Photo by Ty Russell/Oklahoma athletics
When you look at 2020 NFL mock drafts, you’ll find names like Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert near the top. However, there is another option that could flourish in the NFL.
It’s one that many analysts are overlooking. His name is Jalen Hurts.
Ever since Tua Tagovailoa took over the starting quarterback job after leading Alabama to victory in the 2018 national championship game, Hurts has been an afterthought in many college football fans’ minds. However, Hurts proved his worth with a strong campaign as a senior at Oklahoma in 2019.
Big Numbers in Norman
Hurts had by far the best season of his collegiate career upon his arrival to Oklahoma, amassing 3,851 yards through the air with 31 passing touchdowns and adding 1,298 yards on the ground with 20 rushing touchdowns. He also completed nearly 70 of his passes while throwing just eight interceptions.
Hurts was rewarded for that stellar campaign, as he finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. He finished behind only LSU’s Joe Burrow, the undisputed top prospect in this year’s draft. However, there were some blemishes to Hurts’ 2019 campaign.
The biggest blemish was his fumbling issue. Hurts ranked fifth in the nation in fumbles lost with five in 2019. This proved to be costly at times for the Sooners, as Hurts’ untimely fumbles usually resulted in points for the other team. Fumbles like his late first-quarter fumble that aided Baylor in amassing a 31-10 first-half lead over the Sooners had been a grave concern for Hurts.
Another blemish from last season was his performance in his College Football Playoff match-up against LSU. Hurts completed just 15 of 31 passes for 217 yards with one interception in that game. Hurts looked rattled while playing against the best defense he had seen all season.
He was forced to throw the ball away and make costly throws against a front seven that tore through Oklahoma’s offensive line. Taking this into consideration, his play against NFL defenses could be a grave concern for scouts.
However, we’ve seen Hurts succeed against SEC defenses in the past. In both seasons as Alabama’s starting quarterback, Hurts had a combined record of 26-2 and led the Crimson Tide to the national title game twice.
When looking at Hurts’ skill set, it’s hard to find many holes in his game. He’s a mobile quarterback who has a cannon of his arm and has proven to make precise passes. He can mow down defenders and he has the football IQ to make the right plays off of run-pass options and option plays.
Hurts may remind of a young, but smaller Cameron Newton before he fell off during the tail end of his Carolina Panthers career. Both of whom are explosive runners at the quarterback position who can make big throws with precision. They’re both able to keep defenses guessing and can beat them both ways.
For Comparison’s Sake
The big thing that separates Newton from Hurts, however, is size. While Newton checks in at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Hurts is 6-1 and 222 pounds. That means that durability could be an issue. Don’t ignore the fact that he doesn’t have Newton’s ability to see over the traffic that is in front of him.
While Newton is able to use his size to his advantage as a mobile quarterback, Hurts has to rely on his explosiveness and elusiveness alone to get yards. Those yards may be harder to come by against NFL defenses.
For these reasons, as well as the fact that this draft is very quarterback-heavy, most see Hurts being drafted on day two. Look for him to be selected early in the third round, but where would he fit in the most?
The Perfect Fit
The perfect fit for Hurts is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh likely only has one more year of Ben Roethlisberger before they have to explore new quarterback options.
As we saw from last season, the quarterback duo of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges proved to be unimpressive for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh very well could be looking to take a quarterback in this year’s draft. With the Steelers missing out on the Justin Herberts and Jordan Loves of the draft, as they gave up their first-round pick this year to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick, Hurts seems like the perfect fit for them.
This allows Hurts to learn the NFL game under the leadership of Roethlisberger for a year and have a chance to prove the doubters wrong at the NFL level in 2021. The Steelers also have all of the pieces in place for Hurts to succeed, boasting a solid offensive line, a solid receiving corps headlined by JuJu Smith-Schuster, a decent corps of running backs, and a good receiving tight end in Eric Ebron.
In this system, Hurts will be able to use his versatility to his advantage. He’d have many options to choose from. The Steelers’ offensive line is good enough to give him the time he needs in the pocket to make a decision and the receiving options he would have are all capable of making big plays.
Hurts is also known to be a winner. He posted a 38-4 record at the collegiate level. Hurts would be the perfect young quarterback to lead a contending Steelers team. He has the leadership qualities to quickly earn the respect of a locker room. That was evident upon his arrival in Oklahoma, and he can do the same in Pittsburgh.