Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said in the wake of their dramatic loss to the Arizona Cardinals that he would wait until Monday to name a starting quarterback for Week 16.
The delay in doing so could hardly seem more pointless after Jalen Hurts gave a previously moribund offense a spark for the third successive week, helping them push a playoff contender to the wire in an absorbing encounter.
He hasn’t even played two and a half games yet, but this was another contest that gave rise to the notion that Hurts, despite the huge contract handed to Carson Wentz in June of last year, is the future at the quarterback position in Philadelphia.
His back-and-forth duel with dual-threat superstar and fellow former Oklahoma Sooner Kyler Murray also served as further compelling evidence of the ever-expanding merits of investing in athleticism at quarterback.
Murray, who has dipped in and out of the MVP conversation this season, may have prevailed – a last-gasp heave into the endzone from Hurts falling incomplete – but the Eagles’ second-round pick emerged with his reputation significantly enhanced.
Hurts finished the 33-26 loss with 338 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and ran for 63 yards and another score on the ground.
.@JalenHurts refuses to go down!
— NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Posting a passer rating of 102.3, Hurts is the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw at least three touchdown passes and rush for a touchdown in his first road start.
After putting up 106 rushing yards against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, he also joins Randall Cunningham (1985) and Lamar Jackson (2018) as the only first-year quarterbacks with at least 50 yards on the ground in their first two starts.
Following in the footsteps of fellow 2020 draft picks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, Hurts is now one of just three rookie quarterbacks to record at least 300 passing yards, three touchdown throws and a rushing score in a single game since 1970.
His efforts on the ground are in stark contrast to those of Wentz, who has five rushing touchdowns this season but just one game of over 50 yards. While Hurts has yet to throw an interception in two starts – though he did commit one in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers – Wentz leads the league with 15 picks.
Therein lies the rub. Entering the NFL in 2016, Wentz had athletic upside. However, he has since been limited by a devastating 2017 knee injury that ruined an MVP-calibre season. With the additional speed Hurts – the second-fastest quarterback at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine – offers, the Eagles can utilise a new dimension on offense that they did not have with an increasingly statuesque former first-round pick under center.
Defenses must pay significant respect to the threat of a quarterback run on zone-read plays, while Hurts’ ability to scramble decreases the odds of him staying in a muddied pocket and risking a turnover by taking a sack or forcing a throw into a non-existent window.
It also raises the potential for the spectacular, which arrived in spades on Sunday, most notably on the failed game-tying drive as Hurts fumbled the ball only to regather it, roll to his right and deliver a first-down pass to Dallas Goedert.
— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2020
The composure Hurts showed on that completion is illustrative of a player quickly settling into life at the pro level, and his late-season emergence comes on the heels of an MVP year for Jackson in a campaign during which his dual-threat contemporaries further demonstrated that, with the right coaching, the time needed for young, mobile quarterbacks to adapt to the league is getting shorter.
Herbert, who is being allowed to use his legs much more than he did at Oregon, is in the midst of one of the best rookie quarterback seasons ever. Josh Allen’s third-year transition from athletically gifted wild card to a versatile and supremely accurate field general has the Buffalo Bills at the sharp end of the AFC playoff race, while Murray keeps writing his name in the record books as the Cardinals push towards the postseason.
Murray had 406 yards passing with three touchdowns and an interception on Sunday, while he too found the endzone on the ground, marking his ninth game with both a passing touchdown and rushing score this season, the most by a quarterback in a single campaign in NFL history.
He is the fourth quarterback, alongside Allen (10), Steve Grogan (10) and Cam Newton (14), with 10 such games in his first two seasons. Only he and Newton (2015) can claim to have thrown for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 10 in a single season, Murray replicating the feat of Newton’s MVP year by taking his passing tally to 26 and his rushing mark to 11.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) December 21, 2020
The rapid rise of Murray, Allen, Herbert and now seemingly Hurts should give confidence to quarterback-needy teams that the 2021 crop of dual-threat signal-callers can start early and be successful.
Presumptive number one pick Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Zach Wilson of BYU all possess the skills to do significant damage through the air and also with their legs.
Murray and Hurts’ bewitching battle encapsulated the impact a quarterback with such diversity to their game can have on the modern NFL when they land in the right environment.
There is still a place for the traditional drop-back quarterback, of course, but they are increasingly being shunned in favour of more unpredictable and seemingly more influential counterparts.
At least four more possible success stories are on the horizon in the next draft and franchises requiring change under center need to heed one of the many lessons of a year where nothing has been normal. It is past time to cast aside previous convention. Get a quarterback who can do both, and get them on the field.