With the Bengals re-signing Tyler Eifert to a one-year deal, some may expect the Bengals to shy away from drafting a tight end.
The only problem is none of the Bengals current tight ends will be under contract past this upcoming season. That means that they could very well add one of the talented tight ends from this years draft.
If the Bengals want to draft a tight end, Hayden Hurst is a name that they will throw around. Formerly a first baseman in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Hurst walked on at South Carolina in 2015 and started right away.
Now 24 years old, Hurst is a physical, well-rounded tight end that provided a myriad of services to the Gamecocks.
Weight: 250 pounds
College: South Carolina
Projected Round: 2
Receptions: 100 career; 44 in 2017
Receiving yards: 1,281 career; 559 in 2017
Receiving touchdowns: 3 career; 2 in 2017
40-yard dash: 4.67 sec
Vertical jump: 31.5”
Broad jump: 120”
3-cone drill: 7.19 sec
20-yard shuttle: 4.37 sec
60-yard shuttle: 12.15 sec
While Penn State’s Mike Gesicki is the best receiving tight end in this year’s draft, Hurst is the best-rounded. Gesicki and Hurst are almost identical in size, but Gesicki lacks some of the quickness and physicality that Hurst brings to the table.
The Gamecocks used Hurst in almost every way imaginable. As a tight end, he lined up on the end, in the slot, wide and in the backfield. He has the athletic ability to run all kinds of routes and move all over the field.
Hurst has the quickness to create separation and the strength for contested catches. In open space, he has enough speed to create big plays and the toughness to break tackles. Hauling in 100 catches over his three years at South Carolina, he only has one drop.
Not only is Hurst a great receiver, but he is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft. Working on the end or out of the backfield, Hurst rarely missed an assignment. He struggled with blocking in the second level at times, but his blocking opened room for him in the passing game.
When Hurst was called upon, he could do anything else the team needed. He has three career passing attempts, two of which were completed, with a passer rating of 125.5. He also has 11 rushing attempts with one touchdown, not that the Bengals would need him to do things things if they were to draft him.
The biggest knock against Hurst is his age. Entering his second career as a professional athlete, he will be a 25-year-old rookie when the 2018 season starts. While he is fully developed physically, he still has some development to do if he is to become a reliable starter in the NFL. His athletic gifts are some of his best qualities, but they may not be serviceable after his rookie contract expires.
Fortunately, he has no injury history at South Carolina, so if he can stay healthy he can extend his career by a few years. But by the time his football skills are fully developed, his athleticism might start to slip.
In terms of football skills, Hurst needs to improve some elements of his blocking — particularly in the second level. He also shows some tells when he is running his routes; some defenders in college were able to read his tells and jump his routes.
It would be hard to draft Hurst as anything more than a stow-away pick in case of Eifert getting injured or signing somewhere else next season. A best case scenario will be that Hurst is buried in the depth chart behind Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft. By the time Hurst sees the field, he may have lost some of his quickness that makes him special.
However, depth at the position is something that the Bengals could use, and his blocking would help a struggling offensive line. In any event, the best situation for Hurst—and for the team drafting him—is that he gets some serious reps right away. If the Bengals can’t give that to him, then they won’t be able to get the best out of him.