Oklahoma football: Don’t discount Jalen Hurts’ NFL draft potential

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 28: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners scrambles with the ball during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against the LSU Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 28: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners scrambles with the ball during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against the LSU Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

This is a big week in the world of sports. We get our first live sporting event in over a month on Thursday, when the National Football league kicks off the 2020 NFL Draft, and there are several Oklahoma football players who are looking to kick-start their careers at the next level.

If you buy in to what NFL draft experts are telling us and the overkill of fun but meaningless mock drafts that have been all over the social media landscape since the first of the year, Oklahoma should have at least one and perhaps two players selected in the first round on Thursday. By the time the seventh and final round is completed on Saturday afternoon, my guess is that as many as five or six former Sooners will receive a welcoming “We want you” call from one of the 32 NFL teams.

There is little question that wide-receiver CeeDee Lamb will be the first Oklahoma player whose name will come off the virtual 2020 draft board. This year’s draft, originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, will be conducted live, but over the internet from home locations for the first time in the 85-year history of the NFL Draft.

Lamb is rated as the No. 2 wide receiver in this year’s draft (behind Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy), and it will be surprising if he is available later than the first 15 selections.

Linebacker Kenneth Murray’s draft stock has been rising since his strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Murray’s speed and his aggressiveness enable him to get in position to make plays, a couple of skill sets that should serve him well at the next level. It is a strong possibility that Murray could go in the first round, as well. Some mock drafts project the OU linebacker as a top-20 selection.

The wild card, as far as 2020 Oklahoma draft prospects go, is quarterback Jalen Hurts. You would think that a player who has accomplished what he did in the college ranks would have higher NFL stock than he does. He has a very high football IQ and is definitely a winner. In four college seasons, playing quarterback for Nick Saban at Alabama and last season for Lincoln Riley as a graduate transfer at Oklahoma, Hurts was 38-4 as a starter and 52-5 overall.

Yet pro scouts rate Hurts as the seventh best prospect available in this year’s quarterback class. This despite the fact that he played in seven College Football Playoff games and three national championships games. He ranks fourth in Alabama history with 7,602 yards of total offense and 48 touchdowns. He had 5,149 yards of total offense and 32 passing touchdowns in just one season at OU.

The rub on Hurts is that he is more of a running quarterback and is not that accurate as a passer, although his passing skills showed marked improvement in the Oklahoma Air Raid offense Nevertheless, that is a combination that generally does not bode well for QBs in the NFL.

The NFL quarterback that Hurts is most often compared to is Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. Prescott was a much better runner than a passer earlier in his college career, but he showed marked improvement in his passing skills his final season at Mississippi State. Prescott was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Last season, Prescott ranked second in passing yards and third in touchdown passes.

Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson also came to the NFL as a run-oriented quarterback who showed limited passing ability in college at Louisville. His career passing percentage in college was just 57.1 percent. Despite that, he was the Heisman Trophy winner was the No. 1 pick of the Ravens in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 32nd player selected overall in the first round. He set an NFL rushing record for a rookie quarterback in 2018, but completed only 58 percent of his passes. Last season, he completed 66 percent of his passes and led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes.

It should also be pointed out that Jackson was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in his second season.

Hurts put up solid numbers at the Scouting Combine. He threw the ball well and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. He looked even better throwing to familiar receivers at his OU Pro Day. Lincoln Riley approximated that Hurts threw around 72 passes and completed close to 63 of them, working on various short, intermediate and long routes in combination with fellow teammates Lee Morris, Nick Basquine and CeeDee Lamb.

“Those (Pro Day) workouts are difficult,” Riley said in a Sports Illustrated interview. “it’s not like these guys have been sitting there working together the past few months to get ready for this.”

In his latest projection, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper has Hurts going in the second round to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No, 49 overall pick. His draft stock is definitely moving in the right direction. A week ago, Kiper said Hurts wasn’t likely to go any sooner than late in the second round.

The New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys have also both been reported to have some interest in Hurts.

Hurts will be able to play as an NFL rookie, Kiper said in an interview with OU beat writer Abby Bitterman of The Oklahoma City Oklahoman. “He’ll get on the field. Hell be used in packages. He’ll give defensive coordinators something to worry about. And he’ll have value as a rookie.

“I’ve been told he (Hurts) won’t get out of round two,” Kiper said.

If that’s the way this year’s draft in quarantine plays out, we’ll have to wait till Saturday to hear Hurts’ name called.