Image Credit: BaltimoreRavens.com
Last week, Ravens fans were treated to some rare insight from GM-in-waiting Eric DeCosta, who spoke to Ryan Mink in a story for the Ravens website and revealed that, when the Ravens got on the clock at Pick 25, they still hadn’t decided between Hayden Hurst and Alabama WR Calvin Ridley. They had both about equally rated on their board and had to reason out which one to select. In the end, after weighing out the Ravens more dire need at TE and the historically higher success with 1st round TEs over 1st round WRs, the Ravens chose to take Hurst. While the fan in me wishes that Hurst was clearly the higher rated player if they chose to take him, I do appreciate and like that the team factored in Hurst’s use when deciding to take him over Ridley.
So, what are 5 ways Hurst will be used or will affect the Ravens 2018 Season?
- From Day 1, he is TE1 – This should come as no surprise, though it is a bit surprising to hear this candor from even the Ravens website about players on the roster. Mink lays out that, prior to the draft, the Ravens didn’t even have a true pass catching TE on the roster, as Boyle and Williams are seen as more of blockers. Boyle makes sense, as he has been a blocking TE from the moment he was drafted. Williams is widely seen as a 2nd round disappointment, but it’s surprising to see the team’s media in agreement with the fan view here. In any case, it’s clear who the starting TE will be Day 1. Hurst, provided he’s not injured or somehow forgets how to catch a football, will be starting immediately. Perhaps the Ravens will choose to back off using him as a blocker in running situations, but he will be out on the field with the base offense. This should lead to him getting the majority of the targets of the TE group. One could make the argument that Mark Andrews having a strong camp COULD supplant Hurst as the starter, but I think Andrews is destined for more of a complementary role where he subs in at both WR and TE to give them different package looks.
- On a team that struggled to catch the football, Hurst’s hands will be golden – The Ravens offensive woes were many in 2017, but one of the main ones were the drops by receivers. One of the most fascinating things about Hurst’s college career is that he only had one drop in his three year career. Hurst’s smooth hands were on display at the Combine as well, and the few that were able to see rookie minicamp this weekend saw that Hurst still manages to catch just about everything thrown his way. While that doesn’t always translate the same at the NFL level, Hurst’s ability to catch should be a huge asset as the Ravens continue to try to find WRs who can also catch everything thrown at them.
- Hurst will be the biggest YAC threat among all Ravens TEs – One thing the Ravens have long been lacking from their TE group is a guy who can stretch the field after the catch. Going back to 2010, the Ravens TEs have generally averaged about 10-12 yards per reception. Hurst’s size and measurables are pretty similar to Dennis Pitta’s, though Hurst is better on quickness in space. Similarly, he measures up similarly to Ed Dickson, though Dickson has better speed overall. The scouting on Hurst is that his 250 pound frame is a bit big to be covered well by Safeties, but his speed and quickness are a bit too much for most Linebackers. If the Ravens can design some good route concepts for him to run, he should easily eclipse the other TEs in YAC, as Mark Andrews is expected to slot in more as a “chain mover” role at TE.
- Hurst’s blocking, while not top notch, will allow the Ravens flexibility on playcalling – The 2018 Tight End class all had knocks on their blocking skills, but Hurst’s meager blocking skills is a big reason he was the top TE in the class. Hurst was viewed as the most complete TE available. His blocking was especially a problem when he first walked on at South Carolina, but by his Junior year, he was actually somewhat adept as a blocker. Notably, this September 2017 article from SEC Country (https://www.seccountry.com/south-carolina/south-carolina-hayden-hurst-bentley-catch-numbers-loom-large) mentions that Hurst’s dropoff in catches in his final year was partially due to having to be used as a chip blocker, which he did pretty effectively to allow the QB time to throw downfield. While the Ravens have a strong blocking TE in Nick Boyle, it will be a clear tell if the Ravens have to switch him in as a blocker that the opponent won’t need to cover against him. If the Ravens can keep Hurst on the field to act as a blocker interchangeably with running routes downfield, it will keep opposing defenses guessing and on their heels.
- Joe Flacco will play better with Hurst on the field – Before this turns into a Joe vs Lamar debate (which as I can see from several fans is actually becoming a thing already), you could easily put Lamar, RG3, or even Josh Woodrum’s name in that note. But, let’s focus especially on Joe Flacco for now. The past two years, the leading pass catcher on the Baltimore Ravens WAS NOT a Wide Receiver, but actually a Tight End. Dennis Pitta led the team in receptions in 2016 with 86 grabs and Ben Watson led the team in receptions in 2017 with 61 grabs. This is due in large part to an offense that was having trouble getting open around Joe. The Tight End generally becomes a primary dump off receiver, and in the past two years, Joe has had to check to that option more often than not. The hope would be that, as we renovate our Wide Receiver group and improve the Offensive Line, more targets will open up for the Wide Receiver. But having a strong, dynamic Tight End that catches well is the perfect recipe for giving Joe a plug and play outlet option that he can go to while he continues to work out his rhythm with the new Wide Receivers. If Hurst is healthy, I’d expect that he will finish 1st or 2nd in catches for the team in 2018. Even if the QB is Lamar, I expect Hurst to be heavily involved, and he’s already developed a strong connection with his fellow 1st round pick, as they were tossing the ball back and forth two days after both were drafted while waiting to appear at a Ravens Draft Party event.
Hayden Hurst may not be the name most people expected to hear the Ravens call out when they picked a pass catcher in the 1st round, but his athletic ability and reliable hands will leave their mark on the 2018 Ravens offense, and beyond, as Hurst develops into a reliable option in the passing game.