New homes are often problematic for pass-catchers in the NFL. We should expect some regression with the transition to a new system. What happens when the player has yet to break out finds himself in a more advantageous situation than before? When they are finally freed from the shackles of being the second option at their position? That’s the situation we find ourselves in with Hayden Hurst’s relocation to Atlanta.
This relocation has been generating some buzz for Hurst, as of late, and I’m inclined to buy the hype. I’ve even found myself snagging him in a handful of startups this offseason. Because of those newly acquired shares, I’ve been inspired to take a more in-depth look into Hurst’s true worth. In doing so, I dove into his background, athleticism, career production, and potential in ‘20 and beyond. Let’s walk through that analysis to reveal his value.
We’re going to start this thing off with a little exercise. I want you to think back to 2018. No COVID, football on the horizon, life is good.
Are you there? Great.
Now I want you to relive the draft. The sights and sounds of AT&T stadium. The boos that met Roger Goodell when he stepped on stage. The hype for a generational talent by the name of Saquon Barkley.
Now we’re cookin’.
Finally, I want you to remember the Raven’s draft… It was a big one. They had 12 picks! And do you remember who they selected with their first one? Who they drafted over Lamar Jackson AND Mark Andrews? None other than the protagonist of our story, Hayden Hurst.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen. For those who have forgotten, Hayden Hurst was drafted nearly two full rounds ahead of his dominant counterpart, Mark Andrews. Now, this isn’t to say that he is a superior talent… The proof is in the pudding with that. But I want everyone to remember this draft capital when thinking about Hurst’s potential in his new home of Atlanta.
Speaking of that new home. Let’s dive into their historical use of TEs.
ATL Coaching History, TEs
As referenced in a 2019 article by fellow Dynasty Nerds writer, Jon Diment, ATL offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has had a highly productive career coaching TEs across the league. A trend that has grown with his return to Atlanta, gifting Austin Hooper 97 targets in ’19. This, accompanied by head coach, Dan Quinn, whose TEs have averaged 88.8 targets/756.8 yards/5 TDs over his five-year tenure with the Falcons, is a great sign of things to come. Mix that with his tendency to hone in on a primary big man (if one is available) means good things on the horizon. With Hurst moving in as the only viable TE target on the depth chart, this trend should continue. However, the question is, how will Hurst handle this newfound workload?
To determine that answer we will inevitably compare Hurst to his predecessor, Austin Hooper.
Hurst vs. Hooper
Let’s begin by comparing their introductions into the league.
Hooper, a 2016 draftee, was selected in the 3rd round with the 81st pick to the Atlanta Falcons. He was a product of Stanford, dubbed the new Tight End U. Posting conservative numbers in his time there, he lacked in production he made up for in physical capabilities and combine performance.
Hurst, however, attended a less competitive University of South Carolina while posting comparable stats.
Don’t let his college production fool you. Hurst was and still is learning the TE position. It’s that potential growth, along with his exceptional Combine performance (similar to Hooper’s) that garnered him 1st round capital with the 25th pick in the 2018 draft to the Baltimore Ravens (2 rounds ahead of Hooper’s capital).
You may be asking yourself how he’s still learning to play TE compared to his draft classmates who have already bloomed…
That answer is an interesting one.
Hurst was a standout pitcher in his hometown of Jacksonville, FL, throwing a 90 MPH fastball out of high school. He abandoned football his senior year to focus on baseball and was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates. Hurst played two years in their minor league system where he developed, what I’ve been told was, a debilitating case of the yips that he never shook. Eventually, he decided to leave the world of bats and balls, where he found little success and embarked on a new journey in helmets and huddles at South Carolina University. The rest is history. Unfortunately, a history that has left Hurst as a 27-year-old player entering just his 3rd league season, but history nonetheless.
This is an important factoid to note, though, because it brings into frame how impressive Hurst’s accomplishments truly are. To have left the game of football for 3 of the most formative years in an athlete’s career to pursue a different sport and STILL be drafted in the first round is a testament to his iron will and boundless athleticism.
Now let’s look at their NFL production.
Hooper posted an 8.66 YPR in his first two seasons with the Falcons and scored a touchdown on every 15.2 receptions while Hurst racked up a comparable 8.25 YPR while scoring a touchdown on every 20.6 receptions. (pro-football-reference.com) The touchdown frequency can be explained away by less than stellar QB production in year one and the emergence of Mark Andrews in year two, a daunting obstacle for ANY TE in the NFL.
All in all, Hurst’s build, athleticism, first two years of production, and room for growth tell me that he has all the makings to play at Hooper’s level and dare I say, exceed it.
So now that we’ve established that ATL is a nurturing home for a budding TE, Hurst has the potential to live up to the workload, where does that leave us?
Well, I believe that it leaves us with a very predictable situation. At the risk of sounding too “on the nose,” I’m anticipating more of the same with just a sprinkle of a year one dip. Around 64 receptions on 88 targets and approximately 660 yards for 4 TDs. This should be good for a top 10-12 performance, which is right where I think Hurst belongs.
Hurst’s move to Atlanta positions him as one of my favorite breakout TEs. While I fear that the cat may be out of the bag on his upside, in a dynasty startup, I will take him all day at his current ADP of 104.12. As a trade target in exchange for picks? He might be too rich for my blood. At 27 years old, with the ANTICIPATION of a breakout on the horizon and mouths to feed like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russel Gage surrounding him, I can’t in good conscience give up anything more than a LATE (8-12) 2nd for him. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that gets it done.
Your best bet on snagging shares of Hurst outside of a startup is to acquire him through a crafty trade package that slides him into a combo platter of players, casting him as an extra piece rather than the target. If you can do that, you’ll have secured yourself one of the most valuable upside players on a hyper-productive ATL offense, and let’s be real… Who doesn’t want that?
Find me on Twitter @TripleDFFP
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