With the fantasy football season hopefully just around the corner, and possibly some early league drafts already taking place, I wanted to further look at my favorite fantasy football steal on the Atlanta Falcons. After allowing tight end Austin Hooper to test free agency and ultimately sign with the Cleveland Browns, the Falcons wasted no time in trading a 2020 2nd round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for tight end Hayden Hurst.
Let’s get the reason why you may be hesitant to select Hurst in your upcoming fantasy league out of the way: Inexperience. Hurst will turn 27 during the upcoming season and has only played two seasons in the NFL. In those two seasons, he has only totaled 43 catches for 512 yards and 3 touchdowns. For some, this is a reason to stay away and it’s allowing Hurst to fly under the radar.
As of this writing, Hayden Hurst’s average draft position (ADP) is 144, going in round 12 or later. Hurst’s ADP has been moving in the wrong direction, which will only benefit those who decide to wait on drafting their tight end.
Now let me tell you why he’s a steal. The tight end position in recent years has been one of the weakest. Outside of tight end’s like Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz there hasn’t been a lot of value until recently, with the emergence of players like Mark Andrews and Darren Waller. Austin Hooper thrived fantasy-wise in the Falcons pass-heavy offense. In 2019, Hooper recorded 90 targets which was good for 15.54% target share. Using 90 targets as a minimum when comparing Hooper to other tight ends over the last three years, Hooper 10th (2017), 7th (2018) and 6th (2019). Hurst will have a ton of volume.
I may be alone in this, but I’m a strong believer in Falcons’ tight ends coach Ben Steele. Steele is a seven-year NFL veteran, who joined the Falcons in 2019 as an offensive assistant after spending the previous five seasons serving as the tight ends coach under Dirk Koetter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Steele was promoted to tight ends coach this past February following the retirement of Mike Mularkey. Maybe just a coincidence, but Steele shows up in Atlanta last season and Austin Hooper sets a career highs with 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.
Overall, the tight end position has been something of a focal point in Dirk Koetter’s offenses in recent years. I do expect Jaeden Graham to be involved, but this is Hurst’s show. ESPN has him currently ranked as the 17th best tight end in fantasy football, and let it stay that way. Personally, I’m going to ignore the tight end position until later rounds and snag Hayden Hurst as the value is too tremendous.
Last year I said “Austin Hooper finished 2018 with the sixth most fantasy points among tight ends. With the addition of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who is used to utilizing his tight ends, and the fact that the tight end position is ultra-thin, there’s no reason Hooper can’t finish 2019 as a top-five fantasy tight end.” This year, I’ll predict that Hurst will finish as a top-10 fantasy tight end. We still have to see how Hurst and quarterback Matt Ryan work together, but I have no doubt that Hurst will fit-in nicely as Ryan’s safety valve in the passing game.