What Does Hayden Hurst Bring to the Baltimore Ravens' Passing Game?
The Baltimore Ravens made a splash on draft day with two trades. The first moved the Ravens back from the 16th selection to the 22nd, where they took 24-year-old rookie tight end Hayde Hurst out of South Carolina. The second and more newsworthy trade cost the Ravens their 2017 and 2018 second-rounder, as well as this year's fourth-round pick, to move back into the first for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
While the Ravens could have easily justified taking Jackson with the 22nd overall selection, they instead chose Hurst. This decision says a lot if you read between the lines. Current Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco has posted below league average Passing Net Expected Points per drop back -- the number of expected points added each time a player drops back to pass (which is explained further here) -- in five of the previous six seasons.
Despite getting a contract extension three seasons ago, Flacco has failed to flash any type of elite ceiling for the Baltimore offense. The club knew it was time to begin looking for a new franchise quarterback, which was evident by drafting Jackson and making the trade to do so. However, the Ravens risked not having that franchise quarterback because they believed adding Hurst was more important to what they wanted to do moving forward.
What do the Ravens see in Hurst, and how can he provide value in fantasy football?
Examining Rookie Tight Ends
Rookie tight ends have a poor reputation in fantasy football, and rightfully so. Over the previous five years, an average of 146 PPR fantasy points have been required to finish in the top-12 at the position.
Since the year 2000, 83 rookie tight ends have been taken in the top 100 picks of the NFL draft and only four of them have exceeded the 146 PPR point marker. That is a hit rate of less than five percent, which does not paint a pretty picture for Hurst in his rookie year.
Examining Age-25 Tight Ends
Hurst is not your average rookie tight end.
Hurst is well known for his short-lived professional baseball career, during which he developed Steve Blass disease and could no longer accurately throw a baseball. Despite going professional in baseball, though, his amateur football eligibility was salvaged.
Hurst's athleticism translated to the tight end position where he has earned a reputation as a fiery competitor and sure-handed pass catcher. Thanks to the delay caused by his choosing baseball over football, Hurst will now enter his rookie season at age 25.
While rookie tight ends have had poor results historically, age-25 tight ends have thrived in the NFL. Since 2000, 25-year-old tight ends originally taken in the top 100 selections of their respective drafts have achieved 146 PPR points or more in 19 of 78 such instances, equaling a hit rate of just over 24 percent.
Coupled with the departure of leading receiving tight end Benjamin Watson and the poor production of Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, there is little standing in the way of Hurst seizing the primary tight end role in what has been a lackluster Baltimore offense.
Hurst is not the most athletic or explosive tight end prospect ever drafted, as his SPARQ-x score places him in the 32nd percentile.
With a college dominator rating and yards per catch mark below the 50th percentile, Hurst's collegiate game and numbers don't inspire the same upside as a guy like Eric Ebron (55th and 83rd percentiles), when he was drafted 10th overall in 2014.
However, the cupboard is bare in the Ravens' tight end room, and they have clearly showed their intentions for Hurst as an offensive weapon.
Further, Hurst is mature enough as an athlete that he could break some rookie norms and exceed usual expectations. Still, expecting him to achieve top-12 status at the position simply because of his age isn't a good enough reason. The position's learning curve will likely be a major barrier.
As long as Flacco remains the starter, Hurst will be an in-season streaming option by matchup, but until further notice, he should not be drafted in traditional leagues.