MOBILE, Ala. — If there’s one thing you should know by now about Jalen Hurts, it’s that he doesn’t care about naysayers. Rejection doesn’t faze him. His self-confidence drowns out all the noise that might derail others in similar situations.
That’s why even after losing the starting quarterback job to Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2018, he remained prepared mentally and physically and was able to lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship when Tagovailoa got hurt. And that’s why he transferred to Oklahoma the following year rather than settle for a backup role. In his lone year in Norma, he passed for a career-high 3,851 yards, 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions and also rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry while leading the Sooners to the Big 12 title.
Hurts finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind LSU’s Joe Burrow.
But here he is again, at another proving ground, eagerly accepting the challenge of proving he belongs in the National Football League.
One of three quarterbacks on the Senior Bowl’s South team, Hurts understands that every practice rep this week carries just as much weight as any play in Saturday’s game.
He understands that every answer provided during interviews with NFL talent evaluators serves as another piece to the puzzle they’re trying to solve regarding his potential.
“It’s very challenging in a situation like this,” Hurts told USA TODAY Sports after Tuesday’s practice. “They try to compress you with a lot of stuff and challenge you. It’s something I accept and have to continue to get this stuff down so I can execute at a high level.”
Despite his gaudy numbers as a senior, Hurts is regarded by many as a Day 3 draft prospect.
Like many other dual-threat quarterbacks before him, Hurts faces questions about whether his prolific college production will translate to the NFL.
The league — particularly the visions teams have of quarterbacks — is changing. And while that could benefit Hurts, doubts still remain.
Hurts isn’t a prototypical big, physical pocket passer. But at 6-1 and 218 pounds, he’s bigger than Kyler Murray and right around the same size as Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield. At Alabama in 2017, Hurts clocked a 4.48-second 40-yard dash. (Neither Jackson nor Murray ran the 40 at the combine, so it’s unclear how Hurts’ time compares.)
Multiple NFL talent evaluators, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to comment specifically on any particular player and did not want to tip off draft plans, do not deny Hurts’ athleticism. But most classify it as good for a quarterback but not elite. They don’t view him as on the level of Murray or Jackson athletically.
Hurts does, however, have strong legs and instincts as a runner. He has a knack for taking the right angles, which leads to better gains, scouts said.
But the biggest questions surrounding Hurts’ game center on his passer, talent evaluators said.
Hurts certainly put up big numbers in college. However, Oklahoma’s scheme does a great job of getting receivers open.
In the NFL, Hurts will encounter much tighter throwing windows and far more sophisticated, shifting defenses that force a quarterback to react in a split second.
Several NFL talent evaluators said Hurts needs to improve his pocket awareness, recognition, anticipation and accuracy. In these categories, he doesn’t rate as highly as LSU’s Joe Burrow and other top quarterback prospects.
But Hurts remains undeterred.
He came to Mobile for this week’s practices and Saturday’s game determined to showcase his abilities in a pro-style offense while trying to learn as much as possible from Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor and his staff.
“It’s cool being out here with the best of the best, getting to throw to those guys, learning with them. I think it’s been good,” Hurts said. “I just think you have to appreciate every moment you have, every opportunity you have, and take advantage of it.”
Hurts’ NFL journey will be interesting. He’s entering the league at a time where coaches are implementing college concepts into their offensive schemes at an increasing rate, and dual-threat quarterbacks are thriving, which is encouraging to Hurts.
“I think there are a lot of guys that have unique abilities at that level, and (coaches) are making the most of what they have,” he said. “There’s no point of having a Ferrari if you don’t know how to use it. So, I’m just out here, trying to learn everything I can, soak up everything I can, so I can be the best quarterback I can be.”
Hurts’ chances of succeeding in the NFL will hinge on fit as much as it does his own willingness and ability to continue to grow.
Some figures within the league, speaking on condition of anonymity so as to not reveal teams’ draft views, said they could envision him getting drafted as high as the third round and filling a role similar to Taysom Hill in New Orleans. Others disagreed with that notion and project Hurts as a mid- to late-round draft pick who will fill a more traditional backup role.
Hurts, however, will not put a limit on his potential. He has seen players like Jackson prove wrong the naysayers, who advised he switch to running back or wide receiver. He has seen fellow Senior Bowl invitee Dak Prescott go from being a fourth-round pick to a franchise quarterback.
But more than anything, Hurts refuses to doubt himself or give credence to the limitations others place upon him because he remains confident in his abilities and his drive.
“I’m just trying to be the best version of myself: execute, learn, be a student of the game, take steps to be the best I can be,” he said at Tuesday afternoon’s media pre-practice media event.
Hurts’ determination is evident both in his words and the way he carries himself on and off the field. He struggled with accuracy Tuesday afternoon but remained undaunted. Then on Wednesday, he rebounded with a crisp practice, delivering the ball with noticeably improved accuracy consistency.
When asked during the week about the apparent chip on his shoulder with which he plays, Hurts made a correction.
“It’s a boulder,” he said.
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