How Jalen Hurts’ college growth from Alabama to Oklahoma points to NFL success
When Jalen Hurts left Alabama for Oklahoma, he was a benched quarterback viewed as more of a runner than a passer. A year with the Sooners provided quite the renaissance.
Hurts went from a possible NFL prospect as a gadget player to a legitimate quarterback draft pick in the second round by the Eagles. All it took was one year lighting up the Big 12 in Lincoln Riley’s offense, but it was more than that. Hurts displayed improved mechanics at OU that helped him more accurately and consistently push the ball down the field. Coupled with a rushing ability that fits in the modern NFL, Hurts’ passing improvements led him to Philadelphia despite the presence of Carson Wentz.
There’s no telling what Hurts would’ve become if he’d stayed in Alabama, or if Tua Tagovailoa had never come to take his job in the first place. But the events that followed made Hurts a potential long-term starter in the NFL. Here’s a look back at how one final, emphatic year of growth pointed toward professional quarterback success for Hurts.
Jalen Hurts college stats
Jalen Hurts at Alabama
Hurts arrived in Tuscaloosa for the 2016 season as 247Sports’ No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in his class. He presented a different mold than Alabama QBs of recent vintage, the Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarrons of the world that might best have been described as glorified game managers. As the phrase “dual-threat” suggests, Hurts was going to cause problems by himself for opposing defenses.
Right from the outset, Hurts was the starter for the Crimson Tide. He ran for nearly a touchdown per game as a freshman and completed more than 60 percent of his passes, and Alabama lost in the national title game to Clemson. But Hurts wasn’t a downfield threat as a passer as a freshman.
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 2, 2017
The below video shows how when Hurts threw deep at Alabama, he required his whole body in the throw and displayed a long, loopy arm path.
Jalen Hurts has announced his transfer to Oklahoma University.
From his first touchdown at Alabama to his last, thank you Jalen!@JalenHurts
— AlabamaFtbl Fan Page (@Alabama_Ftbl) January 16, 2019
Hurts was again a first-stringer as a sophomore, but Tua Tagovailoa was breathing down his neck. When Tagovailoa took over for Hurts and led a comeback to win a national championship, the writing was on the wall for Hurts. While the dual-threat nature of Hurts’ game could still be useful going forward with the Crimson Tide, he wasn’t going to be the passer that put Alabama over the top. That would be Tagovailoa.
The final season Hurts played at Alabama in 2018 was one of occasional cameos rather than full-on dominance. He maxed out at 10 pass attempts in one game, with his single-game high for rushing attempts coming in at five carries. His small-sample stats did suggest an improved passer, with Hurts completing 72.9 percent of his 70 passes, but he announced in January he’d play his final year of college football at Oklahoma.
Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma
Hurts’ throwing mechanics didn’t magically go from zero to hero upon his arrival on OU’s campus, but the subtle changes were there. His arm path still had more length than might be ideal, but he often got rid of the ball quicker thanks to improved lower-half and hip motion.
🔴 332 pass yards
🔴 176 rush yards
🔴 6 TDs
ICYMI: Jalen Hurts went supernova in his Oklahoma debut. pic.twitter.com/5NWieMAoQa
— ESPN (@espn) September 2, 2019
Right from the start, Hurts was a Heisman Trophy contender with the Sooners, and he wound up finishing second to Joe Burrow’s record-setting season. Some made the case that Hurts was just proof that Oklahoma was a system that made its quarterbacks look good. First there was Baker Mayfield, then Kyler Murray and now Hurts.
But both Mayfield and Murray both went first overall in their respective drafts, while Hurts lasted until the second round. There was still a whole lot of tape of Hurts looking more like a runner than a passer, but he showed his small-sample accuracy improvements from the year before weren’t a fluke. Hurts completed 69.7 percent of his passes at Oklahoma and shattered his season-best for passing yards and passing touchdowns. At one point, Bleacher Report noted Hurts was completing more than half his passes 20-plus yards down the field, much better than the 32 percent from his freshman year.
Playing an LSU defense filled with NFL players in his final college game probably knocked Hurts’ stock the most. He completed less than half his passes in a season-ending loss.
Still, though, Hurts had made improvements. Whether they amounted to a long NFL career as a starter or a backup, they certainly locked him in to having a quarterback future. And if accuracy, especially down the field, was Hurts’ biggest question mark? The same could have been said for Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, who both have improved as throwers once reaching the pros.
That’s not to say Hurts will turn out as good as Jackson or Allen, but it’s the growth he showed at Oklahoma that presented any hope at all of such an outcome for Hurts.