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Is NFL draft's most intriguing QB really just another Hurts?


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Is NFL draft's most intriguing QB really just another Hurts?


The Eagles are at an absolutely fascinating place with their quarterback room. 

They have a cheap, bang-average starting QB who might have another level in him... or who might've already hit his ceiling. They have one of the best backups in the league on an even cheaper deal, but they might be tempted to turn him into draft capital while his value is still high.

A few star veteran quarterbacks are expected to be at least marginally available via trade this offseason.

And they have three first-round picks... in a draft that doesn't have any great quarterback prospects, which could be good or bad for the Eagles, depending on how you look at it.

If Howie Roseman & Co. aren't inspired by Jalen Hurts' future, don't want to pass on a chance to add multiple first-round-worthy players, and are afraid of kicking the can down the road too far, they might be tempted to use one of their picks on a QB this April. Say... Liberty's Malik Willis, the quarterback most draft experts view as the highest-ceiling prospect in the class?

I personally like the idea a lot - I love Willis' overall athleticism, his cannon arm, and his tantalizing potential - but some pro scouts seem to be saying the Eagles should avoid this exact idea.

ESPN draft expert Todd McShay spoke with Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer this week ahead of the Combine, and he had a very interesting comparison point for Willis' future based on people around the league he's talked to.

Here's what McShay had on Willis:

"'I actually have equal grades on Malik [Willis] and Kenny [Pickett],' McShay says. 'I have Malik 20, Kenny 21, [Matt] Corral 25 overall.' 

"As for Willis, McShay sees the former Liberty star as the one prospect in the group with the kind of untapped potential that might make someone believe there might be something there.

"'Some guys really love Willis. Other guys think, I'm getting Jalen Hurts, at best,' McShay says. 'I think he's more athletic, a more dynamic athlete and he definitely has a stronger arm, but Hurts was more mature and won bigger games in bigger scenes. [...] Malik has the biggest upside, but there's probably the lowest floor of all the guys.'"

Hmm. So some scouts think taking Willis could unlock your entire team... but others think he's literally just the guy the Eagles already have. Suffice to say, that'd be quite a bummer outcome.

What else is out there?

Someone I really like reading on the NFL Draft is NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, so let's dig into his scouting reports on the two guys and see if he agrees.

Here's what he had to say about Hurts heading into the draft process, when his pro comparison for Hurts was Eagles legend Tim Tebow:

"Like Tim Tebow, Hurts is a winning dual-threat quarterback known for his strength, toughness and character. Hurts is a more accurate passer and better runner than Tebow but is inconsistent as a decision-maker and tends to break the pocket when throws are there to be made. His deep-ball touch and intermediate accuracy improved this year so teams may see him as a developmental talent who will keep getting better in the right scheme. He'll struggle to beat NFL defenses from the pocket, but his ability to grind out yards on the ground and make off-schedule plays should make him a solid backup with upward mobility."

Other than the iffy Tebow comparison, this is basically on-point from what we've seen so far out of Hurts: an inconsistent passer who doesn't excel in the pocket, an exciting athlete who extends plays and succeeds off-script, and a sometimes-confounding decision-maker.

Now here's Zierlein on Willis, who gives the Liberty QB a hilariously on-the-nose pro comparison for this examination: Jalen Hurts in terms of "build/play style", and Jay Cutler in terms of the arm:

"Upside quarterback with special parts of his game, but with no guarantee they will be assembled properly into a finished product. Willis uses his rare combination of elite rushing talent and a rocket-launching right arm to unlock explosive plays in two different ways. He has the arm to beat safeties to the deepest parts of the field and makes impressive throws from inside and outside the pocket. On the flip side, Willis' mechanical and operational inconsistencies lead to erratic timing and accuracy, and he doesn't throw with enough touch. [...] On the pro level, additional film work and a layered, pro-style passing attack could allow for more focused reads and help him see the field faster and more clearly from the pocket. Play-callers must lean into his special talent as a runner and include called runs into the game plan. Even if Willis fails to reach his passing potential, running ability doesn't slump and he has the talent to produce on the ground at a level between Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson."


What I'm taking away from Zierlein's analysis on these two players is that Willis is basically Hurts with a cannon arm, which is... exactly the attribute I'd love to give Hurts to convince me he's The Guy in the long-term. Think about all the problems we saw from Hurts in 2021. What's one that stood out? Every single week, I was underwhelmed by Hurts' arm talent. He doesn't have a strong arm, regularly underthrowing his guys down the field. Often he's able to extend plays with his legs and put himself in winning positions, only to be undone by his own limitations on where he can put the ball. Imagine that type of player with a rocket of an arm and you've got something special.

Based on what I've seen from the guy and what people who know more about football than I do are saying, the floor for Willis is probably a Hurts-type quarterback who makes more mistakes than Hurts, while the ceiling is probably Lamar Jackson-lite. That's a pretty wide gulf. Jackson is a former MVP, while Hurts will be battling every week to prove he belongs as QB1.

If I'm in the Eagles' front office? I'm absolutely willing to take the risk and select Willis. That doesn't mean it's a no-brainer to use one of those first-round picks on a quarterback; Hurts is already in the building and has shown he can play at a starter level. But if you really want to try and hit a home run at QB, and would like to do it through the draft, Willis still feels like a guy worth a shot.

Even if, in the end, you wind up right back where you started.


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