Hayden Hurst has noticed that fellow first-round pick Lamar Jackson has gotten the lion’s share of attention this offseason.
It’s no surprise. Jackson is a quarterback. He won the Heisman Trophy. He’s incredibly exciting to watch.
“I don’t really have a problem with that,” Hurst said. “He takes a little bit of the pressure off me, but the expectations for both me and Lamar are pretty high.”
The truth of the matter is that Hurst, at least this year, may have even more pressure to perform.
As opposed to Jackson, who will spend his rookie year developing behind veteran Joe Flacco and be used occasionally as an offensive curveball, the Ravens need Hurst to produce in a big way – immediately.
“I understand, they want me to play early, but football is football,” Hurst said. “I have a lot of confidence in what I was able to do in college. I know the type of player that I am and I’m going to carry it over here. Once I learn the playbook and I can start playing it even faster, it’s going to be exciting.”
The Ravens offense and Flacco have leaned on tight ends in the passing game over the years. Benjamin Watson led the team in receptions last year (61) and Dennis Pitta led the year before (86).
After Watson’s departure to the New Orleans Saints in free agency, the Ravens had a hole at the position. Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle both can and will catch, but they’re more blocking weapons than receiving at this point.
That was a major reason why Baltimore targeted Hurst in the draft, then added another pass-catching tight end, Mark Andrews, two rounds later.
When Hurst was taken at pick No. 25 overall, General Manager Ozzie Newsome brought up former Ravens tight end Todd Heap’s name, a nod to the high expectations the organization has for Hurst. Turns out, Heap was among the many people blowing up Hurst’s phone.
“He left me a voicemail and it was essentially along the same lines: you’re a good player, there’s a reason why you went 25th overall, just go do what you do,” Hurst said.
The question is how fast Hurst can do it, because there’s generally a steep learning curve for rookie tight ends.
In 2001, Heap started six games and caught 16 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown. In 2010, Pitta grabbed one pass for one yard. Williams holds the Ravens’ franchise record for production as a rookie tight end after hauling in 32 passes for 268 yards and one score in 2015.
Here’s how some of the game’s top tight ends fared in their rookie seasons:
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
2010: 11 starts, 42 receptions, 546 yards, 10 touchdowns
Jimmy Graham, (then) New Orleans Saints
2010: 5 starts, 31 receptions, 356 yards, 5 touchdowns
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2013: 0 starts, 0 receptions (knee surgery)
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
2013: 3 starts, 36 receptions, 469 yards, 4 touchdowns
Hurst and the Ravens feel he’s well-suited to produce right away because, even though he’s relatively new to the position, he has an uncommon maturity. Hurst, who will turn 25 years old in about a month, was a minor league baseball player before switching to football, so he’s overcome the mental hurdles that come with being a professional athlete.
Pair that with Hurst’s obvious talent – he’s quick, catches everything and tough – and Baltimore is hoping for its top pick in this year’s draft to prove during training camp that he’s ready to be a Week 1 starter. It begins Thursday as the Ravens kick off full-team training camp practices.
“I know there’s a lot of pressure on me being the first pick for the Ravens; it comes with the territory,” Hurst said. “But everything I went through with baseball has definitely made me the player I am today. … I just go out and do what I do and play football. I have a lot of confidence in who I am and the football player I am.”