With all due respect to the Salt Lake City NBA All-Star Weekend, Glendale, Arizona is 2023’s “Black Super Bowl.” A week before NBA superstars and celebs descend on Utah, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes will take the field as the first pair of black quarterbacks to start against one another in a Super Bowl.
Mahomes has been here before. Hurts won an NCAA national championship after getting benched in the second half, and lost one despite heroics on his part. However, he came aboard the Eagles as a second-round project. In 2020, ESPN’s lead draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. face-planted by describing Hurts as a Taysom Hill-type gadget player.
Only a small fraction of quarterbacks have improved their standing in two off-seasons the way Hurts has. Two years ago, anonymous NFL talent evaluators, execs, coaches, and coordinators voted Hurts as the 30th-best quarterback in the entire NFL. A few months ago, 50 voters ranked Jalen Hurts 20th among 32 quarterbacks. In the estimation of NFL institutionalists, he was somewhere between Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield. After emerging as a frontrunner for the MVP award that Mahomes clinched (after Hurts sprained his right shoulder) and reaching his first Super Bowl, he’s clearly stormed the top quarterback tier.
Yet, the hesitation to buy in on the authenticity of the new and improved Hurts persists. All season, long league observers have waited with bated breath for Hurts to descend from the Cloud Nine he’s been floating on. It never came. Since Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen elbowed his way into play-calling duties during the second half of the 2021 season, the Eagles have soared.
Hurts has morphed into an offensive motherboard whose triple-threat ability to read coverages, run and pass, and decide in an instant which would demobilize the defense, transformed the Eagles into a three-dimensional offense that shattered rushing touchdown records. Operating from a clean pocket behind a premier offensive line, Hurts is a scalpel-wielding RPO master. Occasionally he’ll wield a sword and decapitate defenses loading the box to stop the run with a deep bomb to DeVonta Smith or A.J. Brown.
The irony of San Francisco being trounced, after scratching through the bottom of their depth chart where their “break glass in case of emergency” fifth quarterback should have been, is that Hurts fits the archetype that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers had in mind when they drafted Trey Lance. Having Hurts’ Super Bowl ascension burrowed into the Niners’ memory banks may be what keeps Lance in San Francisco for another season.
Hurts and Mahomes represent the dichotomy in play between mobile quarterbacks. What Mahomes does is tougher to replicate. He’s the best sideways scrambler in the NFL. His habit of improvising and leading defenders into some sort of labyrinth, then creating plays outside the pocket while keeping the threat of a pass alive until he decides to flick it forward for a first down or keep it for himself is a cheat code.
A pass rush crashing through brings out Hurts’ mortality. Under duress, Mahomes has an innate equanimity. Whereas Hurts operates out of designed runs or scrambles in efficient, straight lines, Mahomes is an abstract dancer who can emerge from a muddy pocket with a bleach-white jersey. This season, his deep ball passing occurred less frequently due to the void left behind by the trade of Tyreek Hill, but he sprinkled the ball around to tight end Travis Kelce first, running backs second, and receivers third with remarkable efficiency.
And yet, with that reliance on his legs, he led the entire league in passing for the second time in five years. Through 13 playoff games, Mahomes is the all-time pace-setter with the highest QB Rating, touts the lowest interception percentage, the second-highest completion percentage, and the fourth-highest yards per attempt average. His first down scramble on a tenderized ankle that vanquished Cincinnati was illustrative of Mahomes’ brilliance.
Hurts and Mahomes’ matchup taking place against the backdrop of the 2023 NFL Draft which will feature two black quarterbacks coming off the board in the first two picks is a testament to the shifting tides for the NFL’s prestige position.