From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#81 Hayden Hurst/TE South Carolina – 6’4/4 250
– NFL size and frame
– Versatile, experience in a three point stance, more than most college TEs, and lined up all over the line of scrimmage, even in the backfield
– Tough, physical, old-school player
– Makes difficult, combative catches, good hand/eye coordination and body control
– Strength as a blocker who can hold the POA, even against defensive ends
– Uses his size and leverage well as a blocker in space, bullies DBs and LBs in the screen game
– Technical route runner who does well to find space in zone coverage
– Well-rounded in his assignments and asked to do a lot in the offense, even pass protection and jet sweeps
– Poor QB play hindered stats
– Shows open field speed to finish plays, works best down the seam
– Tested above average at Combine (4.67 40, 10’0″ broad, 7.19 three cone)
– Well-liked and respected, earned several team awards
– Below average length for size (32 3/4 inch arms)
– Older than typical prospect, turns 25 in August
– Hasn’t played as much football as others, missed time while pursuing baseball career
– Not a remarkable athlete, won’t make many miss, and doesn’t show explosion out of his break
– Struggles to square to blockers on base/trap blocks
– Seems to have too many mental lapses and late finding assignment as a blocker and pass protection
– Lacks an elite trait, well-rounded but nothing stands above the rest
– Productive career
– Two year starter (named captain both years)
– Career: 100 receptions, 1281 yards 3 TDs
– 2017: 44 catches, 559 yards 2 TDs
– 11 career rushing attempts, one TD
– Set school record for catches in a season, breaking a nearly 50 year record
– Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 draft as a pitcher, converted to 1st base, lasted only two seasons
– Had scholarship to Florida State to pitch, turned it down to play with the Pirates
– Walked onto South Carolina in 2015, earned scholarship
– Had Tommy John Surgery in 8th grade
– South Carolina Awards won in 2017: Tenacity Award, Unselfish Teammates Award, Strength & Conditioning Award
– Played football and baseball in high school
Hurst is one of the most interesting stories in a draft class absolutely full of them. His backstory alone is enough to write a mini-novel on. You can see some of that in his bio. A star pitcher in high school, even after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 8th grade, he turned down a scholarship at Florida State to become a Pittsburgh Pirate, drafted by them in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. Here’s a clip of him pitching in 2011.
Hurst admits he essentially developed the Yips, just like former Pirate pitcher Steve Blass, and he barely pitched in 2013. In his one official outing, he recorded one out, threw two wild pitches, and walked five batters, somehow allowing only one run.
The next year, Pittsburgh converted him to a first basemen with only marginally better results. In 53 at bats, he hit .245, driving in two runs and striking out in more half his at bats. He realized his baseball career was over before it really even started.
Why South Carolina? A friend from a rival high school, Perry Orth, went there and started in 2015. He convinced Hurst to walk-on and by 2016, he became the Gamecocks’ starting tight end and broke the team record for receptions in a season by a tight end.
As you can tell, he was loved in that locker room and took home pretty much every good teammate award. Maybe that’s a little expected for a guy older than anyone else with the background he had, making him a more mature person, but he quickly fit into that locker room. Hurst is known for his high character and crazy weight room work ethic.
But let’s talk football. Hurst is a traditional tight end who won’t wow you with athleticism but makes combative catches in traffic. Good hand-eye coordination and adjusts to poorly thrown balls.
Check out this one-handed grab, granted it was in open space, for a score.
There’s certainly a willingness to block. In space, against DBs and smaller LBs, he excels.
The biggest issue as a blocker seems to come from some mental mistakes. Maybe that’s an overall lack of football experience after switching to baseball. Twice in the Missouri game, he whiffed on a pulling block and the play blew up.
It’s rare to see a college football tight end pass protect and to Hurst’s credit, he did it. But success was inconsistent and again, there were some mental mistakes. Seemed to blow the call twice in the ball game versus South Florida in 2016, this one resulting in a sack.
He tested pretty well and shows some burst in the open field. He’s not a bad athlete. But not a great one either and isn’t quite as dynamic as what’s en vogue in today’s NFL.
What makes him interesting is how well-rounded he is, something a team like Pittsburgh holds in high regards. He spent a lot of time in a three point stance but lined up off ball, in the slot, and even the backfield. Does he do anything that separates him from the current crop of Steelers tight ends? Not really, not in the way a Mike Gesicki would.
I’m pretty sure the Steelers will like him a lot from what he’s shown on tape and definitely who he is off the field. But the stars didn’t properly align this year. Too many other needs to take Hurst high.
Projection: Mid Day Two
Games Watched: vs USF (2016), at Missouri, vs Arkansas, vs Michigan