: 90.5
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.78
  • AIR%: 49.0%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 73.8%

 

While it would be unfair to directly assume that Hurts would become the next Watson, he would be in for a stellar fantasy career were he to follow suit with this comparison, as Watson has been a top-five fantasy finisher these past couple of years (and he was on pace for an overall QB1 finish in 2017 before tearing his ACL midseason). As for Hurts himself, his dynasty league destiny will be determined by the fate of Wentz, who may keep the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year riding the pine for the entirety of his rookie deal. 

 

Player Comparison:

 

Ceiling: Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders

mariotausa

A dynamic runner who does most of his damage as a passer on short and intermediate throws. Will hold onto the ball for a bit longer than he should and allow himself to take some unnecessary sacks. A high end QB2 on aggressive days, but a more middle of the pack starter otherwise. 

 

Floor: E.J Manuel, N/A

USP NFL: CAROLINA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO BILLS S FBN USA NY

A nice college player who just can’t make the transition to the NFL. Dual-threat abilities mask severe limitations as a passer that simply hold him back from ever becoming a relevant fantasy asset.

 

Median: Colin Kaepernick, N/A

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers

A dynamic ball carrier who can look great when his team is playing well around him. Will fall apart and crater otherwise. A boom or bust candidate from a week-to-week basis, but one worth investing in if you own the guy they are backing up. 

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