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TE’s to Target: Hayden Hurst

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The TE position has proven to be one of, if not the most volatile for fantasy owners. In a competitive league, it can often be the difference between a playoff appearance and a lowly spot in the Toilet Bowl. Regardless of whether you’re playing dynasty or redraft, it’s next to impossible to come away with a championship without reliable and consistent contributions from your TE(s). In this series, I’ll be examining tight ends who present an asymmetric opportunity for fantasy players at their current valuations. 

Backstory

Hurst is a fiery, badass lookin man, who may or may not be on a mission to eat your children. That statement alone should be enough to convince you he’s worthy of being on your roster. However, Hurst’s story is even more convincing.

Many are unaware that Hurst was the first tight end drafted in 2018 when the Ravens selected him 25th overall out of South Carolina. What caught me off guard at the time, was the fact that Hurst was a 25 year old rookie entering the NFL. Why was Hurst so old coming out of college? Hurst was formerly an excellent pitching prospect who ended up being drafted and signing on with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. While with the Pirates, Hurst saw his once coveted arm talent completely evaporate as he developed a case of the yips. Following a series of consecutive disappointments, Hurst cut the cord on his MLB aspirations and set his sights on football. Although he hadn’t played since high school, Hurst was able to walk on at South Carolina in 2015. In 2016, he earned a scholarship. By the end of the 2016 season, Hurst had set the single-season school record for receptions by a tight end with 48, marking his breakout campaign at age 23.

NFL Career

Through his first 2 years in the NFL, Hurst displayed steady albeit unspectacular progress. Below are his major receiving stats and snap share through both seasons.

YearGames PlayedTargetsReceptionsYardsTouchdownsSnap %
201892313163130
2019163930349239

There are a few potential factors we can attribute to this production, or lack thereof. First, as a member of the Ravens, Hurst was not in a pass friendly offense. During the 2018 season, the Ravens were the third most run-heavy team and followed that up in 2019 finishing as the most run-heavy. I think we can all agree that the higher number of rushing attempts as a percentage of offensive plays will have a negative impact on a tight end’s fantasy performance. Second, Hurst’s snap share peaked at 39% of offensive snaps last season. While some players (*cough* Mark Andrews) can produce with that kind of number, it’s hard to sustain. The way I see it, the more you see the field, the more opportunity you have. Third, and I understand this is controversial, but I’m not yet sold on Lamar Jackson as a passer who can support multiple weapons.

2020 Outlook

The Ravens deemed Hurst expendable as they dealt him to the Falcons along with a 4th round pick in exchange for 2nd and 5th round selections. There’s a lot to unpack in this move. Before I dive into that, I will say that the compensation the Ravens received was solid, and indicates that the Falcons’ plan to use Hurst in a more featured role.

Falcons Offense

In joining the Falcons, Hurst travelled from the league’s most run-heavy team, to its most pass-heavy. None of us can say with certainty just how pass-heavy the Falcons will be this year however, it’s reasonable to assume they will pass more than the Ravens. This is definitely a positive for Hurst’s 2020 outlook. Additionally, Hurst will now be catching passes from Matt Ryan as opposed to Lamar Jackson. Ryan has consistently shown an ability to support multiple fantasy relevant pass catchers on a weekly and yearly basis. In terms of scoring, the Falcons have finished with the third highest passing touchdown percentage in each of the past two seasons. This should precipitate into more scoring opportunities for Hurst.

Usage

Our best hypothetical comparison for what Hurst’s usage might look like next year is Austin Hooper. Last season, Hooper put up stellar numbers in the Falcons’ offense on his way to finishing as the TE 6 overall. Below I’ve posted Hooper’s numbers across the same receiving categories over the past two years.

YearGames PlayedTargetsReceptionsYardsTouchdownsSnap %
2018168871660477
2019139775787673

Based on Hooper’s numbers, it’s easy for us to come to the conclusion that Hurst will see an uptick in the number of snaps he plays each game. If we use a conservative estimate of him playing 10% less snaps per game, we would still see a near doubling of his career average. It’s also worth noting that Hooper only played 13 games in 2019 and we’re currently expecting Hurst to play all 16 next season.

Competition for Targets

The Falcons boast a number of talented pass catchers on the offensive side of the ball. The fearsome duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the outside is arguably the best WR tandem in the NFL. They are going to get theirs, in a big way. That being said, a major tailwind for Hurst is that the Falcons never bothered to replace Sanu. Even with legendary trade chip Russell Gage in the fold, this should lead to the highest number of slot snaps Hurst has seen in his career. Hurst’s deceptive speed and high IQ will enable him to frequently get open when defenses are allocating most of their resources to keeping Jones and Ridley in check. Given that Hooper saw 97 targets in 13 games last season it’s reasonable for us to anticipate Hurts seeing 100+ if he remains healthy. Provided that ends up being the case, it’s quite possible we see Hurst eclipse 800 receiving yards in 2020.

Hurst Presents Significant Value at his Current ADP and Trade Value

The biggest issue for Hurst will be getting acclimated to the Falcons’ offense and staying healthy throughout the 2020 season. To date, there have already been encouraging reports about him taking the necessary steps to meet up with Matt Ryan and begin developing their chemistry. At 26 years old, Hurst falls squarely into the golden age bracket for tight ends and looks poised for a breakout season in Atlanta. His current 12th round and beyond ADP in both dynasty and redraft formats is a screaming buy to me given his upside and those who take the plunge are unlikely to be disappointed.

P.S. To check out my current Dynasty TE rankings click here: https://fantasyfuru.com/te-rankings/

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