This is an odd year for tight ends. Last year, we had three top tight end prospects, all from power five schools who were clearly regarded as the best prospects at their position in the draft.
This year though, the draft seems to have four tight ends in “tier” one, and scouts and experts cannot decide on who the top prospect is. Mark Andrews from Oklahoma was long considered the top player, and he profiles as a more traditional blocking and receiving tight end. However, he has seen his value slip a bit in recent weeks. There’s Mike Gesicki from Penn State, the Combine freak. His Combine performance put him on the map and has some scouts saying he is the top tight end in the draft. Dallas Goedert from little ol’ South Dakota State is also an athletic freak and everything you would want in a tight end.
Finally, there’s Hayden Hurst, the most intriguing prospect out of the bunch. Let’s dive in and look at Hurst’s overall game.
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Hurst attended high school in Jacksonville, Florida and was a star at football and baseball. After graduation, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB draft. He ended up playing two years in the Pirates organization before deciding to give football another shot. He then joined South Carolina’s football team as a walkon in 2015.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
Hurst played sparingly as a true freshman while trying to acclimate to football again. His big leap in production came in his sophomore season where he caught 48 balls for 616 yards on route to earning a full ride scholarship for his junior year. His production stayed relatively the same his junior year. He caught 44 balls for 559 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but it was good enough to earn him all-SEC honors.
I know what you might be thinking. “How does 559 yards and two TDs earn you SEC honors and a high draft stock?” Well, college tight ends are really hard to gauge as far as production goes because of the lack of utilization. With the popularity of the spread offense in college, tight ends seem to be left out more than other positions. We can dissect the extraordinary 2017 NFL tight end rookie class to gauge production for college tight ends.
The top prospect in 2017 was O.J. Howard who caught 45 balls for 595 yards and three TDs. Does that look familiar? Howard was considered a top-ten pick even with those modest numbers – and he did end up falling a bit. Even the best receiving tight end we have seen in recent years, Evan Engram, wasn’t able to crack 1,000 yards or double-digit TDs in college. NFL teams don’t focus on production near as much as how they can utilize the specific skill set of the draftee. Don’t be fooled by the modest numbers.
Want to know if a college TE has good hands and can make tough catches? How about this from Hayden “Big Red” Hurst! @MyFantasyLeague @DLFootball #Dynasty #FantasyFootball #NFLDraft #NFL #NFLCombine #DraftTwitter #Scouting pic.twitter.com/tUIwrVjEVv
— Levi Chappell (@LeviChappell) April 11, 2018
When diving into Hurst’s tape, two things jump out. The first is that he routinely makes difficult catches look easy and he doesn’t drop the ball. A lot of his catches are contested and he is able to pull the ball in with ease, which is a huge confidence boost for a QB. He made some ridiculous one-handed catches throughout his career.
The second noticeable thing is that he is light on his feet and very agile, especially for a guy who is 6’4’’ 250 lbs. He uses cuts and subtle movements to make defenders miss, which he did more often than you might think. He also excelled at the seam route which Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Travis Kelce have all used to exploit holes in the defense.
After watching a good amount of tape on him, I can see why some scouts have him as the number one tight end in this draft. He may not overwhelm you with any aspects of his game, but there are also very few holes in his game as well.
When you look at Hurst’s spider chart via MockDraftable, nothing looks overwhelming. While it is easy to fall in love with Gesicki’s athleticism or Goedert size and speed, the tight end position has many subtle nuances and skills that are needed beyond pure athleticism. To succeed as an NFL tight end, you really have to understand how the position is played. That is why there is such a steep learning curve to the position and often why we see many rookie tight ends struggle.
The best NFL comparison to Hurst is Dallas Clark who stood at 6’3’’ compared to 6’4’’. He weighed 257 lbs compared to 250 lbs, and he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash compared to Hurst’s 4.67. Clark was never going to overwhelm you with athleticism, burn a defender off the line of scrimmage, or juke a defender out of his shoes. But what he would do was run precise routes, find open spaces in the defense, and simply play the position better than a lot of other tight ends.
If you are a Hurst fan and a possible Hurst owner after a rookie draft, you are most likely not drafting him for his athletic prowess, but more for his knowledge and skill at the position.
In DLF’s April rookie ADP, Hurst can be found all the way down at number 40 overall and the fourth tight end taken behind the three listed above. NFL teams have him pegged to be selected anywhere between the back end of the first round and the end of the second round. He may even get drafted by an NFL team before Gesicki, Andrews, and Goedert. But does that mean that he should be drafted ahead of them in rookie drafts? I don’t think so.
Here is the tough thing about Hurst. As much as I like his game, he will start the NFL season as a 25-year-old rookie. Couple that with the learning curve that can affect some rookie tight ends and you are looking at someone may not produce until he is 26 or later. To put it into perspective, Eric Ebron has played four NFL seasons and he is only eight months older than Hurst.
If Hurst were a 21 or 22-year-old prospect, I would expect him to be drafted as either tight end one, two, or three in rookie drafts. But turning 25 before the season starts makes him the fourth tight end for me. The positive out of this though, is that he can be had for a measly mid-fourth round pick. If you are set at TE with someone like Kelce, Greg Olsen, or even Kyle Rudolph, I would take a flier on Hurst.
Hurst has the all-around game to be very successful in the NFL. I would personally love to see him in Denver, where they need a TE. He would make a great insurance policy for Case Keenum and could find some success in that offense.
Throughout this entire article, you may have noticed that there is really only one negative about him and it has nothing to do with his game. Part of the reason that rookie tight ends struggle is because their bodies are not filled out and mature enough to play the position at the NFL level. This is not the case for Hurst. He’s a grown man… literally.
He may not be the “sexy pick” in your rookie draft, but he would offer a lot of value as a quality, week-to-week starter/replacement in the fourth round of rookie drafts. Plus, while I try and keep bias out of these articles and out of sports in general… gingers gotta stick together. Go get em’ big red!