'He was leaving everybody in the dust': When Eagles first knew Jalen Hurts would be great

PHILADELPHIA − Dallas Goedert couldn't believe what he was seeing.

It was training camp in the summer of 2020, and it was a little more than a year after the Eagles committed to Carson Wentz as the franchise quarterback, with a then-record $108 million guaranteed over four years.

But Goedert couldn't stop noticing rookie Jalen Hurts in the training camp practices.

Remember, this was the first time Goedert or any of the Eagles had seen Hurts in person. The outbreak of COVID-19 had shut down every NFL team's facility during the spring organized team activities, so everything was done remotely until training camp.

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A few months earlier, the Eagles had drafted him in the second round, a stunning move considering that many figured Hurts would either spend at least his first few years as a backup to Wentz or get flipped to another team.

Think Jordan Love, a first-round pick the same year Hurts was drafted, sitting behind Aaron Rodgers for three full seasons in Green Bay.

But Goedert saw something right away.

"He started making plays against the defense," Goedert said. "He would take off and scramble and just leave everybody in the dust. And I remember everybody was like, ‘Well, he won’t be able to do that in the games.’

"And well, he does do that in the games. So it was early on that you could tell that he was a special player. I think (management) saw it, I think everybody kind of saw it. It was pretty cool, and pretty fun to see all the strides he had made."

Hurts didn't get a chance to "do that in the games" until the third quarter against Green Bay on Dec. 6, 2020. Until then, Hurts came on the field for gadget plays, coming on for a play as Wentz lined up out wide, then coming right off the field.

Hurts had attempted just three passes in the first 11 games.

Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts runs during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 30-16.
Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts runs during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 30-16.

But Wentz was having an awful season, as were the Eagles, when former coach Doug Pederson made the switch with the Eagles trailing 20-3.

It would be a fairytale to say Hurts lit up the scoreboard and brought the Eagles back to a scintillating victory at storied Lambeau Field.

That didn't happen. Hurts was 5-for-12 passing for 109 yards, and the Eagles lost 30-16.

But Hurts' first pass came on his first series, the Eagles facing a third-and-4 from the Eagles' 31. He found Jalen Reagor, of all people, for 34 yards down to the Packers' 35. One drive later, Hurts threw his first touchdown pass, a 32-yarder to Greg Ward, who has spent most of his career on the Eagles' practice squad.

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"You go back and look, and I think he’s been throwing the ball really well since he came into this league," Goedert said. "Obviously, he’s gotten better, and that’s to be expected with a player like him."

The next week, Hurts became the first Eagles' quarterback since Michael Vick in 2010 to throw for at least 100 yards and run for at least 100 yards when he led a 24-21 win over a Saints team that had won nine straight games.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox noticed something else about Hurts that year. It wasn't as much his throwing or running as much as his leadership.

"I’ve been in that position when I was a rookie, and you kind of don’t know what to say to guys," said Cox, who's in his 11th season. "You have to learn your teammates. But when you’re the starting quarterback, you have to learn really quick, and I think that’s one thing he did.

"When he speaks to us (now), even as one of the older guys in the room, listening to a guy in his third year ... the way he speaks and the way he approaches his teammates, and you’re like, 'Man, this guy really wants it.'

"He wants what’s best for the team and not what’s best for Jalen."

Still, there were questions. Hurts barely completed 50% of his passes over those 4½ games. Even after the Eagles fired Pederson and hired Nick Sirianni, then traded Wentz in the spring of 2021, Sirianni had Hurts compete with veteran Joe Flacco for the starting job in camp.

The competition didn't last long, of course.

Then even after last season, there were rumors that the Eagles were looking into trading for either Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.

"Obviously, there was still speculation of (Hurts) getting traded and us trying to get somebody else," Goedert said. "But I think that was more speculation from the outside. I think everybody in the building was happy and comfortable with where we were with Jalen."

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts reacts after the NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 31-7.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts reacts after the NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 31-7.

Through it all, Hurts kept improving and the Eagles kept getting better players around him. He went from a 51% completion rate in 2020 to 61% in 2021 to a 66.5% completion rate this season. Hurts went 14-1 during the regular season, and became an MVP finalist.

Sirianni saw the improvement from when he took over, but in a different way.

"I don’t know if there’s ever a real 'aha' moment," Sirianni said about when he knew Hurts would become a franchise QB. "I know it writes well, and we always want to have something like that. But it’s just that he’s so steady. I think that’s what stands out most about Jalen is he’s the same guy every day. He’s obsessed with getting better. When you do that, there’s a mental toughness to coming in here every single day.

"It’s his work ethic and his determination and being the same person. It’s his consistency every single day over and over again. That’s mental toughness to me."

Wide receiver A.J. Brown saw this, too, long before the Eagles traded for Brown last spring. He and Hurts have been best friends for several years, and they would work out together during the offseason. In fact, they did this a week before the trade.

Brown remembers one day in particular.

"We all got together in the morning, and it was pouring down rain, and we were running a hill, and that let the team know how serious about this we were," Brown said. "We’re working no matter the circumstances. We’re going to get it done.

"Most guys today in the NFL would not show up to a workout like that, or (they would) go home."

Hurts showed up, just as he always does. Hurts is well known for arriving at the practice facility earlier than anyone else, and staying later. As Sirianni put it recently: "He's always here."

Here, now, is Phoenix for the Super Bowl. There are no more questions about Hurts' future as the Eagles' quarterback. The only question is how much is he going to make on his next contract, which could start in the $45 million-$50 million per year range.

Did the Eagles imagine that when they drafted him? Did anyone?

"When we drafted him, it was the upside we were banking on," Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said. "We thought he had a huge upside. It takes a couple years. And somebody so dedicated as Jalen and such a great teammate, inevitably he is going to maximize everything he has, and that’s what he’s done."

And perhaps what Hurts is still going to do this Sunday when the Eagles face the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. Hurts was asked last week what he thinks was his best play of the season.

Hurts smiled, thought for a second, and then responded: "My best play of the season? Season’s not over."

Contact Martin Frank at Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Why Eagles knew Jalen Hurts would be great even with Carson Wentz as QB