After a short hiatus to cover all the action at the 2018 NFL Combine, I’m back with another full scouting report on a player that the Falcons have considerable interest in. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina was one of the top performers at TE during the Combine and had been generating considerable buzz as one of the best in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Unsurprisingly, the Falcons held a formal meeting with Hurst last week.
He’s an intriguing prospect with a lot of strengths and a few notable question marks. To get a better picture of Hurst as a player, I watched him against Missouri, Arkansas, and Michigan (Outback Bowl). Let’s dive right in to what I learned.
TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
Hurst has good size for the position at 6’5, 250 and looks the part of an NFL TE. He’s an athletic, fluid mover in space with exceptional balance and body control. Impressive long speed for the position makes him a difficult match-up for LBs in the passing game. Hurst is a natural receiver with strong, reliable hands and very few drops during his college career. He tracks the ball well in the air and is physical at the catch point.
Hurst is a plus player after the catch—he’s tough to bring down once the ball is in his hands, especially when he gets up to speed. Doesn’t shy away from contact in the passing game or as a blocker. Physical player with the “want to” to contribute as a blocker at the next level. Hurst has experience playing at multiple spots, including in-line, out wide, and as an H-back. He’s at his best blocking on the move where he can use his athleticism to his advantage.
Hurst is a solid blocker on the move, but his blocking technique—particularly as an in-line TE—needs considerable work. His hand placement is wildly inconsistent and will need refinement. Hurst could play with better leverage and tends to play too tall, leading to him getting knocked back by more technically sound defenders. His positioning and awareness as a pass blocker need continued development, as savvy defenders often beat him with counter moves.
As a receiver, Hurst needs to continue refining his route running. Smart defenders too easily predicted and sat on his routes at times, though playing with a limited QB may have contributed to his somewhat confined route tree. Hurst will be a 25 year old rookie, which means his development will need to be accelerated. He is who he is physically—his improvement will have to come from coaching and technical refinement.
Hurst’s ability as a receiver and his potential as a versatile blocker make him a tempting target for the Falcons on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s an ideal “safety blanket” TE in the short-to-intermediate area of the field, and his physicality and speed make him a threat to take dump-offs for extra yardage. Hurst also tracks the ball extremely well down the field, which makes him a serious threat if he’s able to sneak out of the backfield or beat a LB in coverage.
While he’s not a good blocker yet, he has all the traits to become that in a short amount of time. As an H-back or “move TE”, he’s ready to go—his athleticism is his strength, and he takes good angles to blocks on the second level. Hurst is physical enough to lead me to believe that he could develop into a serviceable in-line blocker, too, although that is probably a season or two away from being a reality.
I view Hurst as an ideal option for the Falcons, particularly in Steve Sarkisian’s offense. He’s a big, athletic, and reliable target that can contribute at all levels of the field, with the tools to become a capable—if unspectacular—run and pass blocker. He’s not the freakish athlete that Mike Gesicki is, but he’s already a vastly superior blocker. Hurst is talented enough to be a second round pick, but his age could lead him to fall a little bit. He’d be a great value for the Falcons in the third round that could contribute as a receiver in year one, and as a dual-threat option down the road.
Grade: 2.5 (late second, early third)
What do you think about Hayden Hurst? Do you view him as a fit for the Falcons’ offense? Where would you consider drafting him? Any other TEs that you’re interested in seeing in Atlanta?