In 2018, the Ravens had one of the most talked about first rounds in the draft. Ozzie Newsome meticulously moved up and down the draft board, finding a way to select the players he wanted while simultaneously picking up capital for the later rounds. The selections of Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson signified a shift in the offense, both presently and in the future. The latter, QB Lamar Jackson, has received most of the media attention, and with good reason. He’s a dual-threat QB and is likely the best athlete ever seen in Baltimore, if not the entire NFL. We should be excited to have him, especially with the recent… less than exciting offenses we’ve fielded. But Jackson was our second pick, our first selection, TE Hayden Hurst, has been almost forgotten in the national media, and even locally he’s not talked about nearly as much as he should be. The quarterback will always have an opportunity to make the most impact of any position on the field, but what impact can Hurst have on the offense both now and in the future?
Hurst certainly looks the part of a first rounder. At 6’5″ and 250 lbs, he has the kind of size owners around the league salivate over. He possesses both decent speed and strong, reliable hands, which helped lead him to a great senior year that ended with a First-team All-SEC selection. Hurst had great production in his final 2 years in South Carolina, and is polished enough as both a pass catcher and a blocker to be an every-down player in the NFL. Simply put, Hayden Hurst should be a big, reliable target in the middle of the field that can help move the chains and cash in once you’re in the red zone. He’s too big for most defensive backs to cover, and too fast for most linebackers to keep up with. If used properly, he should be able to create mismatches and provide a safety blanket for whoever is throwing the football.
Tight End has been a position that’s notoriously difficult to perform well in during a player’s rookie year. You can no longer get away with just being big, the game is sped up, and now you’re playing the best of the best on a weekly basis. The Ravens haven’t had great success with any of their rookie TEs to this point, Maxx Williams is the franchise leader with 268 yards. Todd Heap only had 206 in his rookie campaign, but went on to record 800+ and 6 TDs his sophomore year, eventually compiling the best career of any TE in franchise history. There is a silver lining for Hurst however: there’s really no one else on the roster that’s going to take his snaps on passing downs. Maxx Williams was behind Crockett Gilmore on the depth chart, Dennis Pitta was behind Todd Heap, and Heap was behind Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. Hurst isn’t behind anyone. Mark Andrews may see some time in twin TE packages, but he’s more of a slot receiver and too much of a liability as a blocker to see the field much without Hurst also on the field. Nick Boyle is probably a more polished blocker at this point, and he might see some snaps because of that, but Hurst is far from bad in that aspect of his game and will only get better with NFL level coaching. Barring injury or something completely unexpected development wise, Hurst should be our starting tight end from day one, and he certainly has the ability to be the most impactful rookie we’ve ever had at the position.
So as long as everything goes according to plan, what exactly should we be expecting? I think Hurst has all of the physical tools and skills to be a difference maker in the same mold as Todd Heap and Dennis Pitta. Expect a similar play style, similar utilization, and frankly similar production. In his last 2 years at South Carolina, he averaged 46 catches and 587 yards, which puts him right about where Benjamin Watson finished for us last season. There are only 13 games in a college season as opposed to the 16 game season in the NFL, but Watson was obviously playing against higher level competition. Still, it’s reasonable to say that something in the 500-550 range with 3 or 4 touchdowns is what we should expect in the first year of Hurst’s career. But he has plenty of room for upward mobility down the line, and that’s where things get very exciting to think about.
Obviously the big conversation around the Ravens right now is about when Joe Flacco will be handing the reigns over to Lamar Jackson. Whether it be sometime this year, next year, or the year after that, the offense will be looking at a drastic change when Jackson takes over. We’ll see more option runs, rollouts, QB scrambles, run-pass options, and a whole new style of offense when Jackson inevitably takes control of the team, but one aspect of the offense will remain the same: we’re going to throw to the TEs often. We’ve seen Joe’s favorability towards making the safe underneath throws since the emergence of Dennis Pitta, and for the past few years he’s shown, almost to a fault, that he loves throwing the ball to his tight ends. Whether that be Dennis Pitta, Crocket Gillmore, Maxx Williams, or Benjamin Watson, the position sees a lot of attention with Joe at the helm. But some fans may not know that Lamar Jackson excels in that area as well. Most of the accuracy concerns surrounding Jackson are in reference to his throws outside the numbers. He can struggle with out routes and deeper throws towards the sidelines, but shows a lot more consistency with short and intermediate routes between the hashes. Hurst has crisp route running, strong hands, and a large catch radius that should make him an integral part of Jackson’s offense as well. Not to mention they were drafted within 7 picks of each other. Both Jackson and Hurst will be developing in the offense together, which could do absolute wonders for their chemistry long term.
As for the future, the sky is the limit for Hurst. Ideally, I’d like to see him improve on his red zone work; he had a surprisingly low touchdown total in college, and points don’t generally come easier at the pro level. But I have no doubt in my mind that he’s worthy of the starting spot on the roster from day one, and he’ll only get better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put together a career similar to Todd Heap’s, which would make him a pro bowler and a reliable target over the next decade or so. What else could you really ask for? So while he’s not the exciting pick that’ll give a website enough content to get through the doldrums of the off-season like Jackson is, Hurst should still be viewed as a great pick. His potential to be a part of a hopefully much-improved pass game in year one is enough reason to look forward to his arrival. Combine that with the fact that he could play a pivotal part in our offense of the future, and you’ve got 2 first round picks worthy of excitement for a long time.