If there was one area where Jalen Hurts needed to improve from Year 1 to Year 2, it was his accuracy.
And he has.
But has he improved it enough?
It’s a relevant question, especially as the Eagles use this season to try to figure out if he’s their franchise quarterback. Because there has been improvement this season with Hurts’ accuracy, but he still ranks toward the bottom of the NFL in that category.
After completing just 52% of his passes as a rookie, Hurts is up to 61.2% in Year 2, which is very solid improvement. But he still ranks 29th of 34 qualified quarterbacks in the league. Perhaps it’s no surprise that three of the guys below him are rookies: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields.
As unfair as it may be, those guys are first round-picks who will get the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of time. Meanwhile, Hurts was a second-round pick taken before this new coaching staff arrived and his arm talent was questioned entering the draft. And some of those pre-draft evaluations have rung true, at least early in his career.
But is Hurts accurate enough to be effective leading the Eagles’ offense?
“I think so. I believe so,” head coach Nick Sirianni said after Sunday’s 33-22 loss in Las Vegas. “We’ve still got to get him in some situations where he’s staying in the pocket, we’ve got to be able to move him enough to hit some things down the field. I gotta go and look at the tape.
“I thought he probably played about average to above average today if I had to say anything right now. But I think he can make all the throws and make them accurately. … How many passes did he have? 34? You’re going to have some missed passes in 34 attempts. You’re going to have some on there and say, gosh, I wish I had that one back. But that’s any quarterback. I believe he is. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
After completing 77.1% of his passes in the season-opening win in Atlanta, Hurts has completed just 58.5% of his passes since and he has been under 60% in four of the last six games, including the last three. In Sunday’s loss, Hurts completed 18 of 34 passes (52.9%).
The league average in 2021 is 65.9%, the highest in NFL history.
In his short career, Hurts has started 11 games dating back to last year. Overall, he has a completion percentage of 57.7%, which ranks 9th-worst in the league over the last 10 years among QBs with at least 350 attempts.
But there has been improvement.
Beyond the basic completion percentage stats, Hurts’ bad-throw percentage is down from 26.7% in 2020 to 11.4% in 2021. And his on-target throws have improved from 60.7% to 65.1%.
All that is good.
Although it might also be a product of play design. While Sirianni certainly hasn’t seemed to really figure out how to use Hurts properly, the young quarterback hasn’t been chucking the ball downfield quite as much this season. Last year, his average air yards per attempt was 9.1 and that has dropped to 8.6 this season. Basically, it’s easier to hit short throws than it is long ones. Duh.
What we’re seeing is an inconsistent young quarterback who might be able to develop into a more accurate passer. At least there are signs of improvement. But it’s fair to wonder how patient the Eagles are going to be with him.
And, remember, a lot of the inefficiencies and inconsistencies we’ve seen from Hurts as a passer early in his career aren’t surprises to folks who scouted him during the pre-draft process last year.
Here’s an excerpt from what TheAthletic’s Dane Brugler wrote about Hurts heading into the 2020 draft:
“Hurts plays with the gutsy demeanor and the toughness of a runner reminiscent to Tim Tebow as an NFL prospect. However, like Tebow, his inconsistencies as a passer are concerns for the next level, holding the ball too long, struggling to anticipate and forcing throws. Overall, Hurts offers the intangibles and mental toughness required for the next level, but he is a tardy passer who will struggle to consistently create plays with his arm vs. NFL speed, which is why he projects more as a developmental backup than a starter right now.”
There’s no question that Hurts is still a developmental quarterback. The only difference between him and some other developmental quarterbacks is that he’s learning on the job.
Because of those intangible qualities, there ought to be hope that he can continue to improve as a passer, but what’s his ceiling in that respect? His scrambling ability and his ability on designed runs is special. But he needs to be more than that.
Sure, it’s tough to evaluate Hurts this season because Sirianni hasn’t done him any favors with play calling (true), because his offensive line has been constantly shuffled and hasn’t been the strength it’s supposed to be (true) and because for most of the Eagles’ games this year there hasn’t been any semblance of run-pass balance (again, true).
But the Eagles are evaluating him. And they’re trying to figure out this season if he’s their best option going forward. The way Hurts can prove it to them is by improving his accuracy and showing that he can be an NFL thrower.
If Hurts doesn’t succeed it won’t be for lack of effort. All those intangibles we hear about him are valid.
And he’s accountable. Hurts knows he needs to get better.
What’s the one area he needs to improve the most?
“Consistency,” Hurts said on Sunday. “Making the play when the plays are there to be made. Making the plays when it doesn’t look too nice, but still finding a way to get it done. We’ve got another week, another opportunity. I put the 24 hour rule on this one as well. We’ve got a big one in Detroit.”
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: