Sun, 05 Apr 2020

AFR: Hayden Hurst can thrive in this Falcons offense

Atlanta Falcons
25 Mar 2020, 17:57 GMT+10

In trading for Hayden Hurst, the Atlanta Falcons may have brought in someone fully capable of replicating the high level of production that Austin Hooper had in recent seasons.

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The former first-round pick displays the same level of feel for reading defenses that Hooper had while also possessing a bit more athleticism as a receiver. Hooper ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds at the NFL combine and had a 10-yard split of 1.63 seconds. Hurst, meanwhile, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds with an identical 10-yard split to Hooper.

That small upgrade is evident on film and was measured by Pro Football Focus through the site's advanced analytics in Hurst's ability to win against single coverage compared to Hooper.

"This is a solid move made on Atlanta's part and honestly might even be an upgrade over Hooper considering what the Browns paid him," PFF's Anthony Treash writes. "One of Hooper's flaws was his ability to win in single coverage, and that's an area where Hurst has thrived in. He owns a two-year receiving grade in single coverage that ranks eighth at his position."

Hooper's strides in his four seasons with the Falcons should in no way be diminished, and they are a testament to the work he put in with quarterback Matt Ryan. Hurst is a player whose past production is not indicative of the type of player he can become in Atlanta's offensive scheme, however, and he might be an excellent replacement for Hooper.

Although his total numbers in Baltimore - 43 receptions, 512 yards and three touchdowns - aren't close to matching what Hooper did in his final season with the Falcons, Hurst's film is much more impressive. He showcases the ability to beat defenders in single coverage while also gaining extra yardage after the catch - something Atlanta's offense sets its tight ends up for.

According to PFF, Hurst had a receiver grade of 77.3 in 2019 with a near-elite drop grade of 89.7, highlighting his reliability in catching the football. Hurst's receiver grade was 12th among all NFL tight ends in 2019 despite his limited action with the Ravens; Hooper ranked eighth in the same category, meanwhile.

The biggest adjustment in this move will arguably fall on Ryan. After working with Hooper in each of the last four offseasons, Ryan will now have to gain comfort and familiarity with Hurst. There's no question the two players will get on the same page, but Ryan's trust in Hooper became evident during their time working together.

For his part, Hurst shouldn't make Ryan's life any more difficult. He's already got an adept sense of how to find space against zone defenses and seems to possess improvisational skills when plays break down.

Atlanta's offense often allows its tight ends to operate in crossing routes underneath zone defenses, but the Falcons have utilized the position on screen plays or in seam routes up the field. Hurst has experience in all of these areas, which is perhaps another reason the Falcons decided to target him in this trade.

It will be difficult to replace a player like Hooper, who put in the work to truly excel with this offense, but Hurst has the right complement of skills to succeed in Atlanta. Hurst's best days may still be ahead of him, and the Falcons are in perfect position to benefit.

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