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Why Hayden Hurst Will Finish As A Top-5 TE (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Yates | @KyleYNFL | Featured Writer
Jun 5, 2020

Throughout the offseason, Kyle Yates will be highlighting several marquee fantasy players as he walks through his projection process. These projections are subject to change based on injuries, signings above/below them on the depth chart, new information regarding scheme or player usage, etc. They’ll serve as a way to give a “peek behind the curtain” into Kyle’s projections thought process and whether or not a player will be a fantasy value in 2020.

In this article, we look at how Hayden Hurst is well-positioned to finish as a top-5 TE in 2020.

Hayden Hurst

There’s a very long list of players that we could sit down and write about that have great talent, but have fallen into rough situations for fantasy football. Whether it is simply a wrong offensive scheme fit or there’s another player above them on the depth chart, these players aren’t able to make as great of an impact as they potentially could due to their situation.

Coming into the NFL, Hayden Hurst was touted as a very talented tight end prospect. While he was a bit older comparative to the other players in his draft class, Hurst showed enough at South Carolina to be a first round NFL Draft pick. He was selected 25th overall by the Baltimore Ravens and everything looked like it was falling into place for him to have immediate fantasy value his rookie season.

However, in the 3rd round of that same draft, the Ravens doubled down at the position and selected the athletic receiving tight end, Mark Andrews. Andrews slid right in as the primary pass-catching tight end, while we saw Hurst remain more in-line as a blocker. With that being said, Hurst showed flashes of his receiving prowess whenever he was given the opportunity.

Hurst no longer finds himself behind Andrews on the Ravens depth chart, but instead he is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons after being traded for a second round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Falcons allowed Austin Hooper to walk in free agency and dealt fairly significant draft capital to the Ravens to go and bring Hurst into their dynamic offense. Hurst is now the primary option at tight end on this depth chart and we’ve seen what this offense can produce for fantasy at the tight end position. Through week 10 last season, Hooper was the TE1…above guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, and Mark Andrews.

Hurst has the talent and the Falcons clearly see him as a crucial part of their offense this season with their investment in him. But how exactly does this equate to Hurst finishing as a top-5 TE in 2020?

Let’s look at the projections.

Projections

Since 2014, Dirk Koetter offenses have averaged 610 passing attempts a year. When you look around the NFL over that time frame, you’ll realize that that’s a significant tendency towards the passing game as opposed to the rest of the league and Koetter’s offenses have typically been a fantasy goldmine for that reason.

Last season, the Falcons (with Koetter back as the OC) threw the ball an astronomical 684 times. That inflated number is due, in large part, to the fact that defense was atrocious for the majority of the season and the Falcons were forced to pass more to keep up in games. While the Falcons are unlikely to throw the ball 684 times again in 2020, this defense still has some holes on it that will prevent the Falcons from fully relying on the running game.

Additionally, the Falcons seem intent on relying on the oft-injured Todd Gurley to be the predominant ball-carrier in 2020. However, we’ve seen that Gurley struggles with an increased workload and his injury concerns may force the Falcons to keep his workload fairly light.

With those factors in mind, it seems reasonable to project the Falcons for 620 passing attempts this season. This is slightly above Koetter’s average over the past 6 seasons, but still much less than the absurd passing total from last season.

As for Hurst specifically, we’ve seen the tight end be a focal point for this offense. While he’s never seen more than 39 targets in a season, we can look back to his college tape and determine that he has the talent to succeed with a larger target share. For the Atlanta Falcons in 2018, we saw 106 targets go to the tight end position. In 2019, we saw 121 targets go to the tight end position, but it could’ve been much higher if Hooper had remained healthy for all 16 games.

As we look at the Falcons offense, it’s not unreasonable to project the following target share percentages based off of the 620 passing attempts…

  • Jones: 27% (167 targets)
  • Ridley: 20% (124 targets)
  • Hurst: 17% (105 targets)
  • Gurley: 13% (81 targets)
  • Gage: 12% (74 targets)
  • Laquon Treadwell: 3% (19 targets)
  • Brian Hill: 3% (19 targets)
  • Jaeden Graham: 3% (19 targets)
  • Ito Smith: 2% (12 targets)

There’s certainly a possibility that Gurley receives more work in the receiving game, but they may not want to rely that heavily on him and keep his workload fairly light. With that being the case, Hurst has a large target share awaiting him this upcoming season.

As we’ve now determined his projected target totals, we can move onto plugging in and projecting his catch percentage and yards per reception. Hurst has fantastic hands in the receiving game and will be targeted in the short to intermediate levels of the field regularly. This means high percentage throws, but a somewhat lower YPR. I’m comfortable projecting a 71% catch rate due to the types of targets Hurst will be seeing. (For context, Hooper had a 80% catch rate in 2018 and a 77% catch rate in 2019)

Additionally, I’m comfortable projecting a modest 11 YPR in 2019. Hurst will see short yardage work, but also has enough athleticism to create after the catch. This should all balance out to be around that 11 yards per reception mark. As a result, Hurst’s receiving yards calculate out to 823 yards.

Based on expected TD rate, we’re able to calculate the baseline projections for Hurst’s receiving TD totals. In 2019, a tight end scored a touchdown (on average) every 130.67 yards. If we use that average to project Hurst’s baseline for next season, this equals out to 6 receiving TDs. While Hooper saw 18 targets inside the red zone last season with the Falcons, it’s difficult to project that same number for Hurst this season confidently. We can stay conservative and project Hurst with his baseline of 6 receiving TDs, but there’s certainly upside for more if he can hit that 18 target mark.

With those numbers in mind, Hurst finishes the season in my projections with 105 targets, 75 receptions, 823 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

Fantasy Outlook

Based off of those receiving projections, Hurst finishes out as the TE5 in my season long rankings. While there’s still a significant gap between Hurst and the top two options in George Kittle and Travis Kelce from a points standpoint, Hurst is going to be a fantastic option to fill the TE spot on your fantasy football roster.

The best part about drafting Hurst is that he is currently going as the TE13 in ADP Consensus. Additionally, he’s only ranked as the TE13 in ECR too. People are sleeping on Hurst and he’s going to be an every week starter for your lineup with tremendous upside. There are simply too many targets available in this offense for Hurst to not finish as a top-10 option at least. He has the talent, so don’t let the fact that he’s been behind an amazing TE all this time deter you from pulling the trigger in the later rounds.

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Kyle Yates is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @KyleYNFL.

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