Even before Monday’s ESPN report that owner Jeffrey Lurie had instructed general manager Howie Roseman and new head coach Nick Sirianni to “prioritize making Jalen Hurts successful in 2021,” it already was unlikely that the Eagles were going to take a quarterback in the first round of next month’s draft.
No one in the organization knows yet whether Hurts has the right stuff to be an elite NFL quarterback. They think he does, but it’s still conjecture at this point following his four uneven season-ending starts in 2020. Which is why Lurie wants to give him every opportunity to succeed next season.
Lurie hasn’t told general manager Howie Roseman that he can’t take a quarterback in the first round. But given the recent horror show with Carson Wentz, would Roseman really be willing to take a quarterback at No. 6 who would spend his rookie season backing up a guy the Eagles took last year at 53? Probably not. But at the Great American Quarterback Factory, anything is possible.
Given the can’t-win-without-a-good-one importance of the quarterback position in the NFL, the Eagles need to consider all possible options, including a potential insurance policy in case Hurts isn’t The Answer.
“When you’re picking as high as we are, you’d better look at everyone’s that’s available,” a senior personnel executive for the Eagles said late last month. “We have to make sure that if there’s a unique player at any position, that we’re looking at him.”
This is a good quarterback draft, at least at the top. Four of them are expected to be among the top seven or eight picks. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the creme de la creme and is ticketed for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the first overall selection.
Any of the next three highest-rated quarterbacks -- Zach Wilson of BYU, Justin Fields of Ohio State, and Trey Lance of North Dakota State – could still be on the board when the Eagles are scheduled to pick.
Wilson, who probably is the most NFL-ready of the three, is the least likely to fall to 6. He could go early as second to the Jets if their general manager, Joe Douglas, decides to part with Sam Darnold.
But there is a realistic chance that Fields or Lance could make it to the Eagles. If that happens, and they feel one or both of them are “unique,” can they afford to pass on them? That’s the million-dollar question.
NFL Network senior draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for three teams including the Eagles, thinks both Fields and Lance have higher potential NFL upsides than Hurts.
“I had Jalen as my 50th-rated player last year,” Jeremiah said. “I thought he had a chance to be a quality starting quarterback at the NFL level. Still do. But these other two kids have a much higher ceiling.”
“Fields has tremendous speed and athleticism. Lance is a great runner and probably is going to run in the high 4.5s at his pro day later this week. Hurts is a good runner. But Fields can be a home-run hitter as a runner. His speed makes him a little different there than the other two.”
Fields had 41 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in 14 games in 2019. He wasn’t quite as consistent last year, finishing with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in a pandemic-shortened, eight-game season.
He threw five interceptions against Indiana and Northwestern, and completed just 17 of 33 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown in Ohio State’s loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
“Fields had two questionable games that I would call hiccups, but that was it,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. “He was banged up in the championship game after getting hurt against Clemson in the semifinals.
“It all comes down to the grade they’re going to have on Fields. If they love Fields and have a grade on him right behind Lawrence as the second-best quarterback in this draft, then you take him.
“But if you think taking Fields or Lance is a sideways move from Hurts, then you take a receiver and stick with Hurts and see how he develops next season.”
North Dakota State played just one game last fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the year before, the 6-4, 225-pound Lance had 28 touchdown passes and no interceptions in 287 pass attempts. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Lance reminds me of Steve McNair,” Jeremiah said. “Just the physicality that he plays with. The toughness. When you watched Steve run, he’d get hit by a linebacker at the 4-yard line and make his way into the end zone. You see the same thing with Lance. He’s got a little room to grow in terms of pure accuracy, but he’s a really interesting guy.”
It’s hard to envision the Eagles taking another North Dakota State quarterback in the first round, though, this soon after the Carson Wentz debacle. But it will all come down to what they think of him. Or at least it should.
“Trey’s going to need some time,” Jeremiah said. “You’re going to need to be patient with him. But when you talk to the folks at North Dakota State about him, [they say] this kid is incredibly intelligent. He can direct fronts. He can do all of the stuff at the line of scrimmage that you need him to do.
“He’s a fantastic athlete and runner. He has a power arm. And all of the character stuff I’ve gotten about him has been off the charts.”