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Scouting Profile: Tight End Hayden Hurst

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 23, 2018

South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst is a versatile tight end who can be used in a variety of ways

Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

Height: 6’4″
Weight: 250 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.67 seconds
Vertical: 31.5 inches
Broad Jump: 9’2″

A former pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hurst is a natural athlete. He’s one of the oldest prospects in the draft, however, as he’ll be 25 years old at the start of the season. While his measurables were somewhat of a letdown at the Combine, he shined through the drills as most suspected he would. He’s a versatile tight end who might be considered as a hybrid wide receiver by some.

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While at South Carolina, Hurst totaled 1,175 yards and just three touchdowns over the last two years, leading some to move him down draft boards. During his time there, Hurst dropped just one pass over the three years, so his lack of productivity wasn’t exactly on him. Still, it’s nice to see a player dominate competition at the collegiate level, but will Hurst be better in the pros?

Size/Versatility: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I’d like to give Hurst a higher score here, but his size is a bit smaller than tight ends in today’s NFL. It’s not as if 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds is a wide receiver build, but he’s built more of a tweener than a full-on tight end. Because of that, however, he’s able to be used in a variety of different ways. He was even used as a half-back a few times by South Carolina, showing his versatility and athleticism. The way he’s able to be used reminds me of the way the Patriots used to use Aaron Hernandez. While off-the-field things took over his entire career, he was an explosive weapon in the right offense. Hurst can also be targeted all over the field and isn’t used to strictly run short routes, as you’ll read further into this report.

Route Running/Ability to Separate: 4.0 out of 5 stars
He moves like a big wide receiver but has the ability to make cuts without losing much of his speed. He’s one of the better tight ends in the class when it comes to getting separation and reading a zone defense. He’s agile enough to sink low into his breaks, which are often too much for linebackers in coverage and the reason he’s able to get multiple yards of separation. He’s also really good at using his hands to get off press coverage, which is due to his suddenness of his movements. It’s not really common to see a tight end gain multiple yards of separation, but you saw it quite often with Hurst. Some wonder how he was able to do so without truly elite speed, but he shows different gears in his routes, which confuse defenders and give them a false sense of security.

Speed: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Some knocked Hurst after he failed to run in the 4.5-second range, but watching his game-film, his speed should be the least of your concerns. He shows burst off the line but has another gear when the ball is in the air. You’d see his quarterback spot him hitting the break in his route, chuck it up with the defender by his side, but by the time the ball landed in his hands, he’d gained a yard or two of separation. He’s able to do this by not playing at one speed all the time, something that not every player is able to do.

Hands/High-Pointing: 4.0 out of 5 stars
I really don’t like that both his hands and high-pointing are in the same category, but we must remain consistent with the way we’re grading tight ends. The reason I don’t like it is because Hurst has what might be the best hands of any tight end in the class. He also tracks the ball better than anyone and it was apparent while watching the Combine. He tracks the ball so effortlessly and naturally, you can’t help but fall in love with his game. He dropped just one pass over his entire college career. With that being said, he isn’t going to be the go-up-and-get-it tight end. He’s a route-runner who uses his speed to create separation and he’s not going to jump over a defender, even if he is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. It’s just not his game. If this ranking was on hands and fluidity, he’d have scored 5-of-5 stars.

After the Catch: 3.0 out of 5 stars
If there’s one vibe you get from watching Hurst, it’s that he plays every play like it could be his last. He’s not the most physically overpowering tight end, but he’s not going to go down without a fight. There are times where he’d lower his shoulder and run over a cornerback, but that won’t happen with linebackers. He plays with a controlled recklessness and it’s something you’ll admire as a coach. The competition will step-up in the pros, so I don’t envision him to be the type of player to shrug off defenders, but he also won’t be known as a marshmallow who goes down on first contact. He’s above-average after the catch.

Blocking: 2.0 out of 5 stars
With the type of player that Hurst is, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to block more than half the time. His frame isn’t big enough to take on massive edge-rushers, though he does leverage his body as good as he can. Bottom line is that I don’t think he’ll ever be a phenomenal blocker, though it’s not due to a lack of effort because he’s always giving that. As a run-blocker, he’ll sometimes whiff on the target as he lowers his head too quickly, but he knows the direction in which he’s supposed to block and can do it well against smaller defenders.

Potential Landing Spot
Whoever drafts Hurst is doing so to get a versatile weapon who can be lined up all over the field, but also one who won’t ask him to block a whole lot from the get-go. I’m really interested to see if the Saints like him or Mike Gesicki better for their offense, as both would be great fits. Outside of them, the Ravens can use someone like Hurst, as they have some holes at wide receiver as well as tight end. The Bills are also a team that should take a long, hard look at him, as Charles Clay‘s knees only have a limited time.

NFL Comparison
He’s a unique player and one that was hard to come up with a one player comparison. Instead, I combined Greg Olsen and Aaron Hernandez. He’s slightly bigger and stronger after the catch than Hernandez was, but has the same type of athleticism and can be used in so many different ways. While running his routes, though, he reminds me of Olsen. Neither of them are the type of tight end to go over a defender, but don’t often have to because their route-running and ability to read a zone defense creates separation. Hurst has the ability to be a player in this league for a long time.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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