Jalen Hurts Is Right QB Prospect to Succeed Tom Brady in New England

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 6, 2020

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) scores a touchdown against LSU during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA semifinal college football playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
John Amis/Associated Press

Move over, Jarrett Stidham, because the New England Patriots' search for Tom Brady's successor is far from settled.

The Patriots would be in a far better position if they hedged their bets and drafted another talented prospect to compete for the job. Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts is the ideal candidate based on the team's draft status, how it prefers to operate and his skill set.

Last week, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported the "one thing consistently heard is that [head coach] Bill Belichick and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels like [Stidham] as the quarterback of the future and believe he's ready to take over for Tom Brady."

Rumors emanating from New England are rare. When speculation does enter the public forum, it's usually advantageous to the team. In this instance, the Patriots can sell their confidence in Stidham so that other teams underestimate their interest in other quarterback prospects.

Belichick and Co. can't come across as desperate, even though the franchise just lost arguably the greatest quarterback in professional football's long and storied history.

Misdirection works because it could be believable.

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The idea of Stidham, whom the Patriots selected with the 133rd overall pick in 2019, replacing the six-time Super Bowl champion kind of fits. After all, Belichick chose Brady in the sixth round and nurtured his greatness.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Currently, New England owns four selections—Nos. 23, 87, 98 and 100—within the top 100. Belichick is a master manipulator and works trades better than anyone in the business. It's not a stretch to think the Patriots will probably end up with more choices within said range.

Once the top four quarterbacks—LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love—are off the board, Hurts leads the next tier. Where he lands will be impacted by those initial targets.

If Tagovailoa and Love slide a little further than expected, New England could be in play for them. If not, the Patriots could look to trade down, gain assets and select Hurts a little later. Yet a much earlier run on the position could push Hurts up the board.

Any maneuvering by the Patriots should be to maximize value. Those extra choices would set them up perfectly to target last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up, who is generally considered a Day 2 prospect. And his experience fits their preferences.

Last season, Hurts came into his own under head coach Lincoln Riley after he transferred from Alabama. He completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,851 yards with a 32-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The dual-threat quarterback added 1,298 rushing yards and 20 more scores.

After Hurts' 2016 campaign, Pro Football Focus noted that no SEC freshman quarterback had completed quick passes at a higher rate during the PFF era. Considering the Patriots' system, that skill makes him an excellent fit.

As a senior with the Sooners, Hurts ranked 10th nationally on passes 10 or more yards downfield and had nine touchdowns to two interceptions while under pressure, according to PFF's Cam Mellor.

The 21-year-old is far from perfect, and his skill set falls somewhere between that of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the two quarterbacks he succeeded at Oklahoma. Each was a No. 1 overall pick.

Throughout Hurts' career, he's been viewed as a talented player protected by the team's scheme. Good game-planning helped his production, but that's true for any quarterback. Even so, the incoming prospect efficiently operated Riley's offense, and he's a dangerous runner.

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

To further cement his status, Hurts excelled during the truncated predraft process. His peers on the South squad at the Reese's Senior Bowl named him the best quarterback during practice week, per Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, and Hurts then ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and made some excellent throws during his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Athleticism—along with his great attitude—is only part of the evaluation, though. The ease with which he should transition to the Patriots' system could be appealing. Making the leap from the collegiate to professional ranks is always hard, but the degree of difficulty is based on the individual and his situation.

During Hurts' sophomore campaign, Brian Daboll was Alabama's co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Daboll previously served as the Patriots' tight ends coach. Hurts said Daboll FaceTimed Brady and Rob Gronkowski to help the Crimson Tide with plays.

"We're running some of the same stuff they've ran, so—he'll call Tom Brady and ask him what his top five plays are, and it's cool because we're running the same plays he's ran," the quarterback said, per Yahoo Sports' Nick Bromberg.

Hurts' connection to the Patriots grew at Oklahoma. Riley is the most influential play-caller in football today. NFL teams regularly utilize parts of the Sooners offense, including New England.

"The two teams in the NFL that look the most like us, or several other college teams, were the two teams playing in the Super Bowl," Riley said in 2018 after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII, per Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. "So when people are having success with it, that's not going to slow down."

John Amis/Associated Press

Riley specifically applauded McDaniels for the adjustments he made to the Patriots' run action. A potential McDaniels connection runs slightly deeper.

According to cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, McDaniels "loved" Mayfield in 2018. Obviously, not every quarterback coming out of the same system is identical. But the coordinator clearly had a vision of how to work with a young quarterback who played under Riley and an understanding of the collegiate system's translatable aspects. That shouldn't have drastically changed between then and now.

Hurts is an excellent RPO (run-pass option) quarterback, whereas Brady isn't the most nimble signal-caller. The young player's mobility would allow the Patriots to create a different dynamic within their scheme to offset potential mistakes.

Also, that advantage should help counterbalance the weaknesses in the first-team All-Big 12 performer's game. His touch and ball placement can be erratic. He benefited greatly from a talented group of targets in Oklahoma's system. Yet part of his issues was due to inconsistency around him.

Hurts had six different position coaches and coordinators throughout his career.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

"I had a chance to work under some great offensive minds, but I have also had continued growth without any stability," he said at the combine, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic. "That's one of the reasons I don't put a ceiling on my game. I don't put a cap on it. The steps are going to continue to be made, and I can only go up."

The instability can be viewed as a positive, however, since the constant turnover showed the young quarterback can pick up multiple systems easily.

"He's been successful everywhere he's been, and he really is a little bit like an NFL quarterback in a sense in that he had to go quickly and pick up an offense and really prove himself as a leader at a new program in a short period of time, which he did," Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told reporters during his week coaching Hurts and the Senior Bowl's South squad.

New England's actual interest in Hurts isn't known, and the quarterback remained coy, giving the perfect Patriots-like reply, when asked by a reporter whether he had spoken to the team.

"I won't mention," he said, per the Providence Journal's Mark Daniels.

One can easily imagine Belichick nodding in agreement, with visions of the latest Oklahoma standout leading the way in 2020.

At the least, Hurts' inclusion to the Patriots' quarterback room would create competition. At best, he'd earn the starting position and help create a fresh approach for the New England offense—which, frankly, the Pats needed after Brady's skills diminished.

                                                                         

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.