NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport’s early Tuesday tweet about the Packers being one of two teams that have recently “been in touch” with former Oklahoma signal caller Jalen Hurts only further cements the much-discussed notion of Brian Gutekunst being determined to draft a young quarterback to groom behind Aaron Rodgers in next week’s draft.
Securing Hurts will in all probability not require Green Bay to invest a second or maybe even a third-round pick in the Texas native. However, with all the needs the Packers are hoping to satisfy over a three-day period, even spending a fourth-round choice on Hurts should be deemed substantial.
Make no mistake — this shouldn’t be viewed as a throw-away pick who’ll never see the light of day.
If the Packers are only looking for a warm body to compete with Tim Boyle and Manny Wilkins, they can easily pluck one in the seventh round or even sign him in the rookie free agent aftermarket.
The reality is a 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers has a lot going on in his life off the field and may someday soon decide to focus his energies on producing documentaries or devote the rest of his years to collaborating on charitable endeavors with Danica Patrick. All of which makes it imperative for the Packers to not only choose a quarterback who can contribute in an emergency role, but one who has the stuff to someday be ready to take over the reins for No. 12.
So, with all the recent buzz on Green Bay’s interest in this year’s class of triggermen entering the league, let’s break down Hurts and rate his merits and flaws on a scale of 1 to 10.
Here are a few categories that should at least provide any judge with a snapshot of the athlete in question in terms of what he brings to the table presently and projecting that skill set over the next few years and beyond.
According to reports, Hurts is a stand-up individual who holds himself accountable for any of the offense’s missteps and will voluntarily heap praise on his teammates after a victory. That’s the mark of a true franchise leader. Moreover, the 21-year-old demonstrated maturity by taking the high road and supporting Tua Tagovailoa when the former 5-star recruit replaced him as Alabama’s starting quarterback despite Hurts posting a 26-2 record as the leading man. The 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year stayed focused and persevered by earning his bachelor’s degree and transferring to Oklahoma, where he not only piloted his team to a Big 12 Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff, but also finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to LSU’s Joe Burrow. It’s virtually impossible to find anything to quibble with as far as the type of teammate Hurts is and how he conducts himself with the media.
Hurts is an arm thrower, who — to his credit — showed that he’s been honing in on his mechanics during the offseason by using more of his torso and hips while tossing it around in his passing drills at the NFL Scouting Combine. But those corrections don’t always hold up when the bullets start flying. As NFL Films Senior Producer Greg Cosell noted during his weekly spot on the “Ross Tucker Football Podcast,” Hurts is not a “natural passer.” In fact, on film it’s evident that he has a penchant for lengthening his arm and slowing down his delivery. Similarly, Chris Simms of NBC Sports mentioned how the reigning Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year tends to hold out his arm without going into a rocking motion with both hands on the ball that many NFL quarterbacks — including Rodgers — employ in utilizing their upper and lower body to snap off accurate throws. Hurts’ motion prevents him from consistently being on-target with his passes.
Watch any number of his games and one can’t help but cringe when it comes to watching Hurts sling the deep ball. Whether it’s his inability to put the ball in front of a wide-open target with no one in his vicinity versus Kansas State or watching the young gun force one of his receivers to contort and overextend his body on a routine play versus Texas, Hurts’ downfield accuracy is severely lacking. In addition, the prolific college quarterback’s intermediate sideline deliveries were frequently off the mark. Playing versus subpar defenses in the Big 12 often masked Hurts’ poor accuracy, which was — conversely — exposed against a powerhouse SEC team like LSU. This deficiency can also be attributed to the prospect’s lack of comfort in operating from the pocket, where he demonstrates issues in reading and/or anticipating what’s in front of him and throws it late as a result.
There’s no disputing the velocity with which he throws. Hurts can zip it to open receivers in any area of the field, particularly when he can set his feet and step into his throws. The dual-threat field general can also drop dimes on the run, where he doesn’t have to think and let’s his athletic ability take over. But as strong as his throwing arm is, it can’t overcome bad form. Specifically, Hurts will dangerously float his fair share of passes when he’s forcing balls off his back foot. That’s true of most quarterbacks and indicates that while Hurts has a good arm, it’s hardly a special one.
Poise and Pocket Awareness
Hurts is a mixed bag in this category. While he did flash the presence of mind to pick up a fumbled snap and keep his eyes downfield on a broken play versus Kansas, Hurts failed to display any awareness of backside pressure in the same game on a sequence that saw him get sacked. Cosell shared his thoughts on the aspiring rookie’s composure by stating, “He’s a guy who doesn’t settle comfortably in the pocket. There’s a lot of unnecessary movement.” The NFL Films guru added that Hurts “perceives pressure,” causing him to prematurely escape the pocket, a flaw that has bedeviled many mobile passers transitioning to the next level (see Johnny Manziel, et. al.). To boot, his proclivity to dangerously heave the ball across his body under duress doesn’t earn him any points in this area.
The strapping triggerman has been blessed with a pair of big (9 ¾”), strong hands. On one of his highlight-reel plays, in fact, Hurts remarkably held on to the ball with one hand behind his back, with a defender violently trying to club it loose. The improvisational distributor excels at running the read-option and misdirection plays by securely handing the ball off to his fellow offensive weapons. Occasionally, he’ll take off on a running play and hold the ball a bit too cavalierly. But overall, this area of his game is a strength.
Hurts is a risk taker and there will be times when he’ll try to be a hero when there is no need to force the action. One example of this occurred in his game versus Texas that saw Hurts carelessly toss a ball into traffic while Oklahoma had an early 7-0 lead. Knowing when to pull back and live for another play is something he’ll need to improve upon, as do most quarterbacks entering the NFL.
At about 6’1”, 218 pounds, Hurts is by no means statuesque, but he’s tall enough to prosper in today’s game that caters to mobile quarterbacks. Plays are often designed to roll out passers or line them up in shotgun or in a pistol formation, which offers them a better view behind gargantuan offensive linemen. Hurts is also a physically thick specimen with a big, muscular lower body, which gives him a strong base when dropping back to pass and also allows him to push bodies forward as a runner. The young man is fully developed and comes into the league without any concerns about his durability.
Once described as a “running back with an arm” by former Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, Hurts has quick feet and 4.59 straight-line speed. He’s also elusive in the open field by cutting around oncoming tacklers and posting big gains on the ground. The sturdy athlete is not easy to get off his feet given the fact that he runs with balance and physicality. The problem is he too often moves more like a running back than a quarterback and forgets to slide.
FBI (football intelligence)
Hurts is far from polished in that he never mastered the art of reading his progressions that would manifest itself in telegraphed throws when he’d stare down his targets. Additionally, there are too many instances when the flawed prospect would hold on to the ball too long or throw caution to the wind when flinging the ball up for the grabs. On the flip side, he can execute Lincoln Riley’s version of the Air Raid offense by running counters, read options and staple bubble screens, but unlike Kyler Murray, Hurts gets rattled and makes ill-advised decisions.
If the Packers are seeking to draft Aaron Rodgers’ future replacement, wouldn’t it be sensible to place your chips on a quarterback with some similarities to the future Hall-of-Famer? Unless I’m missing something, I can’t identify many common traits between Hurts and the 2-time MVP. While I think there are better options in this year’s draft (see Anthony Gordon), I would much rather trade one of my players and/or picks to the Dolphins for Josh Rosen to serve as the heir apparent.