Name: Hayden Hurst
Position: Tight End
School: South Carolina
There are bigger tight ends out there, but Hurst has enough size to succeed in the league. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he will generally be taller than most safeties he will line up with and faster than most linebackers. While he may not be a red zone fade target in the vein of Gronk, Hurst should be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver between the 20s and as a blocker.
Hurst did not post the ridiculous combine numbers of Mike Gesicki, one of the class’ other top tight ends. But Hurst is an exceptional athlete in his own right. His measurables are above-average (4.67 40, 31.5-inch vertical), but more than that, all of his movements are smooth and effortless. Hurst bursts out of his routes with good acceleration and quick change-of-direction. He also has the athleticism and power to make plays with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his consistent touches on tight end-arounds.
If the ball can be caught, Hurst will catch it. In his South Carolina career, he only had one drop as opposed to 100 receptions. His hands are smooth and confident, always away from his body as he hauls in the pass. Hurst never looks like he is working extra to make the catch. It is a subtle thing, but the effortless he displays in not breaking stride or giving up ground in order to secure the ball allows him to make big plays in traffic and through contact.
Despite his quickness and acceleration, Hurst has some work to do on certain aspects of his routes. He has the speed to beat linebackers without much extra trickery, but safeties have no problem hanging with him, especially on out-breaking routes. It seems Hurst is a little by-the-book, meaning he does not use head fakes or stems with much effectiveness. To his credit, he is an effective target at all three levels and can shake loose downfield thanks to his athleticism. And between the hash marks, he is as sure a bet to get open as any tight end in this draft. But given how much he works out of the slot, he needs to find a way to prevent his out and flat routes from getting pounced on.
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The potential is there to be a dynamic blocking tight end. Hurst’s demeanor is mean and tenacious, as he goes after every block with the desire to plant his man on the ground. He has the strength and size to do it, too. But he also has some technique weaknesses. Most notably, when pulling or engaging from the backfield, Hurst has a tendency to approach hot, break down and then lower his head to deliver the blow. As a result, he ends up missing key blocks at times. When he does engage, his hands often flare out after the first blow. Fortunately, he is good at resetting them and he is generally strong enough to recover. Plus, Hurst is a more-than-willing downfield blocker on screens and quick passes.
The Vikings are only working with one consistent receiving threat at tight end. Kyle Rudolph is one of the league’s top red zone targets at his position, but David Morgan and Blake Bell are little more than blocking tight ends who may provide a dozen catches combined during the course of the season. Dual-tight end threats have proven to be lethal at times, namely the Patriots of a few years ago and last year’s Super Bowl Eagles. With Hurst, the Vikings would add a potentially dynamic pass-catcher for between the 20s to complement Rudolph’s red zone capabilities.
As always, it comes down to draft stock. Hurst could very well be a first round pick, but some have him dropping as far as round three. There are question marks about him, to be sure: He does not have the ceilings of Gesicki and Dallas Goedert and he will be 25 when the 2018 season opens. But Hurst’s floor appears to be a functional all-around tight end who can block and make plays.
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