It was just 2018 when I wrote a piece called “One
man's opinion from here in Wentzylvania.” How quickly
things have changed since then. They were coming off a Super Bowl
win over the New England Patriots. They had done everything right.
Every coaching decision Doug Pederson made worked out as if magic.
I watched a parade in my home town!
Just three years later …
The head coach is gone. The star quarterback has been banished
to Indiana. The offensive line hasn’t been the same since - suffering
injury after injury. Wide receivers Alshon
Jeffery and Nelson
Agholor are gone. Tight end Zach
Ertz is likely being pushed out the door.
So what are we to make of this 2021 Eagles offense and Jalen Hurts in particular? How should we evaluate Hurts’ fantasy
The new coach, Nick Sirianni, and offensive coordinator, Shane
Steichen are unknowns. It’s Sirianni’s first head
coaching job and the second full season as an OC for Steichen.
Hurts, the “anointed” starting quarterback has all
of four starts on his resume (with a 1-3 record). The starting
wide receivers are untested (2021 first-round pick and Heisman
Trophy winner Devonta Smith) and “failed-in-his-first-year
test” (2020 first-round pick) Jalen Reagor. The tight end
position should still be solid whether the starter is Ertz or
Dallas Goedert. Miles Sanders will lead the running back room,
but he couldn’t catch a cold much less a swing pass last
season (53.9 catch %, 28-of-52) when the league average is about
A lot will depend on the offensive line. Eagles quarterbacks
were sacked a league-worst 65 times in 2020. Some of that was
Carson Wentz holding the ball too long. But the OL was devastated
by injury again last season. The right side of Brandon Brooks
and Lane Johnson, who have combined for six Pro Bowls, was mostly
MIA. Brooks was out for the season before it started and Johnson
hobbled through seven games and just 404 snaps. They are back
and healthy … for now. Add in Jason Kelce at center and
that’s a solid start to protecting a young quarterback and
the same trio from the 2017 Super Bowl season. Andre Dillard,
Isaac Seumalo and Jordan Mailata will man the left side. The OL
should be improved and PFF ranks them 17th a slight improvement
from 2020 when they were 19th. But they also added: “if
their veterans stay healthy and avoid declines, this has the potential
to be one of the best offensive lines in the league once again.”
That would be a great sign for Hurts, who was sacked 10 times
in 15 quarters as a starter.
But what of the guys who have to catch the ball to make Hurts
a viable fantasy starter? Can Smith dominate at the next level
as he did in the SEC? Can Reagor make a jump from disappointing?
Will Travis Fulgham or Greg Ward become a quality No.3 guy?
This is where it gets tricky. The short answers are probably,
doubtful and maybe. Smith produced gigantic numbers in the SEC
(117-1856-23) and while he may start slowly, he’s the team’s
best chance to produce a 1,000-yard season. Reagor, the surprise
pick in 2020 when most fans and experts expected the team to choose
Justin Jefferson (who turned in a Pro Bowl performance), produced
third-round rookie numbers last season (31-396-1 on 54 targets).
The jury is still out whether he can take a step forward. Fulgham
and Ward have shown flashes must neither has proven that they
can do it for 17 games.
The final support group for Hurts is the backfield. If the line
is healthy, there should be holes to run through and yardage to
be made. Pederson much too frequently abandoned the running game
the past few seasons. If Sanders and newly-signed Kerryon Johnson
or Boston Scott can gain consistent yards, then Hurts won’t
be in second-and long quite so often. Johnson caught 73% of his
passes from Matthew Stafford, and rookie Kenneth Gainwell caught
51 balls last season at Memphis, so Hurts may be able to earn
easy fantasy points by throwing short passes and letting his backs
do the work.
Finally, there is Hurts himself. Can he improve on a horrible
52% completion rate which ranked last among any quarterback who
made at least one start in 2020? Will his ability to run the football
overcome his shortcomings as a passer?
We have always known Hurts can run the ball. He rushed for 3274
yards and 43 touchdowns in college. That’s not in question
here. He WILL rack up fantasy points on the ground. Not Lamar Jackson 1,000-yard points or Cam Newton 12 TD runs points, but
he should end up with around 700 yards and half-a-dozen scores.
How he throws will determine whether he is starter-worthy (Top-12),
backup-worthy (12-24) or “other.” He could be any
of the three.
Hurts was never a 53% passer in college. He averaged 62.9% at
Alabama and 69.7% in his senior year at Oklahoma in a Lincoln
Riley offense. In the same offense that Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray also completed around 70%. Some of his 2020 troubles can
be blamed on poor line play (a.k.a. running for his life) and
some on the mediocre wide receiver room. So has the line improved
enough and is the receiver room ready to step up to the plate?
If everything goes perfectly, Hurts can be a top-12 quarterback.
That’s his ceiling – No.12. But that means the line
stays healthy, Smith is for real and Reagor plays up to his original
draft position. If the line continues its injury story or either
wide receiver doesn’t produce, then at best Hurts is a backup
fantasy option, to be used when the starter has a bad matchup
or is on a bye week. If both the OL and the receivers aren’t
any better than 2020, then it’s not going to be good for
Hurts and his fantasy owners.
For a reference as to where I expect Hurts’ production
will ultimately end up, I would suggest you look at Cam Newton’s
2017 season. Cam threw for 3302 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16
interceptions. He also rushed for 754 yards and six scores. That
was worth 22.8 FPts/G. Also, Josh Allen’s second season,
before Stefon Diggs arrived and made him a passing star. He threw
for 3,089 yards with 20 TDs and nine interceptions and rushed
for 510 yards and nine scores worth 21.2 FPts/G. The four comparable
years below averaged 20.75 FPts/G. In 2020, that production level
would earn him a tie for 21st-best quarterback with a ceiling
of 12th (Newton in 2017) and a floor of 30th (Garrard in 2009).
That’s a wide range of possibilities, but one that befits
a situation with so many question marks.