By Pete Baxter
Bleacher Report released their annual ranking of every NFL team’s starting quarterback on Tuesday. Eagles’ second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts was ranked just one spot above the bottom of the barrel, at 31st. He beat out only Tyrod Taylor, who is expected to start for the Texans as Deshaun Watson’s legal situation plays out.
Granted, Hurts has provided a very limited sample size at this point. He started just four games in his rookie season. That said, what Hurts did show last season, in combination with his impressive display through training camp and preseason thus far, should warrant a higher position in this list.
Hurts finished his rookie season 1-3 as a starter. However, had Doug Pederson and company not opted to tank during week 17 and kept Hurts in to finish the game against the Washington Football Team, he would have finished 2-2. A .500 rookie campaign on a floundering Eagles’ squad would have been an impressive feat to say the least. He was robbed of this opportunity by a since-fired head coach.
Statistically, it was an up-and-down start to Hurts’ career. He finished the season with nine total touchdowns (six passing and three rushing). He threw just four interceptions but fumbled the ball a total of nine times. Perhaps the most concerning statistic was his lowly 52.0% completion percentage. However, this percentage was hurt most by his 7-of-20 performance in a shortened performance against Washington, in which he had picked up the slack with his legs. He had two touchdowns on the ground before he was pulled.
Early in the 2021 offseason, there was some level of confusion among the Eagles’ fanbase as to whether Hurts or veteran addition Joe Flacco would start 2021 as starter. This uncertainty was fueled by first-year head coach Nick Sirianni’s insistence on creating an atmosphere of competition for all positions.
However, as training camp and the preseason has progressed, it has become obvious that this is Hurts’ team. His leadership has been more than evident. He has received rave reviews from his veteran teammates. He has uplifted his young receiving core at every turn.
Unfortunately for Hurts, despite his best efforts, he may not win a ton of games during his sophomore season. The Eagles have questions on both sides of the football. There are holes on the defensive end, particularly in the backfield and linebacker positions. Third year running back Miles Sanders has showed promised but has struggled to control the football. His top wide receiver is a rookie.
With all that in mind, let’s review the Bleacher Report list and review the quarterbacks who should have been ranked behind Hurts. From there, we can determine a more accurate ranking for the Eagles’ young quarterback.
32. Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans
Taylor was accurately ranked below Hurts on this list. Taylor is a top-notch backup quarterback. He has the athleticism to make plays on the ground and doesn’t turn the ball over. He narrowly led the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades as a starter in 2017. He can win you some games.
However, as a starter, he is accurately ranked at the bottom. He has a very limited arm and is a definitive “game manager.” A game manager can get the job done if a team has a strong defense and some playmakers around him on offense. Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, and Brad Johnson can all attest. Unfortunately, Taylor has none of those luxuries in a dumpster fire Houston Texans franchise and will certainly struggle this year.
31. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Wilson was ranked one place ahead of Jalen Hurts on this list at the 30th position. Wilson had an outstanding 2020 season at BYU, throwing 33 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. However, he was playing behind a great offensive line. He was also not consistently playing against the best college competition.
He joins a Jets franchise that has ruined the careers of seemingly countless young quarterbacks. Sam Darnold (who we will get to in a minute) has earned himself a second chance despite looking completely lost for three seasons in New York. He earned this chance purely because the league understands no one gets a fair shot as a Jet, and Darnold showed a great deal of potential four years ago in college.
Fortunately, Robert Saleh appears to be a more competent head coach than Adam Gase. That said, the Jets are still not a good team. It seems very bold to expect a rookie in Wilson to outperform Hurts in his sophomore season.
30. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
Drew Lock shared the league-lead in interceptions last season with Hurts’ former teammate Carson Wentz. He took a step back across the board during his second season in Denver. He finished with just a 4-9 record and a 57.3% completion percentage. And he is the quarterback with the higher ceiling on this Denver squad.
Meanwhile, it was announced on Wednesday that 32-year-old Teddy Bridgewater has been named the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Bridgewater is an outstanding backup quarterback. He led the Saints to a 5-0 record in his starts in 2019 in relief of Drew Brees. That earned him a chance to start in Carolina, where we once again saw his ceiling. He was unable to elevate a very limited Panthers offense sans Christian McCaffrey. Bridgewater finished with just a 4-11 record as a starter before being traded to Denver for a sixth-round pick.
Jalen Hurts has a considerably higher ceiling than either of these players, particularly Bridgewater who, at this point, is set to start in Denver.
29. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tua is yet another player with a much lower ceiling than Jalen Hurts. Hurts has a superior arm and superior athleticism.
Tua had a more talented team and a more supportive coaching staff last season, and overall put up decent (if uninspiring) statistics during his rookie season. However, after his devastating hip injury in college, Tagovailoa will likely never be the same electrifying player who supplanted Hurts as starter at Alabama. Once again, based on Hurts superior ceiling, I am ranking him above Tua.
28. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
Sam Darnold has outstanding arm talent and has shown brief flashes of great potential during his career. He has, however, done nothing to prove his value as a franchise quarterback through his first three seasons. He has a far superior supporting cast in Carolina than he ever had in New York, however. This is certainly Darnold’s chance to rewrite the narrative of his career.
That said, I am far more confident projecting a major leap in productivity for Jalen Hurts in his second year than I am for Darnold as he now enters year four. Hurts deserves the nod here.
27. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco
Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo has been to a Super Bowl. Aside from that one standout season, the 29-year-old has never started more than six games in a season. It is a matter of when, not if, he misses time and loses his starting gig to rookie Trey Lance for good. Thus, he deserves to be near the bottom of this ranking.
26. Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears
Not unlike Garoppolo, Andy Dalton is on a very short leash in Chicago. It would truly shocking if he remains the starter in Chicago for more than a handful of games, if at all. Dalton was mediocre in relief of Dak Prescott in Dallas last season. He was abysmal in his final campaign as starter in Cincinnati in 2019. He finished 2-11 with a 59% completion percentage, 14 interceptions, and just 6.6 yards per attempt that season.
Expecting Dalton, once again in a brand-new system, to play any better than he has over the past two seasons seems like wishful thinking. I see Hurts easily outplaying Dalton. That is assuming the Red Rifle even sees the field this season over highly touted rookie Justin Fields.
25.Cam Newton, New England Patriots
Once again, we have what appears to be a lame-duck quarterback. Newton’s only success last season, his first in New England, came on the ground. He rushed for 592 yards and an outstanding 12 touchdowns. Through the air, he was a disaster. He finished with just eight touchdowns and ten interceptions and was a shell of his former MVP self.
At 32 years old, all signs seem to point to a declining skillset for Newton. If he starts off 2021 the way he ended 2020, it is just a matter of time before he loses his starting position to rookie Mac Jones. Once again, I will take Hurts’ ceiling over Newton’s.
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
Ryan Fitzpatrick is an enigma. One moment, he is setting league records and igniting fan bases. The next moment, he may look completely lost on the football field, making mistakes that make one wonder how the heck he ever got into Harvard.
If there is one thing that Fitzpatrick has been consistent with during his career, is his propensity to blow opportunities. Washington is his ninth football team. At nearly every other stop during his career, he played great when entering as an underdog, and floundered once he handed the reigns and the pressure was on.
I expect this season to be no different. This is the best team he has ever played for, and he has been handed the starting job. I would expect more Fitztragic than Fitzmagic this year.
23. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence is going to be a star. He likely has a higher overall ceiling than Hurts. However, he is being thrown straight into the fire on a terrible Jacksonville team. Urban Meier has already made several highly questionable decisions during his first NFL offseason.
Despite his skill and his promise, I don’t see Lawrence having a great rookie season under these circumstances. I put him behind Hurts at this point.
22. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Jalen Hurts is in no danger of throwing 30 interceptions this season. He is in no danger of missing time due to petit larceny charges. He is also in no danger of losing his starting gig to Taysom Hill. Until Winston proves me otherwise, I think we have seen his ceiling. He is a boom-or-bust gunslinger prone to bad decision making. I have more faith in Hurts.
21. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones took a massive step back last season. He finished his sophomore campaign with just 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts. His biggest highlight was an 81-yard epic scramble that ended with him tripping over his only feet.
That said, Jones had a decent rookie year before that. This is a huge season for Jones as well as the Dave Gettleman and the Giants’ front office who selected him sixth overall in 2019.
Will Jones get his career back on track, or will he continue the downward trajectory he began last season? I don’t foresee Jones responding any better to this added pressure, and this may his last shot in New York. Hurts should be ranked over Jones.
20. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow got off to a solid start during his rookie campaign in Cincinnati. He showed flashes of brilliance despite the overall weakness of the Bengals’ roster. However, his season came to an end after he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in week 11 against the Washington Football Team.
The rehab process has been a long one. After 8 months away from the game Burrow looked extremely shaky during training camp. If Burrow is able to fully recover from his torn ACL, MCL and damaged PCL and meniscus, he should be a superstar in this league. However, what that recovery looks like has yet to be seen. I would anticipate a slow start this year and would rank Hurts over Burrow.
19. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Carson Wentz was the worst starting quarterback in the league last season. Wentz was tied for the league lead in interceptions and saw his pass completion percentage fall to 57%. He averaged an abysmal 6.0 yards per completion. Wentz finished 3-8-1 as a starter, and was ultimately benched for, you guessed it, Jalen Hurts.
Not only did Wentz play poorly on the field, but by many accounts he lost the support of the locker room as well as the coaching staff and front office. He has an extensive injury history already, and he let his poor play and lack of support cripple last season cripple him mentally. Wentz wound up playing like a shell of the former MVP candidate he had been earlier in his career.
That MVP caliber play in 2017 and briefly in 2019 is what keeps him even this high on the list. However, it is only fair to rank him behind the man who ultimately took his job. Especially since we have yet to see what Carson Wentz shows up for the Colts this season.
18. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
And that brings us to the man of the hour. Jalen Hurts finds himself at number 18 on the list. This puts him in a middle tier of quarterbacks just behind proven veterans like Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins.
It also places him as the number two quarterback in a weak NFC East, behind only Dak Prescott. If Prescott can’t stay on the field, Hurts could lead the Eagles on an improbable run to win the division.
Hurts has shown a great deal of mental fortitude and leadership at all stages of his career. He showed maturity and heart in college. He bounced back for a great senior season at Oklahoma after losing his job to then-phenom Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama.
Hurts showed that same maturity and leadership in navigating the dysfunctional nightmare that was the Eagles’ 2020 season. He ultimately emerged from the ashes of that lost season with the locker room and the franchise behind him.
I strongly expect Hurts to surprise some people this season. More to come from Philadelphia.