Hayden Hurst’s first shot at pro sports didn’t go as expected, but scouts believe the South Carolina tight end may fare better when he takes on the challenge of the NFL.
The former minor league baseball player is getting attention for his sure hands and his intensity as Hurst prepares for the NFL draft.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein believes Hurst can make a quick contribution for whichever team drafts him.
Hurst “plays like every down could be his last,” Zierlein said. “His fearless play demeanor combined with size, strength and athleticism make him a well-rounded prospect with the versatility to line up all over the field.”
The words used to describe Hurst’s approach: “rabid and rowdy.”
That, on the football field, is usually a good thing.
It’s not Hurst’s first foray into the pro sports world. During his high school career at Jacksonville Bolles, Hurst had success in football but really starred in baseball, and that earned him a 17th-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft. But after two seasons with the rookie-league GCL Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., where he batted .245 and didn’t have an extra-base hit, he returned to football, as a walk-on at South Carolina.
During his three years with the Gamecocks, Hurst caught 100 passes for 1,281 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers likely could have been even higher, but the Gamecocks didn’t stabilize their quarterback position until naming Jake Bentley the starter midway through the 2016 season. Since that time, Hurst’s numbers have increased considerably.
The best number? He had just one drop compared to his 100 receptions.
Hurst’s NFL prospects aren’t without detractors. Scouts have pinpointed holes in his route-running and blocking, two key skills that can’t be ignored.
There’s also the age issue. Because of his two years in baseball, Hurst would be 25 before he plays his first NFL game, so there may not be much more room for further development. One NFL executive described Hurst’s physical ceiling as “maxed out” to NFL.com.
“He is who he’s going to be physically, so now we have to see how much better he gets as a football player,” the executive said.
Hurst would become the fifth Gamecocks tight end to play in the NFL within the past five years, joining Jerell Adams, Jared Cook, Justice Cunningham and Weslye Saunders.
Hurst is one of four Gamecocks invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, along with cornerback Jamarcus King, linebacker Skai Moore and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth. Of those, he is the only one widely expected to be selected within the draft’s first two rounds.
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