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Jalen Hurts will need to be 2000 Donovan McNabb for the Eagles to win the NFC East

The Eagles QB must emerge as a star for the Eagles to succeed in 2021.

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Hopes that the Philadelphia Eagles will be postseason contenders in 2021 are not high.

That’s what happens when you jettison your Super Bowl-winning head coach, trade your franchise QB, and enter a season on the heels of a 4-11-1 campaign that was among the more dreadful we’ve seen over the last quarter-century of Birds football.

New head coach Nick Sirianni is full of excitement, and new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is well regarded and seemingly one of the better defensive football minds out there, but the franchise has clearly fallen on hard times. The team has talent on it, if the offensive line can stay healthy, if the running back can stay healthy, if the tight end can stay healthy and the defense can stay healthy. And while everyone is rightfully excited about DeVonta Smith, second-year QB Jalen Hurts, if anyone, is going to be the guy to make this engine go.

Hurts showed enough in his four games of action last year to earn the starting nod this season. He flashed playmaking ability with both his legs and his arms, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about him. But no one inside or outside the organization is ready to anoint him as the team’s next franchise signal-caller, and rightly so.

So there are headwinds facing the Eagles in 2021, but there is a growing sentiment among some in the fanbase that maybe, just perhaps, they won’t be as bad as many are predicting. The NFC East, after all, did not have a single winning team in the division last year, and while Washington did improve themselves on paper this off-season, they still have no franchise QB. Dallas has offensive weapons, but still no defense. And New York, well, the Judge is still out on them just yet.

But if the Eagles are going to win the NFC East, one thing almost certainly must happen.

Jalen Hurts is going to have to ball out.

Hurts is going to have to not only be a pretty good QB, he’s going to have to be an awesome one. Think back to 1999, when Andy Reid was in his first year as head coach, and he had an athletic rookie QB from Syracuse named Donovan McNabb. Like Hurts, McNabb came became the starter late in the season (his first start came in Week 10), and while his overall numbers weren’t great, they weren’t too different from Hurts’ numbers in his limited time last season.

Hurts vs. McNabb Rookie Comparison

Player GS Comp % Yards/Gm TD INT Rating Rush Yds TD
Player GS Comp % Yards/Gm TD INT Rating Rush Yds TD
Donovan McNabb 6 49.1 79 8 7 60.1 313 0
Jalen Hurts 4 52 70.7 6 4 77.6 354 3

To be fair to McNabb, the NFL is a much more passer-friendly league, but in virtually every category, Hurts had a better rookie campaign than McNabb did. Nevertheless, it’ll be hard for Hurts to top what McNabb did in 2000.

McNabb almost single-handedly took the Eagles to an 11-5 record and finished runner-up in the MVP voting that year, second only to Marshall Faulk, who ran for an insane 26 touchdowns that season. McNabb had 3,365 passing yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, completed 58.0% of his passes, and also rushed for 629 yards with 6 scores on the ground. Those wouldn’t be tremendous numbers by today’s standards, but in 2000, they were quite good. And it wasn’t just the production on the back of the football cards. McNabb carried the Eagles to numerous victories throughout the season, many times with his legs. He quickly became one of the most dynamic forces in the NFL, as evidenced by his second-place finish in the MVP vote.

Will Hurts have the same kind of impact? It’s hard to predict Jalen finishing runner-up in the MVP vote in his first full season, and it would be unfair to expect it. Still, Hurts has talent. Anyone with eyes who watched the end of the season can see the glimpses are there, glimpses we saw in Donovan McNabb in his rookie season. And while Hurts was not drafted nearly as high as McNabb was, the path to Hurts becoming a franchise quarterback is certainly right in front of him.

The defense is not going to carry the 2021 Eagles. Nor will the running game, nor the receiving corps. If the Eagles are going to challenge for the division title, Jalen Hurts is going to have to become something close to what McNabb was in his first full season as the team’s starter. He’s going to have to become a force in the NFL, someone who beats teams with his legs and his arms and makes his teammates better.

Even if it’s not a likely outcome, it’s certainly in the realm of possibility.