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Jalen Hurts Faces Make-or-Break Season Now That Eagles Are His Team

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2021

Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

Heading into the 2021 NFL draft, there was some speculation that the Philadelphia Eagles might target one of the top quarterback prospects. The Eagles had second-year signal-caller Jalen Hurts on the roster, but not everyone was reportedly sold on the Oklahoma product.

Hurts, after all, had shown promise during his brief 2020 audition but was far from a known commodity. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, it was team owner Jeffrey Lurie who made the final call to stick by Hurts.

"I would not report the Eagles have internal unanimity on Hurts as QB1 but sources say the boss, Jeffrey Lurie, has instructed his group to prioritize making Hurts successful in 2021 as opposed to creating a true competition," Mortensen tweeted.

Of course, Mortensen's report came a month before the draft, a time during which smokescreens are prevalent.

This wasn't a smokescreen, though. The Eagles ultimately traded down from No. 6 to No. 12, passed on a quarterback in Round 1, and even traded back up to snag Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall selection.

Smith and Hurts spent two seasons together with the Crimson Tide before Hurts transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma.

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Now that the Eagles have made Hurts their new franchise quarterback—and have finally given him a No. 1 receiver—the 22-year-old is going to face the pressure of a make-or-break season. Philadelphia has put a lot of effort into making Hurts "the guy" and is going to expect results.

   

How We Got Here

Rich Schultz/Associated Press

Carson Wentz isn't the quarterback with a statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field. That honor belongs to former backup Nick Foles, who steered the ship during the 2017 postseason and helped Philadelphia bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

Wentz spent that postseason sidelined by a torn left ACL, but he had been playing at an MVP level before the injury and there was little doubt that he was the Eagles' quarterback of the future. Over the next two years, though, injuries and inconsistencies repeatedly cast doubt on Wentz's future, and on April 24, 2020, Philadelphia drafted Hurts in the second round.

Hurts was not expected to challenge Wentz for the starting gig. Instead, he was drafted as injury insurance and as a gadget player in subpackages.

"Taysom Hill package on steroids," one source told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson at the time.

Wentz, though, crumbled under the pressure of having Hurts on the roster and had a disastrous season. Hurts was inserted as the starter, while Wentz's relationship with Doug Peterson continued to deteriorate.

"I just know that they were kind of done with each other," ESPN's Adam Schefter said on 97.5 FM's John Kincade show (at the 3:00 minute mark).

It had become clear that Pederson and Wentz weren't going to coexist in Philadelphia, and when Pederson was ultimately fired, it was easy to assume that Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles had sided with Wentz.

However, the Eagles moved quickly to put Wentz on the trading block, ultimately sending him to the Indianapolis Colts.

Less than a year after drafting Hurts as an insurance policy, the Eagles are starting over with Hurts and new head coach Nick Sirianni. If either is expecting a grace period in 2021, though, he is likely to be disappointed.

  

Why There Will Be High Expectations

The Eagles were bad last season. There's no getting around that fact. They won only four games, they averaged a mere 20.9 points per game, and their quarterbacks were sacked a total of 65 times. Still, Hurts is going to face high expectations for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Philadelphia has invested in him. They used a second-round pick on Hurts (53rd overall) and used their first two picks this year to upgrade his supporting cast. First, they took Smith, Hurts' former teammate and a prospect with legitimate No. 1 receiver potential.

"He has rare quickness, speed, and change-of-direction fluidity, and he creates separation from defenders seemingly at will," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Smith. "He possesses an elite skill level for the position and can hit the defense from short, mid-range or deep."

The Eagles then used their second-round pick on Alabama interior offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, who should provide immediate depth along the line.

With offensive tackles Andre Dillard and Lane Johnson expected to be healthy, and with second-year wideout Jalen Reagor entering Year 2, Hurts should have a functional offensive cast.

The other reason for high expectations is the Eagles have become used to success. Yes, they were bad in 2020, but they also won the Super in 2017, won the division in 2018 and made the playoffs in 2019.

It will be time for Hurts to put up or shut up, as franchises simply don't take their time with young quarterbacks anymore. If Hurts cannot get Philadelphia into playoff contention this season, the Eagles will likely bring in real competition—someone with a higher long-term ceiling than Joe Flacco—next offseason.

Mitchell Trubisky was only given four years to prove himself. Dwayne Haskins got less than two before he was shown the door. Hurts will not be the unquestioned starter entering Year 3 if he doesn't deliver this season.

  

Why Hurts Can Succeed in 2021

Rich Schultz/Associated Press

The good news for the Eagles is Hurts absolutely has the tools to be a quality starter in 2021. He is a dynamic dual-threat who showed last season that he can breathe life into the Eagles offense.

Hurts finished with 1,061 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 324 rushing yards, and three rushing scores. Perhaps more importantly, he delivered one of only four Philadelphia wins and may well have gone 2-2 as a starter if he hadn't been pulled for Nate Sudfeld in the season finale.

This year, Hurts should be even better. He'll have a full offseason to prepare as the stater and will have an offensive roster that is far from talent-starved.

With Dillard and Johnson back, the offensive line should be solid. The Eagles still have tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and Hurts could do much worse than a starting receive trio of Smith, Reagor and Travis Fulgham. The Eagles also have a quality backfield tandem in Miles Sanders and Boston Scott.

The biggest variable here will be Hurts. He has the talent, the tools and the teammates to make the Eagles' 2021 season a successful one.

Will Hurts live up to the potential Philadelphia sees in him? That's a question he'll have to answer on the field.