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Crabbs | Hayden Hurst an X factor for Tight End group

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Scouting Notes

Crabbs | Hayden Hurst an X factor for Tight End group

It’s been a long, unorthodox road for South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst. Hurst, who measures in at 6’5, 250 pounds, looks like a football star on Saturdays playing for the Gamecocks; but in fact this is only his second choice. As a matter of fact, Hurst has already seen what the professional sports world can be like: he was a 17th round pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, straight out of high school.

Hurst elected to pursue baseball, passing on a full ride to Florida State in order to play two years of minor league ball. But if we’re being completely honest, Hayden wasn’t meant to play baseball. Not when you see him assaulting defensive backs on the gridiron. It’s impressive; he looks incredibly at home running routes in the middle of the field. So much so that at this point I would go so far as to say middle of the field receiving is far and away where he’s at his best.

No, Hurst hasn’t found a lot of success with his hand in the dirt. But today’s NFL is much more friendly to flex times in the mold of Hayden Hurst. And as a soon to be 24-year-old Junior, a successful year may push Hurst into declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft.

With names like Gesicki, Fumagalli, Goedert, Goolsby, Baugh, Smythe, Breneman and many more already on the minds of NFL Draft analysts across the country, it’s forgivable to overlook Hurst’s name initially. But it’s impossible to overlook where he’s capable of helping a team when the tape comes on.

This is a fearless play to go high in the middle of the field. Especially with renowned big hitter Justin Evans in the vicinity. Yet Hurst tracks and softly greets the ball with a clean reception. Winning contested catches happened consistently when Hurst was given a catchable ball.

Note how late Hurst flashes the hands and how deliberate he is with his eyes to see the throw all the way in. It’s hard not to like the work at the catch point; but Hurst’s skills expand beyond soft hands and boxing out defenders one on one.

This is a great example of carrying speed through the top of the route and ensuring that defender cannot work back into his hip pocket. And note the work after the catch. These defensive backs simply don’t want to get Hurst down with the same urgency that Hurst wants to get more yards.

This route comes from an inline release, and while Hurst isn’t given a lot of true competition at the snap he does well to stay on schedule pressing up the field. And after he’s hit on this dig route, note again how hard he works for extra production. He runs like a wild man throughout the secondary, either because he’s working on a different mental urgency or he doesn’t no any better. But either way, it’s a constant fixture in his game and one of my favorite traits about Hurst.

Hurst doesn’t even have to run the post route to get in on some YAC (yards after catch) action. This is great balance and good secondary acceleration to squeak out the front door ahead of a handful of closing in defenders.

This is by no means to gloss over the development that still needs to take place with Hurst. Though he did play football in high school, he walked on to South Carolina after two years of minor league baseball and is still learning some of the technical components to the game.

For example, as a blocker, patience and hand placement needs to be improved. Yet in line work is unlikely to ever be viewed as a notable strength in Hurst’s arsenal. Instead, getting cleaner route breaks working away from the middle of the field will be the big area I want to see development. Here’s a great example:

Hurst’s route into the boundary here should have been catchable. But after the break, Hurst drifts up the field and away from the ball; which allows the defensive back to shoot across his face and finish the interception. More awareness of keeping defenders pinned in *all* situations would go a long way in helping Hurst be the best prospect he can be.

In all, Hurst has some exciting natural skills. His play this year could solidify him as a potential flex target in the future; but his age and experience are factors that have to be noted. Look for potential upstart South Carolina (10 returning starters on offense) to work a lot of their passing game through Hurst, who was second on the team with 66 targets during the 2016 regular season.

Kyle Crabbs

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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