Editor’s Note: To help you dominate your rookie drafts, this series will feature a look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of over 40 dynasty rookie draft prospects and run all through the month of May and into June. We’ll cover all the premier prospects but also give you critical information on some of the lesser known talents. All of these rookie updates will be loaded into our ever-evolving 2018 Rookie Draft Guide – the ultimate resource for dynasty enthusiasts all over the world.
Name: Hayden Hurst
Position: Tight End
Pro Team: Baltimore Ravens
College Team: University of South Carolina
Draft Status: 25th pick in the first round
- Height: 6’5”
- Weight: 250 pounds
- Arms: 32.75”
- Hands: 9.75”
- 40 Yard Dash: 4.67 seconds
- Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches
- Broad Jump: 120 inches
- Three Cone: 7.19 seconds
- 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.37 seconds
No matter how you look at it, Hurst is an athlete. Even in the SEC, he looked like a man among boys at times during his college career. He has ideal size for the position mixed in with very good athleticism for someone who is 6’5” and 250 pounds. Even better than just having size and speed, he knows how to use them. He has the ability to box out defenders, get physical at the line or the point of the catch, and he isn’t afraid to use his size and wingspan to work outside his frame. Mix in the athletic ability, which isn’t that far off from a lot of receivers who are 40 pounds lighter than him, and it is a dangerous combination.
Not only does he possess what the combine measures, he has just about everything else you can ask for in a player as well. When I watch him, one of the first things that stand out are his hands and body control – just about anything in his zip code gets hauled in. He also runs very nice routes for someone who is just coming out of college. While they aren’t Calvin Ridley type of routes, they are pretty nice for a tight end. There is still a few of them he needs to refine, but his adjustment to the NFL game should go faster than most at the position. He is also much better than expected after the catch. He isn’t afraid of contact, has a decent stiff arm, and will get a few extra yards on the ends of plays. His character also seems to be off the charts, earning the title of team captain as a sophomore.
The biggest argument against Hurst comes down to age. Yes, I understand the whole breakout age thing and how that can impact players. However, I’m not sure it applies to tight ends quite as much, especially since he wasn’t even playing football in college until an age when many have already left a university. He didn’t play much his first year, partially because he was a walk-on, but as soon as he received playing time as a sophomore, he shined. I also struggle with the age issue, because I don’t really believe you can forecast much more than 3-5 years into the future for any player. The fact he will turn 25 soon doesn’t concern me, but I understand it does for some others.
If we get back to the field, he has some little things to refine. Due to his time playing baseball, he is a bit newer to the football field and has those finer points to improve. Some of his routes, especially ones to the outside, need a bit of work. His in line blocking is good, but not great at times. He’ll need to make sure his first contract is a bit stronger if he is going to handle NFL defenders. Aside from that, it is tough to find a whole lot of holes in his game.
The Ravens have completely overhauled their pass catchers this offseason. In fact, over 61 percent of their receptions from 2017 were made by people who are not on the current roster. This includes their top tight end and top two receivers. There are a lot of opportunities for someone to step up and take a hold of a very large number of receptions. Ben Watson, the top tight end last year, had 61 receptions for 522 yards and four touchdowns in 12 starts last season. The position as a whole had 104 catches for 811 yards. Granted, most teams do split the position a bit, and the Ravens definitely seem poised to do so this year, but Hurst is much more talented than any tight end they have had in the last several years.
The biggest threats to Hurst’s production all come down to uncertainty about his role and where he will fall in the pecking order. This off-season the Ravens signed Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown. More importantly, they also spent a middle round draft pick on fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews while still having 2015 draft selections of Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle on the roster. The Ravens are likely to run quite a few two tight end sets, but there are a lot of players who will be fighting for all of those catches. While I think most are in agreement that Crabtree will be the focal point, after him it could be just about anyone, Hurst included.
The other major concern is the Ravens’ offense as a whole. Those running the team clearly aren’t happy with the recent trends either. The Ravens were a bottom five team in passing yards last year. The top brass definitely sent a message to Joe Flacco by drafting Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round, but it only adds to the uncertainty. If and when Jackson takes over, no one really knows what that offense will look like and what kind of production we can expect from the tight end position.
I think it is very reasonable to expect Hurst to come in and be the starter very early in the season, if not week one. This isn’t very common at all at the tight end position, which is normally one of the slowest to adjust to the NFL. However, I think Hurst’s fairly complete skill set combined with a definite need for playmakers on the offense will have him on the field early and often. I am a little concerned he gets stuck as more of the in-line blocker in two tight end sets, but I think his talent will get him out in the field. I had him as my top tight end heading into the draft process and I continue to be very high on him. I think he could be a TE2 as soon as this year, with some upside to post TE1 numbers towards the end of the season if the Ravens’ offense comes around a bit.
Long term is where things get a bit more interesting. If you work under the assumption Jackson will be the starting quarterback in 2019, the offense will definitely look very different from what it does now. What that will be is anyone’s guess. However, if Hayden shows that he can be a playmaker, I’m sure that they will find a way for him to be involved. During his time in college, he was also used as a rusher and even occasionally throwing the ball. I’m expecting him to be a middle to back end TE1 once he really gets rolling, even if the Ravens’ offense takes on a bit of an untraditional look and feel as they enter into the Jackson era.
Comparisons are tough, but I think he is a slightly less athletic Greg Olsen. From a size perspective, they are very similar. Hurst is probably a little bit better blocker now than Olsen was as a rookie, but he isn’t quite as explosive down the field as Olsen. I believe Olsen ran in the 4.5s at the combine. Where they are similar is in their toughness, hands, and ability to separate over the middle of the field. Hurst has a slightly lower ceiling than Olsen does, but I think they could end up being very similar types of players from a style and role perspective.
PROJECTED RANGE FOR ROOKIE DRAFTS
Hurst is typically coming off the board as the third or fourth tight end in rookie drafts, right around the same area as his new teammate, Andrews. Depending on your scoring and exact league setup, this is likely somewhere in the third round, unless it is an IDP league. If your league has TE premium scoring, he might sneak into the very end of the second round, but early third is a bit more likely. I think he makes for a great value at this point in time, largely because people are too scared about the “age issue.”