A look at Jalen Hurts' open-ended NFL future

Former Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts walks around during OU's pro day Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

NORMAN, Okla. — Tommy McDonald ran, threw for and caught a touchdown against Colorado in 1956, becoming the first Oklahoma football player to do all three in one game.

No one did it again for 64 years.

The next was Jalen Hurts, who was already quite familiar with throwing and running the ball last season for the Sooners.

But his 4-yard scoring catch from Nick Basquine against Oklahoma State last season presented the other dimension coaches can utilize with him under center.

Alabama’s Nick Saban incorporated it in 2018 and OU’s Lincoln Riley did it again last fall. Hurts can be a Swiss Army Knife to much success.

Is this his future in the NFL?

“Well, I think he's got the ability to be a starting NFL quarterback, and that's why he's my fifth quarterback in the draft, and he's ended up being my 50th player [overall] when it was all said and done,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said. “So I have him as a second-round player.”

That’s a strong outlook for a quarterback who struggled with turnovers last season and still needs to progress as an accurate thrower. On the plus side, any team who pulls the trigger on Hurts in Thursday’s NFL Draft could get a three-for-one.

But there’s a gap between what Hurts told reporters on OU’s pro day — that no teams were talking to him about playing anything other than quarterback — and what some scouts and draft pundits believe he could be as a pro.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. sees Hurts as a Taysom Hill, the third-string New Orleans Saint quarterback who totaled 590 yards from scrimmage and 7 TDs last season.

Jeremiah, remember, still believes Hurts can be a starting quarterback, but he provides Hill-like flexibility with his skills.

“My thing with him is if you want to get him on the field and he's not going to be your starter [at QB], I'm not saying, hey, we want you to play receiver,” Jeremiah said. “We've seen with [Saints third-string QB] Taysom Hill some of the things he's been able to do just coming in as the quarterback. So to come in as the quarterback and just be able to use him in different ways.”

There is no need for blurred projections about Hurts’ NFL future if he can exponentially improve his accuracy, which would give some team a big, athletic thrower cut in a similar mold as Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray — two of the league’s star prototypes at the position currently.

Hurts has shown improvement.

In 14 games as Alabama’s regular starter in 2017, he completed 60% of his 255 passing attempts. Last season, he was up to 70% on 340 attempts.

If Jeremiah was a general manager: “We'll get packages where he comes in, plays quarterback, we can throw the ball, we can do some zone read, we can do a lot of different things with him in a package while he's developing and continuing to improve as a passer just from an anticipation standpoint.

“That really is his biggest deal. He's got to just improve throwing with a little bit more anticipation. If he can do that, I think some team is going to be able to put him in as the starting quarterback in this league, and he's got a chance to be really successful.”

In a vacuum, that works. Hurts is strong enough to absorb hits for an entire game and athletic enough to make teams chase him around.

But in handling the ball so much, OU had to live with his six lost fumbles and eight interceptions last season.

Scouts like everything else about him, from his build to his leadership, and everything in between that occurred at OU and Alabama. Few people, if any, speak poorly of Hurts’ character.

He was part of 52 collegiate victories and four losses.

“He's a playmaker,” Jeremiah said. “He's somebody that just finds a way. His ability to escape and create is going to be what gets him going. It's going to get him an opportunity because he can make plays.”

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NFL Draft

Thursday: Round 1 (7 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network)

Friday: Rounds 2-3 (6 p.m., ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network)

Saturday: Rounds 4-7 (11 a.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network)

Former OU players of interest: LB Kenneth Murray, QB Jalen Hurts, WR CeeDee Lamb, DT Neville Gallimore, CB Parnell Motley, WR Nick Basquine

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Palmateer is sports editor for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI LLC publication.

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