Thursday, January 20, 2022

Is Jalen Hurts the next Donovan McNabb for the Eagles? Comparing their breakout second seasons in Philadelphia

Jalen Hurts answered the questions whether he should be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022 by taking the franchise to the playoffs in just his second season in the NFL. The debate still remains whether Hurts is the franchise quarterback, even if Hurts has continued to show progress throughout the year. 

Perhaps Hurts’ draft selection plays a role in that, being the fifth quarterback taken in a draft that already includes franchise quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. How Hurts has transformed the Eagles offense into the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL plays a vital role in his evaluation and demonstrates why he should be under consideration as the team’s long-term answer at quarterback.

Taking the Eagles to the playoffs is massive for Hurts, who is in his first full season as a starting quarterback. Another mobile quarterback that was a difference maker in Philadelphia accomplished the same task — Donovan McNabb. Handed the keys to the Eagles offense at the start of the 2000 season, McNabb led Philadelphia to the playoffs as the Eagles finished 11-5 on the year — their first playoff appearance in four years. McNabb and the Eagles won their wild-card game, which was the start of the greatest stretch of winning football for the franchise in the Super Bowl era. The Eagles compiled a regular season record of 48-16, won four consecutive NFC East titles, made four straight conference championship games and reached Super Bowl XXXIX in the 2004 season.

Could Hurts be the next Eagles quarterback to reach the level of success McNabb experienced with the franchise? McNabb’s 2000 season was an indicator of what was to come in an Eagles uniform. Hurts could be on the same path. 

Passing impact

Passing Stats

Completion Rate

Pass Yards

TD

INT

YPA

Rating

Donovan McNabb (2000)

58.0%

3,365

21

13

5.9

77.8

Jalen Hurts (2021)

61.3%

3,144

16

9

7.3

87.2

Passing in the NFL was much different in 2000 than it is in 2021, but McNabb showed signs of carrying the Eagles offense once Duce Staley’s season ended with a broken foot in Week 5 of that year. McNabb’s completion percentage improved every month, as he was relied upon to carry an offense with Darnell Autry and Stanley Pritchett as the main running backs. The Eagles also leaned on an aging Brian Mitchell and signed Chris Warren late in the season to take pressure off McNabb, but the second-year quarterback had to come of age in the passing game. 

When the Eagles needed McNabb to throw the ball late in the year, he delivered. In the final four games, McNabb completed 60.6% of his passes for 964 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions for a 90.4 passer rating. In the month of December (three games), McNabb completed 59.8% of his passes for 827 yards with five touchdowns to one interception (95.8 rating). The Eagles finished the season 3-1 and went on to clinch a wild-card spot and a home playoff game as McNabb accounted for over 80% of the offense. This was with Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, and Todd Pinkston as the top wideouts, but McNabb relied on Chad Lewis to elevate the passing game — which led to a Pro Bowl appearance for the tight end.

Like McNabb, Hurts improved as the season went on — specifically over the last three games (while losing his top running back in Miles Sanders due to injury). Hurts completed a season-high 66.7% of his passes for 709 yards with three touchdowns to just one interception for a 101.3 passer rating. Of quarterbacks with 50 pass attempts, Hurts was seventh in the league in passer rating over the last three games, ninth in passing yards, and third in yards per attempt (8.75). The Eagles went 3-0 in those games, finishing sixth in the NFL in yards per game (391) and fourth in yards per play (6.1). Philadelphia averaged 27 points per game, good for ninth in the league.

To compare, McNabb elevated the Eagles offense in 2000 by ranking fifth in the league in passer rating, second in passing yards, and tied for third in passing touchdowns over his final three games. His 7.73 yards per attempt average was also fifth in the NFL. The Eagles offense averaged just 21.3 points (sixth in NFL) and were 14th in yards per game (324.7) and 12th in yards per play (5.2). If it wasn’t for McNabb carrying the team, Philadelphia’s offense would have been in the bottom five of the league over the final three games.

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Rushing impact

Rushing stats

Attempts

Rush Yards

Rush TD

YPC

Donovan McNabb (2000)

86

629

6

7.3

Jalen Hurts (2021)

139

784

10

5.6

McNabb and Hurts were the most dynamic running quarterbacks in the NFL during their second seasons, finding ways to stay on the field throughout the year. McNabb was able to play all 16 games while Hurts has missed just one with an ankle injury.

McNabb led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards in 2000, also leading the league in yards per carry and finishing third in rushing touchdowns. Over the final four games of the year, McNabb led all quarterbacks with 196 rushing yards and was fourth in yards per carry (7.84) while scoring two touchdowns in the ground. McNabb was just the third quarterback since 1970 to lead his team in rushing and had the fourth-most rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history. That led to McNabb ranking sixth in the NFL in total offense as he accounted for 74.6% of the Eagles’ net yards (third in the NFL). 

Hurts also leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2021 while also ranking fifth in yards per attempt. While McNabb did the most damage on the ground over the final stretch of the year, Hurts has just 17 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games. Hurts has been limited on the ground with his ankle injury, but he did have 263 yards and three touchdowns in the four games prior to the injury. His 10 touchdowns are the most ever by an Eagles quarterback in a season, and his 784 rushing yards trail only Randall Cunningham for the most by a quarterback in team history. 

The verdict? 

Hurts is just the second quarterback in Eagles history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 750 yards in a season (Cunningham is the other in 1990) and the eighth to reach those numbers in NFL history. Hurts is just one of 13 quarterbacks to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 600 yards in a season, a list McNabb is also on. McNabb was just the third quarterback to accomplish the feat when he reached those numbers in 2000, a sign of how rare running quarterbacks were as the position was evolving. 

McNabb finished second in the NFL MVP race in 2000, losing out to Marshall Faulk (who set the single-season record for rushing touchdowns). Hurts isn’t going to win the MVP in 2021, but he showed signs of progression in the passing game like McNabb did while being a tremendous asset on the ground. 

The 2000 Eagles went 6-2 in the second half of the year en route to the playoffs. The 2021 Eagles have also gone 6-2 over their past eight games as they clinched a wild-card spot. McNabb completed 56% of his passes for 1,751 yards with 11 touchdowns to six interceptions (77.2 rating) and rushed for 352 yards and three scores in the second half of the 2000 season. Hurts has completed 61.4% of his passes for 1,325 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions (84.1 rating) and rushed for 352 yards and five touchdowns — the same amount of rushing yards as McNabb! 

McNabb’s 2000 season will go down in franchise history as the catalyst toward the best run of Eagles football in the Super Bowl era. Hurts’ 2021 season is still to be determined, but is eerily similar to McNabb’s production as the Eagles are setting themselves up to be a perennial playoff contender once again.

McNabb paved the way. Hurts is following that path. 

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