Jalen Hurts emerged as a star, and they will be good for a while

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Hannah Lucca)

At this time last year, we didn’t know what Jalen Hurts was as a quarterback. He had improved every year going back to the start of his college career, and he had been solid for the Philadelphia Eagles. But he was the question mark on a really talented roster.

It seems like way more than a year ago that we had doubts about Hurts. He might have won NFL MVP if he didn’t get hurt late in the season. He was the best player in Super Bowl LVII, though he didn’t win MVP. For a brief time this offseason he was the highest-paid player, per season, in NFL history. There’s no question about Hurts anymore. He’s one of the best in the league.

That massive improvement completely changes the outlook for the Eagles, not just for this season but many to come. Hurts is just 24 years old, after all.

To be successful this season the Eagles first have to turn the page on a glorious 2022 season that just missed a perfect ending.

Even if you were optimistic about the Eagles, a 13-1 start (with the loss to the Washington Commanders coming in part due to a terrible officiating non-call that was a big factor in the outcome) wasn’t on the radar. Once we saw the Eagles put up 400 yards on each of their first four opponents, it was clear they were for real and Hurts had made the leap.

With its ramped-up offense, helped by the acquisition of receiver A.J. Brown, and a defense led by endless pass rushers, the Eagles looked like the best team in football. They looked like the top team in the league until the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Then Patrick Mahomes made some magic in that fourth quarter, a holding call that will be debated forever went against the Eagles, and they lost 38-35 in the final seconds.

Usually when teams lose like that in a Super Bowl, it’s crushing. And it’s not like the Eagles were happy to lose, but in this case, it didn’t seem like the end of the world. Given Hurts’ rise to being one of the elite QBs in the NFL, it seemed like a beginning.

“We could taste it,” defensive end Brandon Graham said after the Super Bowl, via NJ.com. “It was right there. … I’ll never forget this team. We worked our butt off, man. They know what it takes. They’ve seen what it took, all year. That’s why it’s going to serve us well when we make this run again. … We’ll be back.”

Jalen Hurts is coming off a fantastic season for the Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Jalen Hurts is coming off a fantastic season for the Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Howie Roseman has become the most-lauded general manager in the NFL, to the point other general managers are reportedly tired of all the praise he gets. (It is a little funny how every move by Roseman gets hyped up like it’s the Cowboys’ side of the Herschel Walker trade, but it’s hard to deny the heater he’s on.) The Eagles’ roster is loaded, has gotten younger due to some good drafts and is set up very well for years to come. It’ll be harder to maintain depth with Hurts’ new five-year, $255 million deal, but Philadelphia should be fine.

Just because the Eagles had one great season doesn’t mean another one is coming. Regression happens for plenty of teams that pop up for a magical season. Successful teams have their coaching staffs raided by teams looking for new head coaches, and the Eagles lost their offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen, to the Indianapolis Colts and defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon, to the Arizona Cardinals. But the infrastructure of the roster and the organization are so strong, it seems like last season was the start of a run.

That’s what happens when a second-round quarterback suddenly becomes one of the best in the NFL.

Offseason grade

The Roseman infatuation from analysts reached its peak after the draft. The Eagles got a cumulative GPA of 4.17 from draft graders … yes, better than an A. It is the highest cumulative grade that Football Outsiders has recorded in nearly 20 years of tracking draft grades. While the kudos might have been a little over the top, it was a heck of a draft. The Eagles had an extra first-round pick after a 2022 trade with the New Orleans Saints, when the Saints moved up for Chris Olave, and the Eagles used that pick to move up and take defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Carter has some red flags, but for a time last season looked like the most dominant player in this draft class. They also got edge rusher Nolan Smith later in the first round, which was a value. Offensive lineman Tyler Steen and safety Sydney Brown came aboard with the 65th and 66th picks. We’ll see if the analysts are right and this is the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers draft all over again, but it was good. Free agency saw the team lose valuable defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, running back Miles Sanders, offensive linemen Andre Dillard (Eagles fans probably won’t miss him) and Isaac Seumalo, linebacker T.J. Edwards and safeties Marcus Epps and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. However, they were able to retain cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay (for a while it looked like both might leave), center Jason Kelce and defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. Philadelphia also added to the running back position, acquiring D’Andre Swift from the Lions and signing Rashaad Penny. The Eagles did lose some talented players but overall it was a fine offseason, given the challenges they faced keeping the roster together.

Grade: B+

Quarterback report

Where can Hurts go from here? If you look at his career arc going all the way back to high school, there has been steady improvement. It’s hard to imagine him getting much better than last season. Hurts had 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns passing, raising his passer rating from 87.2 in 2021 to 101.5, and added 760 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing. He was probably the second-best quarterback in the NFL (no matter that late MVP hype, he wasn’t better than Mahomes), and it was a phenomenal season. But Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Hurts has improved over this offseason, particularly in his accuracy and decision-making.

“I don’t know what his ceiling is because he just keeps getting better, and he’s going to continue to do that,” Sirianni said via Eagles Wire. “So, I’ve seen that same jump, the speed with which he makes the decision, the accuracy of his throws.”

