Hayden Hurst is fully aware he’s stepping into a huge opportunity in Atlanta. In Baltimore, the former first round pick was buried on the depth chart behind breakout star Mark Andrews and uber-blocker Nick Boyle. With the Falcons, he’s likely the unquestioned starter, with the 90+ targets Austin Hooper saw last year heading his way.
That’s probably why he sounds pretty excited in a new interview with The Athletic’s Jason Butt.
In it, Hurst says he always plays at 100 miles per hour, that he’s looking forward to bringing his mental health and suicide prevention foundation’s good work to Atlanta, and the fact that at least on paper—as he wisely added—the Falcons offense looks incredibly lethal heading into 2020.
Most importantly for our purposes, Hurst talked a little bit about his likely role with the Falcons this coming year. As you’d expect, he was light on specifics on that front, given that he can’t even go to Flowery Branch right now with the global pandemic happening in the background, but Dirk Koetter let him know he’ll be a significant piece of the offense, that Hurst can be a touchdown threat, and that there’s a strong chance he’ll be replacing Hooper directly.
“Me and Coach Koetter have talked a few times on the phone. He just let me know the things he was able to do with Cameron Brate (in Tampa Bay). I think the red-zone opportunities are going to be there for the tight end. He let me know that. We talked about what he thought of my skill set — stretching the field vertically, being a presence in the red zone,” Hurst said.
Hurst went on to say that Hooper’s production in Atlanta, which represented personal bests even though he lost multiple games to injury, has him feeling optimistic.
“And then obviously with what (Austin) Hooper did last year, he put up personal bests the entire year. He had 75 catches, (787) yards, six touchdowns. It was pretty incredible what he did. I think my skill set is really going to flourish, as well. I’m just really happy to be a part of it. It’s going to do wonderful things for my career.”
It is an objective truth that despite the many, many frustrations I had with Koetter last year, he did a nice job of finding even more opportunities for Hoope to shine than Steve Sarkisian had. The fact that he was likely a driving force behind the acquisition of Hurst should make you feel good about Hurst’s breakout potential, and the fact that he and Koetter have already talked about Hurst being able to make things happen vertically (perhaps the one part of Hooper’s game that could be justifiably knocked) means we might see something new from the position in 2020.
In short, Hurst has a good reason to be excited. Hopefully we do, too.