Finding a 16-game starter at tight end is one of the hardest tasks in fantasy football. There simply aren’t that many elite options on the market, and it’s hard to use a second-round pick on a guy like Travis Kelce or George Kittle. Because of this, fantasy football owners across the league try to find the diamond in the rough by shooting for late-round upside. Last year, Darren Waller and Mark Andrews ended up being the big stars. This year, Hayden Hurst could be the late-round steal.
2020 Fantasy Football Outlook: Hayden Hurst
The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were the biggest surprise of the fantasy football world. Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews took the world by storm, while rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown showed plenty of promise. This made 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst something of the odd-man-out in the offense. Overall, the second-year tight end finished his season with just 30 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns. With Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle already on the roster, the Ravens decided to trade Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a second-round pick and change.
At first glance, this season was nothing short of disastrous for Hurst. Not only did he get outplayed by a guy drafted after him (Andrews), but he slipped so far down the depth chart that the Ravens opted to cut their losses and send him away after two seasons. However, Hurst did show some signs of life during the 2019 campaign.
The underlying numbers suggest that most of Hurst’s poor numbers came from a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of talent. Baltimore primarily used Hurst as a blocker, but he was remarkably efficient when he was actually a target. According to Player Profiler, Hurst averaged 2.44 yards per route run, good for sixth-best among tight ends. Yards per route tends to be a sticky stat, and this implies that he has the skills to put up solid numbers if given an opportunity. Additionally, his 8.7 yards-per-target and 11.6 yards-per-reception ranked seventh and 14th, respectively, amongst tight ends.
Hayden Hurst is in the perfect situation to thrive. As mentioned in our profile on Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons project to be in a lot of shootouts next year. The Falcons have a good quarterback in Ryan, a stud in Julio Jones, and a promising youngster in Calvin Ridley. However, the depth beyond those two leaves a lot to be desired. Somebody needs to step up as the third target in the offense, and Hurst has the best shot at winning that job.
Austin Hooper and his 97 targets are off in Cleveland, and the Falcons brought in Hurst with the clear purpose of filling Hooper’s void. The Falcons gave up a Day 2 pick for Hurst’s services, so they clearly believe he’s capable of contributing right out of the gate. Additionally, the advanced numbers suggest that Hurst has the talent to thrive if given a large enough role in the offense. However, even if you don’t believe in the talent of Hayden Hurst, the opportunity is too good to pass up.
Anyone that watched the 2019 Atlanta Falcons knows that Austin Hooper wasn’t nearly as good as his stats would suggest. Most of Hooper’s production came on underneath concepts or by finding holes in zone coverage. While there is obviously some skill required for this, most of his production was schemed up. Atlanta hasn’t made any noteworthy changes to their coaching staff, so it stands to reason that these easy, schemed-up targets will still be there in 2020. There are no other tight ends of note on the roster, so Hurst should see the vast majority of these easy, vacated targets.
Hayden Hurst Average Draft Position
As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator has Hayden Hurst going off the board with the 105th overall pick. This makes him the 11th tight end off the board and puts him in the same tier as Jared Cook of the New Orleans Saints.
Quite frankly, grabbing him this late in the draft is nothing short of highway robbery. Hurst obviously doesn’t have the same ceiling as a guy like Travis Kelce or George Kittle, but he has every chance to be a weekly start. While he’s never seen a large target share, he has the underlying numbers to suggest that he is capable of making a difference in the passing game. He never had that opportunity with Baltimore, but that’s about to change in Atlanta.
The Falcons need another reliable piece of the passing game with Austin Hooper in Cleveland. Hurst has the skills to be that guy, and Atlanta clearly believes in his potential. The Falcons project to have a high-volume passing attack and have very little depth behind their two star receivers. Hooper’s 97 vacated targets have to go somewhere, and Hurst is arguably capable of doing more with his targets than Hooper. Instead of using a high draft pick on one of the elite tight ends, wait until the later rounds to select Hurst.
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