Jalen Hurts’ MVP case: Can Eagles QB capture NFL’s top honor?

The news that Jalen Hurts had sprained his shoulder briefly rattled Philadelphia on Monday because the Eagles have been rolling all season behind their superstar quarterback and the entire city has a Super Bowl on its mind. An injury to Hurts really might be the only thing that could shake up the balance of power in the NFC.

It could also shake up the race for NFL MVP.

Right now, 14 games into this season, the 24-year-old Hurts is probably the odds-on favorite to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. The numbers he’s put up this season have been impressive, and his impact on the Eagles’ No. 3-ranked offense can’t possibly be overstated. He’s been a top-5 quarterback all season through the air and is probably more dangerous than all of them on the ground.

“In my opinion,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said on Tuesday, “he’s played better than anybody in the league so far this year.”

Why does Jalen Hurts’ MVP candidacy continue to be questioned?

Why does Jalen Hurts' MVP candidacy continue to be questioned?

The SPEAK crew breaks down why Hurts’ MVP candidacy is being questioned.

But has he done enough?

That is suddenly the question now that Hurts’ status for the next few weeks is in doubt because of that sprained right (throwing) shoulder he suffered against the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon. The Eagles do not consider it a serious injury. Sirianni refused to even rule him out of their game this Saturday on FOX against the Cowboys in Dallas.

But with the Eagles holding a three-game lead in the division and conference with three games to play, the Eagles might choose to be cautious with their most important asset. It’s possible he might not play much, if at all, the rest of the season.

And if he does, it’s going to be hard for him to get enough votes to be the league MVP.

Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s his reality. The truth is, Hurts has probably already done more than enough to remain in the conversation and probably get at least a few votes — especially with the 50 MVP voters now ranking their top-5 choices for the first time this year. His production this season has been outstanding. He’s completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 3,472 yards, with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also the most dangerous rushing quarterback in the league, with 156 carries for 747 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He’s fourth in the NFL in QBR (68.7). His 13 rushing touchdowns is second among all players — including running backs. He’s third in the league in Expected Points Added (94.9). He’s the only quarterback in the league to have at least 30 combined touchdowns (rushing and passing) with fewer than 10 interceptions.

And, perhaps most importantly, he and his team are 13-1.

But as spectacular as all that is, he’s also facing some pretty spectacular competition from quarterbacks like Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. Even if there are voters who have Hurts in the lead right now, he can’t be leading by a very wide margin.

And Allen, Burrow and Mahomes might have two or three more chances to impress the voters and add to their totals — chances that Hurts might not get.

All of them have been rolling lately, too. Allen has completed 63.7% of his passes for 3,857 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, while running 109 times for 705 yards and six touchdowns. The Bills have also won five straight games since Allen shook off an elbow injury, and he’s thrown 10 touchdown passes with just one interception in that span.

And then there’s Burrow, who might be hotter than any quarterback — or player — in the NFL. On the season he’s completed 68.2% of his passes for 3,885 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But he’s averaged 259.3 yards per game during a six-game winning streak during which he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes with just four interceptions.

His numbers are even better when looking back nine games, through an 8-1 stretch for the Bengals, in which he’s averaged 285.4 passing yards and thrown 22 touchdown passes with only five interceptions.

As for Mahomes, all he’s doing is leading the league in passing yards (4,496) and passing touchdowns (35) with 11 interceptions on the season. The Chiefs have won seven of their last eight games and Mahomes has averaged a ridiculous 345 passing yards per game during that stretch with 18 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Those are gaudy numbers for all three of them. They’re all incredibly important to their teams. And they’re all winning at an impressive rate, too. Hurts’ passing numbers don’t quite measure up to any of them, but as Sirianni said, “He’s in that MVP race because of his dual-threat ability, with his ability to not only do what he’s been doing passing the ball but also what he’s been doing running the football.” That’s why he belongs in every voter’s top 5.

But that’s right now. If Hurts doesn’t play much down the stretch while Burrow, Allen and Mahomes continue their hot streaks, Hurts could almost literally look like he’s standing still. Voters will have to decide that Hurts was more important to his team in 14 games than anyone else was in 16 or 17. And that could be an even tougher argument to make if they win two or three of their next games with quarterback Gardner Minshew at the helm.

Eagles list Jalen Hurts questionable ahead of matchup vs. Cowboys

Eagles list Jalen Hurts questionable ahead of matchup vs. Cowboys

FOX Sports NFL analyst Eric Mangini joins Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes on First Things First to discuss Week 16’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course, that’s if Hurts doesn’t play.

“I don’t put anything past Jalen Hurts as far as his mental and physical toughness,” Sirianni said Tuesday. “There’s a chance he could play this week. He is one of the toughest guys I know. And he heals fast. He’s a freak. His body is not like yours or mine.”

Sirianni said it will be a health decision only. “If a guy is ready to play, then he’s ready to play,” he said. He won’t make the call based on the Eagles’ position in the standings. And with expectations for a long run through the playoffs, they certainly won’t decide Hurts’ status based on the race for an award.

If he can play, though, that might just be the final push his candidacy needs. If he shakes off a sprained shoulder that would keep most players out two weeks and plays well down the stretch through the pain and wins? Allen, Mahomes and Burrow will still have their chance to dazzle down the stretch. 

But a show of toughness like that from Hurts just might end up in the front of every MVP voter’s mind.

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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