Jalen Hurts making compelling case to be Eagles' quarterback beyond 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts had his teammates buzzing following his game-sealing 24-yard touchdown run to beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, 40-29.

Right tackle Lane Johnson likened Hurts' Allen Iverson-esque cutback to a video game move, saying Hurts "hit that L1 juke." Tight end Dallas Goedert didn't get to see it live because he was busy blocking, and couldn't figure out how Hurts had gotten through all that traffic, but ran over to him after watching the replay to tell him "he's that dude." Cornerback Avonte Maddox was one of many players giddy watching it unfold from the sideline.

"Oh, I always watch Jalen. I was looking at the Jumbotron and when I saw him make that move, I was like 'Oh, snap.' I was looking for the trainer so I could grab some tape to help that kid's ankles," Maddox said of Saints defensive end Carl Granderson, who fell helplessly to the ground when Hurts cut back inside on a dime. "[Hurts] is definitely dynamic. [No.] 1 is always a baller and it's exciting to watch him play."

Hurts entered the season with the odds of holding onto the starting quarterback job beyond 2021 stacked against him. There were mixed opinions about him inside the building before he was drafted in the second round in 2020. Doubts persisted about his viability as a long-term quarterback following four promising but uneven starts as a rookie. The Eagles explored trading for Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson prior to the trade deadline. And with upwards of three first-round picks in April's draft, the heavy speculation has been that Philadelphia will use that capital to acquire the next franchise quarterback, whether by trading those assets for a veteran like Watson or Russell Wilson or using it to select a quarterback from this draft class.

That has served as the backdrop to this season, with each game seemingly serving as a referendum on Hurts' future.

Eleven games into this make-or-break campaign, Hurts has shifted those odds more toward his favor, building a compelling case for why he should remain under center for the Eagles past this season.

Sunday furthered his argument. Hurts ran for 69 yards and three touchdowns against the top-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, while adding 147 yards through the air on 13-of-24 passing. Those three rushing TDs are the most in a game by a quarterback in Eagles franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It marked Hurts' fourth career game with multiple rushing touchdowns, which is tied with Cam Newton for the most such games by a quarterback in his first two seasons.

He has racked up 890 rush yards in his first 15 career starts. The only QB with more in his first 15 starts? Lamar Jackson with 1,193.

His running prowess has had a residual effect on the rest of the offense. Philadelphia has 870 rushing yards in its past four games, the team's most in a four-game span since 1950, despite playing the No. 1 and No. 6 rush defenses in the Saints and Denver Broncos the last two weeks.

"Jalen is a special player," coach Nick Sirianni said, "that forces defenses to play different."

Hurts, 23, is now on pace to finish with over 4,500 total yards with 32 touchdowns to eight interceptions in his first full season as a starter.

If there's an area of concern, it's his efficiency as a passer. Hurts entered Sunday's game with a completion rate of 62.2 percent, which ranked 29th in the NFL. Still, it's 10 percentage points higher than his rate as a rookie. He's shown development in that area, particularly as a pocket passer.

"You can see each week in practice, his timing is getting better, his ball is just unbelievable," said Goedert. "This whole week at practice, throwing it, I was looking at him like, 'You've got a golden arm right now. You're dotting stuff.' It carried over to the game. And if he keeps playing the way he is, we're going to be real good."

The way he has won over his peers can't be discredited. Even as a rookie, players gravitated to him. He was named a team captain this offseason and was asked to step into the center of the circle when defensive end Brandon Graham went down with a season-ending injury early in the year. The way his peers talk about him makes it clear they've bought in.

"That's my guy, man," said running back Miles Sanders. "You can kind of sense it on the field. He's a field general. He likes to control things. It's just natural for him. He doesn't force anything. He has that natural leadership [ability]. I can't really explain it, but I love it. I love everything about him. I love how he carries himself and we just follow right behind him. He has a lot of respect throughout the building, and he definitely has a lot of respect out of me."

One of the biggest things working against Hurts is that Jeffrey Lurie is one of the most pass-minded (and therefore, heavy run-averse) owners in the league. He is into analytics big-time, and the analytics tell him that throwing is the way to go. There's more than a touch of irony here, as Lurie was influential in the team's decision to draft Hurts, and now the Eagles are running an offense that doesn't quite fit Lurie's belief system. The idea, however, wasn't to draft Hurts to be QB1, but rather a dynamic No. 2 to Carson Wentz.

History had other ideas. Wentz is long gone, Hurts has taken firm control of the reins, and with one of the softest finishing schedules in the NFL, the 5-6 Eagles are set up to make a hard charge at the postseason. ESPN's Football Power Index gives Philly a 39% chance to make the playoffs.

Things are starting to fall into place, in no small part because of the electric play of Hurts. So long as that continues, the search for a different lead quarterback should be put on hold.