INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Hurts is famously level-headed. His gracious handling of his gut-wrenching benching in the middle of the 2017 national championship game will always serve as an unfailing testament to that.
So when Hurts, who eventually transferred to Oklahoma and posted one of the most productive college seasons ever in 2019, was asked Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine if he’d consider switching positions in the NFL — just the latest African-American quarterback to have that question posed to him — it was fitting that his answer was calm, but resolute.
“Yeah you know, I’ve always been a team-first guy,” Hurts told reporters. “But I think I’m a quarterback. I think that’s that.”
The question brought to mind shades of past black quarterbacks who have been asked the same question at the combine. One of the latest, Lamar Jackson, went on to become only the second unanimous MVP in NFL history last season.
Jackson, though, was more prolific as a passer than Hurts was in college, and more highly regarded in that area, too. Hurts’ NFL.com draft profile — which lists Tim Tebow as his comparison — suggests that he must improve his patience, eye level and decision-making as a passer, among other things, to stick as a QB1 in the NFL.
As such, Hurts’ draft stock is currently all over the place. While one NFL scout told Yahoo Sports this week that Hurts is projected to be a mid-to-late-round pick in rounds 5-7, another said he can be slotted into rounds 2-4.
Hurts can help himself with a strong performance Thursday, when quarterbacks are scheduled to throw at Lucas Oil Stadium. Provided he does, it’s not hard to see him wooing a team interested in what he can bring to the table at pro football’s spotlight position.
For one, Hurts is a proven winner: He went 38-4 as a starter at Alabama, where he won a national championship in 2016, and Oklahoma, where he threw for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 1,298 yards and 20 more scores last fall, when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
What’s more, Hurts has weathered plenty of upheaval during his college career, so he has zero doubt in his ability to go into any NFL situation and thrive.
“The reality is, I’ve had six different coaches in four years, and all six coaches — whether it be position coach or [the offensive coordinator] — have had different approaches to how they’ve taught whatever it is they’re teaching, so that shows the ability to adjust,” Hurts told Yahoo Sports during a sit-down interview on Tuesday.
“I’m able to adjust to any type of coaching style, offense or whatever we’re running, whether it’s a lot of play-action under center, or taking shots from certain ways or running this a certain way or reading this a certain way. So the ability to adjust is there for me.”
That said, Hurts knows he has areas he needs to improve on, including one previously mentioned in his NFL.com draft profile.
“I think I want to continue to grow and see things from a coach’s perspective,” Hurts said, a nod to his desire to improve his decision-making. “I want to think like my head coach is thinking, my OC is thinking, so when I’m on the field, I can be more situationally aware of what’s going on.”
Hurts’ unfailing belief in himself will continue to propel him forward, just like it did at Alabama, where he started 28 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide only to be benched at halftime against Georgia in January 2018. Even after that moment — which he handled with class as his younger replacement, Tua Tagovailoa, led Alabama to a come-from-behind win over Georgia — Hurts waited a whole year to transfer, largely because he believed he could beat Tagovailoa for the job. After he failed to do it in 2018, it might have broken or wounded a lesser man.
By going through all that, only to re-establish himself as one of college football’s pre-eminent players during his one-year stop at Oklahoma, Hurts proved that his mental toughness and football character is A-1, something NFL evaluators love in quarterbacks.
His willingness to be hard on himself and strive for perfection won’t hurt, either.
“I firmly feel that there is not a play that I can’t make right,” Hurts said. “Whether it’s a missed assignment on somebody else’s behalf, or whatever, I hold myself accountable.”
So of course, it’s hardly a surprise that Hurts easily dismissed the “switch position” question on Tuesday. The way he was forced to navigate his whirlwind college career not only reinforced his belief in himself, but also taught him how to maintain focus in the face of distractions.
“In this business,” Hurts said, “you can never get too high or low — that’s what I’ve been my entire career, just keeping the main thing the main thing, keeping steady and trying to get better every day.”
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