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5 things to consider about Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma’s new QB

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He’s likely to become OU’s third straight transfer starter, following Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts is officially transferring to Oklahoma, the former Alabama quarterback announced via a Players’ Tribune piece published on Wednesday. Hurts graduated from Bama in December 2018, making him immediately eligible in 2019.

He’s obviously good enough to start at Oklahoma, having gone 26-2 in that job at Alabama. He’s behind a guy who just set the FBS single-season passer efficiency record.

A number of schools were after him.

Florida State had serious interest, a source told SB Nation’s Bud Elliott. Maryland just hired Hurts’ offensive coordinator, Mike Locksley, as head coach, and had a need at quarterback. He made a visit to Maryland, and he reportedly intended to visit Miami.

But he landed at Oklahoma, which has had two transfer QBs win the last two Heismans and isn’t far from Hurts’ hometown in Texas.

Oklahoma gets a QB who could both be a little underrated and overrated, depending on the evaluator.

QBs with his resume do not transfer often. Hurts never led Bama to a win in a national title game, but he did get the Tide to two of them in his two years as a starter, and the Tide won one of those after Tua Tagovailoa replaced him at halftime, with Hurts returning the favor in the 2018 SEC Championship.

Whoever’s assessing Hurts’ upside can choose where to focus and draw their own conclusions. These are some of the things to think about.

1. Hurts won a lot and had good numbers at Bama, though that’s true of all of Nick Saban’s QBs.

Hurts has not demonstrated for sure that he’s a great passing QB. In 2017, his last year as the starter, he finished 20th among qualified passers in efficiency rating and 25th in yards per attempt.

Those are good numbers, not great ones, and it’s impossible to say how much being surrounded by Bama’s cadre and four- and five-stars boosted them. Past Bama QBs Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Blake Sims, and Jake Coker had similar or better figures.

On another hand: Those are, again, good numbers. Most college QBs are highly limited passers. Evaluating his position is an inexact science, but I don’t think it’s too aggressive to say he’s in the upper half of Power 5 QBs as a passer.

Good luck deciding how much to make of Hurts’ sparse reps in 2018, when he was 51-of-70 passing for eight touchdowns, two interceptions, 10.9 yards per throw, and a 197 rating that nearly equaled what Tagovailoa posted across a couple hundred more passing attempts. Whatever you make of it, though, it can’t be anything other than good.

2. He doesn’t rip off many huge, explosive plays like Tagovailoa does.

A vibrant downfield passing game is the main thing Bama got when it elevated Tagovailoa to the starting job over Hurts. Despite Hurts’ great line off the bench in 2019, Tagovailoa’s Marginal Explosiveness was about 40 percent higher.

Sometimes, Hurts connects on deep balls. He’s made some brilliant plays in his career. But he’s like most college QBs in that those come occasionally, not all the time.

3. But Hurts is unquestionably a serious running threat.

Former Bama coordinator Lane Kiffin built his offense around using Hurts like a running back. This year, not counting sacks, Hurts carried 34 times for 173 yards, a 5.1-yard average. The year before, when Hurts was an every-down QB and not a change-of-pace guy who played a lot of his snaps in blowouts, he ran for 981 yards (a 7.5-yard average) and eight touchdowns.

4. He’s demonstratively a great teammate and leader, beloved by Alabama’s whole campus.

Not one person associated with Alabama ever uttered a peep in public about Hurts handling his benching with anything less than total grace and professionalism. Tagovailoa and Saban, among others, have repeatedly praised him for being a good teammate.

When Hurts graduated, he got a raucous ovation.

When he came off the bench for an injured Tagovailoa in the SEC Championship and led game-tying and winning drives, he made Saban start to cry:

5. Oh, and he doesn’t make many mistakes.

In the last two years, he’s fumbled six times (losing three of them) on 486 touches and thrown three interceptions on 324 passes.

So, whether Oklahoma will get a great QB in Hurts remains to be seen. But there’s little doubt he’s a good QB, and he might still have room to grow.

His ability as a powerful runner won’t just disappear. On top of that, it’s possible the growth he showed in limited action as a passer in 2018 would carry over to a more expanded role on another campus in 2019.

OU shouldn’t expect him to be exactly the same guy he was at Alabama. That means not expecting him to go 13-1. It might also mean getting a better player.