Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst let his emotions show Sunday. He screamed, pumped his fists, and looked toward the Ravens' bench after catching a pass from Lamar Jackson to end the third quarter, good for eight yards and a first down.
Those are the kind of moments Hurst wants to deliver regularly for the Ravens. After being the 25th pick in the draft, Hurst's rookie year has not unfolded the way he imagined with 10 catches, 102 yards and a touchdown heading into Saturday night's pivotal game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Hurst's focus is on helping the Ravens win Saturday, which would be a major step toward making the playoffs. But if you ask Hurst how he would evaluate his performance this season, he gives an honest answer.
"It's been tough," Hurst said. "A lot of ups and downs, playing at such a high level and having that foot injury, trying to come back from that. I'm just trying to find my way back into the rotation. I haven't really endured a football injury before, and this is all new to me. I'm trying to chip away at it, one day at a time. Just do what I can do, continue to grow."
Hurst's name has trended a little more on social media this week with the Ravens facing the Chargers and their rookie Pro Bowl safety, Derwin James. Before the Ravens traded back from the No. 16 pick, James was still on the board, and the Ravens were speculated to have interest.
Instead, the Ravens traded back to No. 22, then to No. 25, and acquired extra picks. The extra third-round pick became starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Having more draft picks likely made it easier for the Ravens to make another huge decision, trading back into the first round to get Jackson at No. 32.
However, James has quickly emerged as one off the league's best safeties after the Chargers drafted him at No. 17. On Tuesday, James was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season – one of six rookies to earn the honor.
Twitter critics have not forgotten that James could be with the Ravens had they selected him at No. 16. Hurst could care less about the debate, choosing to tune out social media.
"No, I don't pay attention to any of that stuff," Hurst said. "Not in the slightest."
Hurst said he never put extra pressure on himself to produce immediately as a first-round pick. But he had an exceptional training camp and appeared ready to have a huge rookie season until he suffered a stress fracture in August that required surgery.
After missing the first four games of the regular season, it took Hurst even longer to feel 100 percent than expected. Meanwhile, Boyle, Mark Andrews, and Maxx Williams were all playing well, and Hurst had to earn his way back into the tight end rotation.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been pleased with how Hurst has handled himself all season.
"His confidence has been good all along, but he was chomping at the bit for an opportunity to prove it," Harbaugh said. "He made a couple big, tough catches out there, and you could see it in his emotions [that] it mattered to him. Like, 'Finally, I had a chance to show what I can do here!' That's just going to make him even more hungry to do more. That's what you want to see as a coach."
With three catches for 20 yards against Tampa Bay, Hurst hopes to use that game as a springboard. Not only was he more involved as a pass-catcher, Hurst was a willing an effective blocker after Nick Boyle, the Ravens' best blocking tight end, left Sunday's game with a concussion.
"I think I did pretty well," Hurst said. "I think I just do a good job of staying prepared. Nick went down. I went in there and just did my job. I get to sit back and watch him, kind of pick his brain. He's one of the best in the NFL at what he does. I felt prepared to go in there, throw my weight around, and do my job."
Hurst, Boyle, Andrews and Williams have grown extremely close and have helped each other through a long season. That's one of the behind-the-scenes benefits Hurst has taken from this season.
"I think all of our personalities are similar," Hurst said. "We're around each other 10 hours a day, seven days a week. We've become really close. It's a really good group; I'm happy to be a part of it."
The outcome of Saturday night's game will go a long way toward determining if the Ravens will make the playoffs. Hurst is focused on doing whatever it takes to help the Ravens win, whether it's throwing a key block, or getting open to make a catch, whether he is targeted five times or not at all.
His spirits are high. So is his belief that his rookie season is a learning experience that will pay off.
"It will definitely be a lot easier (next year)," Hurst said. Hopefully all the football I've learned, I can get in there, cut it loose, and go play. I learned a lot this year. But I'm happy for it."