Figuring out how the Eagles might use Jalen Hurts in his rookie season


Now that the initial shock of the Eagles’ picking Jalen Hurts at No. 53 has worn off, it’s time to figure out how Hurts might be used aside from just being a clipboard holder. 

No one’s really sure.  

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Hurts said Friday night about his role. “I know I got picked today by the Eagles. It’s a great opportunity for me, a great blessing and I’m looking forward to it.”

The first thing we have to understand about Hurts is he’s a rookie quarterback coming into the NFL at a time where there’s not a traditional offseason, so it might not necessarily be an easy transition. While it’s obvious that he’ll become the No. 2 quarterback at some point, remember that Nate Sudfeld has been here for three seasons already and knows the offense. My guess is he’ll open training camp as the No. 2. 

If there’s a chance for Hurts to even play any kind of a role as a rookie, the Eagles will probably need to keep three quarterbacks active on game day. But if they’re going to be using Hurts as anything other than a quarterback, that’s probably not a bad idea. 

The Eagles have tried to say multiple times that Hurts is a quarterback first and they’re going to develop him as a quarterback. But they’ve also dropped hints along the way that they have some plans for him as a non-traditional quarterback to begin his career. 

That’s going going to put a lot on Hurts’ plate. He’s going to be learning all of the nuances of the Eagles’ playbook as a quarterback and might also have to learn a couple packages designed for him as an athlete. It won’t be easy, but the Eagles love him as a prospect and he’ll probably be up for the challenge as long as the Eagles meter his progress. 

If Carson Wentz stays healthy, here are the four ways we’ve heard Hurts might be used in his rookie season: 

1. He’s Taysom Hill 

While comparing Hurts (6-1, 222) to Hill (6-2, 221) isn’t perfect, when Doug Pederson was asked about Hurts’ possibly having a Hill type of role, he didn’t rebuff it. 

In 2019, Hill played 23 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps (about 15 per game) but that was his third season in New Orleans. He had 156 rushing yards, 234 receiving yards and 55 passing yards. He threw the ball just six times in 2019, so having Hill on the field with Drew Brees isn’t exactly like having two QBs on the field at once. 

Hill offers a slight threat to throw the ball but doesn’t do it very often. He’s really more of a gadget player than a dual-threat quarterback. And he also plays a ton of special teams. He played 287 special teams snaps in 2019 and 343 special teams snaps in 2018. Don’t count on Hurts doing that. Hill is a former undrafted player and Hurts is a second-round pick. 

2. He’s rookie Lamar Jackson 

This one is a little more intriguing. Jackson became the MVP of the league in 2019 but in 2018 was a rookie backup behind Joe Flacco. But the Ravens used a first-round pick on him and wanted to get him involved early. 

The really interesting part here is that Eagles offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg was the Ravens’ OC in 2018 when the Ravens found ways to use Jackson as a non-starter. Eventually, Greg Roman pretty much took over to get the most out of Jackson as a starter and became the OC in 2019. But Pederson said they talked to Mornhinweg about Jackson and said it’s a “fair comp” between Jackson and Hurts. 

“But having Marty look at Jalen and his skillset and what he can do, and then how they put plans together, how they designed an offense around putting Lamar in his rookie season and allowing him to play certain plays, it's all part of the process,” Pederson said.

“And for us, moving forward, I want to be clear that Jalen is a quarterback. He's a quarterback first. That's how we're going to develop him, and then obviously utilize his strength as a runner and maybe some other things as we go throughout this spring.”

In the first nine games of his rookie season, before he became a starter, Jackson completed 7 of 12 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown and had 28 rushing attempts for 139 yards and a touchdown. 

The Ravens had 52 snaps in 2018 with Flacco and Jackson on the field together. 

3. They really start to innovate 

Last June, Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor, who was promoted to passing game coordinator this offseason, was asked about what innovation he thought could be coming next to offensive football. Taylor said he thought two-quarterback sets could be coming in the future and maybe the future is now. 

In some of the two-QB sets we’ve seen from the Saints and from the Ravens in 2018, they’ve used Drew Brees or Flacco as sort of a nothing player. While the defense can’t completely ignore Brees or Flacco at the top or bottom of a formation, they’re not much of a threat. That could change with this idea from ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who basically proposes the Eagles run double RPOs. 

This is intriguing and a little complex. Basically, he’s saying Wentz has the first read on the linebacker to either throw the quick pass or hand off to Hurts. Then Hurts has the second read. He has the option to either run the ball or throw a pass as he rolls out of the pocket. 

This is fascinating because it’s one play that has many different variations, to the point where it would be pretty tough to even recognize it as the same play. The one concern I’d have is about just how quickly defenses would collapse on Hurts and if he’d have enough time to make a decision; potential for big negative plays. Still, it’s an intriguing possibility and it’s a way to use these option plays without putting your $128 million quarterback in harm’s way. 

4. He’s a running back? 

Another option for Hurts in Year 1 was brought up by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, who said this: 

“Talking to one Eagles source, he said this guy might be able to contribute as a straight running back. That’s how good we think he is.” 

A running back? Maybe this is just a little hyperbole from someone inside the Eagles’ organization about how talented they think Hurts is. Because it might not make a ton of sense to use your second-round quarterback/insurance policy on traditional run plays. At least using him on option type plays might limit some stress. 

The point here is probably that Hurts is a really good runner; he had nearly 1,300 rushing yards in 2019 at Oklahoma. And at 6-1, 222 pounds, it’s not like Hurts is a toothpick out there either. But if Hurts is used as a traditional running back, I wouldn’t expect that to be a primary role for him in Year 1. Aside from his being the Wentz insurance plan, the Eagles still have Miles Sanders and he’s pretty darn good. 

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