BetMGM odds breakdown

It’s not like last summer, when the Eagles were a bit under the radar. Last year their win total opened at 8.5 and didn’t rise above 9.5. They were 25-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. This year the Eagles are +700 to win the Super Bowl at BetMGM and their win total is 11.5. I don’t like either of those odds, but I’ll take Hurts to win MVP. Those odds are +1100. How many times have we seen a player win MVP, in any sport, because it was “his turn”? Philly fans already know about that. Hurts was gaining MVP steam late last season before he got hurt, and he’ll have the numbers to be in the MVP race again.

Yahoo’s fantasy take

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Yahoo drafters are keen on Dallas Goedert, pushing his ADP a round and a half higher than his national average and pushing him ahead of Kyle Pitts. I can sign off on the optimism.

“Goedert averages a juicy 10.6 yards per target over the last two years, the runaway leader in that stat. The Eagles also have a 123.1 rating when they target Goedert over this span, an uncommonly high number. And that’s come despite a surprising lack of touchdowns — Goedert has only seven in the last two years. Given that Jalen Hurts enters his age-25 season and Goedert steps into his age-28 season, it’s plausible that both players are still on the escalator. I don’t expect that we’ve seen Goedert’s career year yet, and I want to be on that bus when it steamrolls through.”

Stat to remember

The Eagles are consistently among the teams that spend the least on the running back position. They ranked 26th in running back spending in 2021 via Spotrac, tied for 21st in 2022 and are tied for 26th this season. In 2021, the Eagles were first in the NFL in rushing yards; in 2022, they were fifth and they’ll probably be in the top five again this season. Having an elite offensive line and great running quarterback obviously helps. This year the Eagles decided to pass on re-signing Miles Sanders, who got a four-year, $25.4 million deal from the Carolina Panthers. Instead they traded for D’Andre Swift, who never seemed to curry favor with the Detroit Lions coaching staff, and signed Rashaad Penny, who had some huge games for the Seattle Seahawks but was rarely healthy. Those two have a combined cap hit of a little more than $3 million. If you want to blame any team for starting the trend of not paying running backs, maybe it’s the Eagles.

Burning question

Can the Eagles repeat their pass-rush dominance?

At some point last season you probably heard that the Eagles were the first team in NFL history with four 10-sack players: Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham. Hargrave is gone to the San Francisco 49ers, but the team was able to retain Fletcher Cox and draft Jalen Carter for the middle of the defensive line. The Eagles had 70 sacks as a team, which was topped only by the 1984 Chicago Bears and 1989 Minnesota Vikings. Losing Hargrave isn’t ideal and Carter isn’t a great pass rusher, so maybe losing that interior rush will set the Eagles back. There was a change at defensive coordinator, with Sean Desai replacing Jonathan Gannon, who became the Cardinals’ new head coach. Gannon had a great run with Philly and it’s always hard to say how a coaching change will affect a successful defense. Sacks can also vary from season to season, so repeating 70 sacks is unlikely. But the line, led by Reddick, is really good and the Eagles should have a great pass rush again. The front office puts a big emphasis on the defensive line and it shows.

Best-case scenario

It’s hard to believe Hurts could get better, but what if he does? Maybe there is room for him to grow as a passer. If Hurts is just as good as he was last season, the Eagles should be the best team in a pretty thin NFC. It’s possible the retooled running back room is even better, and the Eagles have been top five in the NFL in rushing offense each of the past two seasons. The defense was very good, especially rushing the quarterback, and many of the key players return or Philadelphia has capable replacements. Philadelphia was 14-1 in the regular season when Hurts started, led in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, and might be even better this season.

Nightmare scenario

When a team is as good as the 2022 Eagles, nobody expects a step back. It happens sometimes. The Eagles had some good injury luck last season. They did lose a few key players. Expectations are different this season, and Philadelphia can be a tough place to deal with pressure. The Dallas Cowboys are a strong contender in the division. And, yes, the Super Bowl hangover can be a real thing. It’s hard to make an argument for the Eagles falling apart, because we all see the depth and talent on the roster. But when you come as close as the Eagles did to a Super Bowl title, a 10-win season and an early playoff exit would feel like a big disappointment.

The crystal ball says …

The Eagles are really strong. Jalen Hurts is legit. A.J. Brown proved to be a top-10 receiver. DeVonta Smith is a great No. 2 target in the offense. The offensive line is considered by practically everyone to be the best in the NFL (though stars Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson are getting older). The defense posted the most sacks we’ve seen in more than 30 years. Nick Sirianni is a good coach. It’s tough to repeat a conference championship, but there are no great tangible reasons to pick against the Eagles. Maybe the Super Bowl hangover hits, but more than likely the Eagles are the best team in the NFC again and fully capable of another deep playoff run.

Other team previews

32. Arizona Cardinals

31. Houston Texans

30. Chicago Bears

29. Tennessee Titans

28. Los Angeles Rams

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

26. Indianapolis Colts

25. Washington Commanders

24. Las Vegas Raiders

23. Carolina Panthers

22. Denver Broncos

21. Atlanta Falcons

20. Green Bay Packers

19. New England Patriots

18. New York Giants

17. Minnesota Vikings

16. New Orleans Saints

15. Pittsburgh Steelers

14. Cleveland Browns

13. Los Angeles Chargers

12. Jacksonville Jaguars

11. Seattle Seahawks

10. Baltimore Ravens

9. Miami Dolphins

8. New York Jets

7. Detroit Lions

6. Dallas Cowboys

5. San Francisco 49ers

4. Buffalo Bills

3. Cincinnati Bengals

2. Philadelphia Eagles

1. Kansas City Chiefs

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