It’s an offseason that has a lot hanging in the balance for Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn. As the tampering period began this offseason, the Falcons decided that “running it back” was not a worthy enough strategic move. In a stunner on day one of the free agency period, the Falcons decided to execute an aggressive trade as they sent a 2020 second-round pick and fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for tight Hayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick.
Hurst, a former 1st-round pick in the 2018 Draft, moves from a run-oriented philosophy to a scheme that may exploit his pass catching skill. It’s definitely a gamble by the Falcons decision makers. What did the Falcons get in the surprising trade? Let’s take a look.
Hayden Hurst Scouting Report
Weight: 260 pounds
NFL stats: 43 catches, 512 yards, three touchdowns (two seasons)
College stats: 100 catches, 1,281 yards, three touchdowns (three seasons)
There is potential in Hurst’s game as a tight end who only has 28 games as a professional under his belt. Hurst has plenty of size and with that size comes an aggressive nature after the catch. There is a natural, well-rounded athleticism to his overall game and part of that is due to his time as a minor leaguer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
On 100 career collegiate catches, Hurst posted just one drop. This past season with the Ravens, Hurst reached a 77% catch rate on 39 targets.
Here is a play from Hurst while at the University of South Carolina. In the play, Hurst runs a post against Cover 2 and finds his zone over the linebacker. His acceleration after the catch creates a 63-yard pitch-and-catch for the score.
Thanks to that size and athleticism, Hurst is most definitely a mismatch for many defenders. It is not often an easy tackle for defenders when facing Hurst with a head full of steam. He excels when he is able to find seams and work underneath coverage in drags and crossers in the passing game.
You can see his ability to separate after the catch with his overall speed, a testament to his 4.67 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2018. There is an extra gear that Hurst has with the ball in his hands and looks to punish defenders during tackling attempts. At times, Hurst has displayed a knack for adjusting to throws and attacks the ball in a very combative nature.
Hurst lines up in the slot and motions. He takes the handoff and shows nice vision in traffic to read his blocks and cut up the seam for an impressive run.
It was a significant move for the Ravens to select Hurst at 25th overall in the 2018 Draft. For starters, Hurst was 25 years of age as a rookie two seasons ago and will be 27 and entering just his third in 2020. It is also hard to overlook his production so far in the league. Granted, it’s only been two seasons. But this past season saw Hurst relegated to a third tight end role in an offense that did not appear to match his ability. Averaging only 21.3 yards per game and just 43 receptions in two seasons is unacceptable for a player that was drafted before Calvin Ridley and Lamar Jackson himself.
Blocking SHOULD be a calling card of his at this point but it is not. There is room for improvement but the expectation of being more advanced in this aspect still exists. There is also a legitimate worry that Hurst has capped on his potential and has very little room for growth as a prospect down the line, given that he’s much older that most players entering his third year in the league. For the most part, Hurst is still also learning the tight end position after a late start to his playing career.
From the very moment the trade occurred, it was a clear and obvious sign that the Falcons were eyeing potential and not playing it safely this go around. The team did not have the necessary cap space to re-sign former starting tight end Austin Hooper, who is now a member of the Cleveland Browns. So here is their attempt to restock the position after letting Hooper and Luke Stocker walk in free agency with a player who could, if everything goes well, be as productive as Hooper in Atlanta.
The trade was met with some criticism and rightfully so. The Falcons gave up the second of their two 2nd-round picks for a tight end that was lost in Baltimore. While he is slowly getting up in age, it is a little foolish to completely dismiss Hurst and what he offers.
The evident athleticism and impressive speed in the open field brings a nice element to the Falcons offense. There is a lot to prove on both ends of this trade, from Hurst as well as the Falcons decision makers. The gamble could pay off. Or it could be the beginning of the end for both Quinn and Dimitroff.