Hayden Hurst is another tight end who is being selected in the late rounds of fantasy drafts at the moment who I am confident has top-10 upside at his position. Former Falcons‘ tight end Austin Hooper was acquired by the Browns over the offseason after finishing as the TE6 in fantasy football last season. Atlanta sent a second-round pick in this year’s draft to the Ravens in exchange for his replacement in Hurst. Mark Andrews emerged for the Ravens last season, and while Hurst is a former first-round pick by the team, Baltimore didn’t have much need for him heading into this year. Could Atlanta help him realize his old first-round expectations this season?
.@AtlantaFalcons fans should know they’re getting a great TE in Hayden Hurst.
Ravens would keep him if they didn’t nail 3rd-rd pick Mark Andrews and already have Nick Boyle/Pat Ricard. EDC saw the surplus & got draft capital for it.
Best wishes to Hayden!pic.twitter.com/X89v9TcNAC
— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) March 16, 2020
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Hurst only played on 41% of snaps last season as Nick Boyle saw 70% of snaps as the designated blocker. Mark Andrews also only played on 41% of snaps, but he’s the preferred receiving target between him and Hurst as Andrews finished with 64 receptions for 852 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Hurst was the odd man out last year, starting in just four games for the Ravens and finishing as just the TE34 in PPR scoring.
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Last season, Austin Hooper played on 63% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps. Luke Stocker saw the second-most playing time at tight end with 37% of snaps. Neither player is on the roster heading into this season, so there’s no reason Hayden Hurst can’t approach 75% of the team’s offensive snaps – that would have been the 5th-highest mark among all tight ends last season. Also, working in Hurst’s favor is the fact that the Falcons had more pass attempts than any other team last season (more on that shortly). These numbers would have made Hurst the TE7 in PPR scoring last season, and they make him my TE10 in my season-long projections.
Teams with the Most vacated targets:
1. Falcons: 258
2. Cowboys: 190
3. Jets: 183
4. Texans: 167
5. Cardinals: 156
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) June 23, 2020
ADP: 153.9, TE26
Auction Value: $4
I previously called T.J. Hockenson, Jonnu Smith, and Ian Thomas some of my favorite tight end sleepers this season. If Hurst maintains a draft range well into the 14th or 15th rounds, that will change quickly. Outside of the potential for injury, I would give Hurst at least an 80% chance of out-performing his current draft cost. Please don’t spend a mid-round pick on Zach Ertz or Darren Waller – just wait and grab Hurst at the end of your draft. He could be better than both of them this season.
Between Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, and Justin Hardy, the Falcons have 235 vacated targets from last season. That’s amongst the most in the NFL. New starting running back Todd Gurley will likely be integrated with the passing game. Still, there is a boatload of targets to be spread between the ancillary offensive pieces to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Matt Ryan is a very efficient quarterback, and the former MVP has supported plenty of fantasy-relevant weapons in the past. These are all factors that point to an excellent baseline for Hayden Hurst. Even if the former Ravens’ tight end picks up just 70% of the target load Hooper had last season, his career catch rate and yards-per-reception would allow him to reach around 60 receptions for 700 yards. Add in a few touchdowns, and those are borderline top-ten tight end numbers from last season.
Despite playing in just 13 games, Austin Hooper was the TE6 in PPR scoring last season. He was the TE3 in per-game fantasy points. You can fairly easily make the case that Hurst is better than Hooper – Hurst was a 1st-round pick while Hooper was a 3rd-round pick, and Hurst has a career 11.9 yards-per-reception rate to Hooper’s 10.5. Hurst is almost certainly going to set career-best marks as the full-time starter for an NFL team for the first time in his career. The Falcons had more passing attempts than any other team last season, and Hurst breaking 100 targets is not outside the realm of possibilities. Hurst could finish as a top-5 tight end this season, and that kind of upside at his current ADP is eye-popping.
Another TD pass for Lamar Jackson. Hayden Hurst getting in on the action. pic.twitter.com/XDT8LEGJNU
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 15, 2019
Atlanta Falcons Offense
Matt Ryan has produced an excellent stretch of quarterback play for the Falcons, and while the roster around him has seen its share of ups and downs, he has been a consistently solid passer for the team. Ryan threw for 4,466 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions last season, but with his obscene volume of passes, his touchdown numbers were on the lower end – this should be an area of positive regression this season. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were one of the best wide receiver duos in football last season combining for 162 receptions for 2,422 yards and 13 touchdowns. I have both of them projected as top-10 PPR wideouts this season. Outside of those players, though, there isn’t much on this roster in the way of established pass-catching weapons. Russell Gage has just over 500 combined receiving yards in his two professional seasons, and Laquon Treadwell has largely been a disappointment as a former first-round pick. Todd Gurley was signed over the offseason to replace Devonta Freeman as the team’s starting running back, and he’ll see his fair share of targets. I don’t trust this defense (23rd in scoring in 2019) to allow the Falcons to slow down the pace and heavily feature a rushing attack this year. That means someone other than Jones and Ridley will need to step up – Hurst is that guy.
Strength of Schedule
The Falcons play in the NFC South, which features a collection of incredibly compelling offensive talent. The Saints have Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas; the Buccaneers have Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans; the Panthers have D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey. There’s a strong chance this is the highest-scoring division in football, which would lead to plenty of shootouts and fast-paced game scripts to feature the Falcons’ passing game. Hayden Hurst couldn’t ask for a much better start to the season in terms of matchups as the Falcons’ first four opponents all ranked outside of the top half of defenses in fantasy points allowed to TEs last year – the Seahawks (31st), Cowboys (30th), Bears (24th), and Packers (18th). In addition to Chicago and Green Bay, the Falcons will match up with the other two NFC North teams in the Vikings (7th) and Lions (15th), who fared better against TEs. Rounding out the Falcons’ schedule is an intra-conference slate against the AFC West, a division home to some weak tight end defenses in the Chiefs (28th), Raiders (25th), and Broncos (21st). The Falcons only play four top-ten tight end defenses in the Panthers (4th), Vikings (7th), Chargers (8th), and Saints (10th).
Hayden Hurst is an ascendant talent who may be receiving a more significant upgrade in terms of his situation than any other player in the NFL. He’s locked in as the clear third target on the Falcons after Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Catching passes from Matt Ryan in one of the most frequent passing offenses in the league will be a boon for his fantasy value. Hurst is being drafted well into the double-digit rounds at the moment, and you could certainly do worse than a flier on a player who has top-5 upside at his position in that draft range.
Calling my shot – Hayden Hurst is a top-5 tight end in fantasy this season. Falcons have the most vacated targets in the NFL and Hurst is a first-round talent ready to break out. #NFLTwitter #FantasyFootball #footballsback pic.twitter.com/EhpyFW25F9
— Jacob Wayne (@wayne_sports_) June 24, 2020