I’ve seen this movie before, and you have, too.
It’s the story of an oftentimes overqualified black person who won’t get what he actually deserves due to the color of his skin. It’s exhausting. You’re tired of hearing/reading about it, while we’re tired of writing about/dealing with it.
And as much as we’d like to think things have changed, certain things happen to remind us that progress can be a very slow process.
Exhibit A: Jalen Hurts.
Last season was viewed as a breakthrough season for black quarterbacks in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the MVP and has been announced as the latest player to grace the Madden cover. Patrick Mahomes won a Super Bowl MVP, and guys like Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson balled out.
All the black dudes played extremely well last season, which made black people happy, while white owners and general managers were like, “See, we aren’t so bad!”
The stigma that black quarterbacks couldn’t properly read defenses or “be leaders of men” were supposed to have finally been broken due to images like this.
But here we are, a day away from the first-ever “virtual” NFL Draft, and one of the most accomplished players, not just quarterbacks, in college football history isn’t expected to go off the boards until at least Day 2 (2nd-3rd rounds) and possibly Day 3 (4th-7th rounds).
Now, this isn’t to say that Hurts should be taken ahead of LSU’s Joe Burrow or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but Justin Herbert?
If this was a year ago, then yes.
But in 2020?
Hurts has a career record of 38-4 as a starter and threw for over 9,400 yards to go along with 80 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions, with a 65.1 percent completion rate, and over 3,200 yards and 43 more touchdowns on the ground. He’s done everything and won every award except for the Heisman. But even then he came in second, and only because Burrow had the best season a quarterback has ever put up in the history of college football.
“I’ve probably never been more proud of a player than Jalen,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban after Hurts came off the bench to save the Crimson Tide’s season in the 2018 SEC Championship game. “It’s unprecedented to have a guy that won as many games as he won, I think 26 or something, over a two-year period, start as a freshman, only lose a couple games this whole time that he was a starter, and then all of a sudden he’s not the quarterback.
“Jalen is going to be a more successful person in his life because of what he went through, not winning 26 games, but what he went through this year trying to be the kind of person who had to support other people after he was a star player.”
Hurts’ story is unprecedented, and I’m not ignoring the fact that it could have something to do with where he will eventually land in the draft. I covered the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game when he was benched at halftime for a then-freshman Tagovailoa after putting on one of the worst quarterback performances I’ve ever seen.
But college is about growth, and over time, especially last season at Oklahoma, Hurts turned himself into a quarterback whose play on the field finally matched the hype.
However, things aren’t looking as promising as they probably should for Hurts. Yahoo Sports has Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love ranked ahead of him. Sports Illustrated has him as the 87th best prospect in the draft. And ESPN is comparing him to Dak Prescott, a black quarterback that fell to the fourth round back in 2016, but will make $31.4 million next season as the Cowboys have put the franchise tag on him. Interesting how a guy who is now leading a franchise like the Dallas Cowboys was barely a footnote entering his draft. A draft that saw the Jets take Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg in the second round, a man last seen in the Alliance of American Football league (taken in the second round there, too).
Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.
A few years ago, we saw a similar thing happen before Lamar Jackson’s junior season at Louisville. Because even after winning the Heisman, guys like USC’s Sam Darnold were getting the cover boy treatment instead of Jackson. A year later, we watched as this season’s unanimous MVP fell to the 32nd pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
I’ve always believed that if Jackson was white, he would have been the No. 1 overall pick that year. Not because he would have deserved it, but because a white quarterback with his kind of talent would have been a lock to be the first name called by Roger Goodell. The same could be said about the 2017 draft when Mitch Trubisky was taken ahead of Mahomes and Watson, as Trubisky has been demoted in Chicago while Mahomes and Watson are two of the faces of the league.
The Baker Mayfields of the world will never have to deal with what Jackson did, in the same way that Burrow will never have to walk a mile in Hurts’ shoes. Because if the “year of the black quarterback” really made a difference, then the treatment of Hurts is about to become its linchpin. And I don’t trust NFL front offices to be that progressive, or smart.
So take this as a warning before all the chatter on social media begins, as ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay will try to come up with reasons for what’s about to take place.
Jalen Hurts is going to get screwed this week, and it’s going to be more about what he looks like, and less about how he plays on the field.