Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
1. Jalen Hurts
We’ve reached the end of our countdown and it should be no surprise the Eagles’ 22-year-old starting quarterback takes the top spot.
A year ago, this spot was occupied by his predecessor and, well, that didn’t go well. The Eagles ended up having a horrible year and it wasn’t just because of Carson Wentz but the former franchise quarterback definitely contributed to the disaster of 2020.
Really, most starting quarterbacks are going to be the most important player for their respective teams, but normally we know a little more about them. There’s some hope that Hurts can play well in 2021, but no one really knows what to expect from him, including plenty of people inside the NovaCare Complex.
“Jalen knows what’s up for grabs,” Lane Johnson said earlier this week.
Yeah, he better. And it seems like he does.
“Rent is due every day. It’s always been that way,” Hurts said this offseason. "Always been a get-better mentality every day, grow every day, be a better leader every day, be a better quarterback every day. When that rent’s due, I don’t plan on missing no payments. It’s work.”
There are plenty of Hurts doubters — at least Hurts skeptics — in and around the NFL right now. But the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback has a chance to prove them all wrong this season.
We saw such a limited sample size with Hurts last year, which is why it’s so tough to really know what to expect from him this season. There were some flashes of brilliance but some low points too. There were some reasons to think he could become a real NFL starting quarterback and there were some reasons to think that even if that happens, he’ll never reach an elite level.
His numbers were just OK. He completed just 52% of his passes for 1,061 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4 interceptions for a passer rating of 77.6. He also rushed for 354 yards on 63 attempts (5.6), with another 3 touchdowns. Running will be a very big part of his game.
The biggest question about Hurts surrounds his accuracy. That 52% mark is shockingly low. It was the lowest mark in the NFL last season and the third-lowest mark of the last three years among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. The only two who were worse were Bryce Petty (49.1%) with the Jets in 2017 and Drew Stanton (49.7) with the Cardinals in 2017.
If you’re looking for a reason for hope, the fourth-worst accuracy mark in the last five years belongs to Josh Allen (52.8%) in 2018. A couple years later, he completed 69% of his passes and became a Pro Bowler and top 10 quarterback.
And there are plenty of reasons to think that Hurts will be a more accurate quarterback in 2021, as my colleague Reuben Frank wrote earlier this offseason.
We can debate about what kind of season Hurts will have, but there’s really no debate about how important he is to the Eagles’ season. The Eagles will go as Hurts goes in 2021.
During his 16 quarters as the Eagles’ starter (adding the second half against the Packers and removing the second half against Washington), Hurts accounted for 81.7% of the Eagles’ yards on offense and 69.2% of their touchdowns. That’s a massive part of the Eagles’ offensive production and it’s because Hurts is such a weapon with his legs and his arm. If nothing else, he ought to be fun to watch.
Whether or not Hurts proves himself to be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, he’s the starter this year and new head coach Nick Sirianni is going to build the offense around Hurts’ strengths. Think back to when the Eagles hired Sirianni and he talked about how the Colts had succeeded with three different quarterbacks in his three years as offensive coordinator. They had Andrew Luck in 2018, Jacoby Brissett in 2019 and Philip Rivers in 2020 and the offense was a bit different every season.
So while Sirianni refused to name Hurts the starter this offseason — he wasn’t fooling anyone — the work to construct the offense around the 22-year-old is already well underway. So there’s no questioning how important Hurts will be to the Eagles’ success in 2021.
The bigger question is this: How successful will he be?
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