The Ravens traded back nine spots, got third- and fourth-round picks, and still filled a huge need with their first first-round pick Thursday night.
Baltimore selected South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst with the No. 25 pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Hurst is the pass-catching target the Ravens need, and, unlike some of the other tight ends in the class, is also a willing and capable blocker. That complete game led to him being the only tight end taken in the first round.
Over the last two seasons, Hurst caught 92 passes for 1,175 yards and three touchdowns.
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Hurst has the size and athleticism to create a lot of mismatches, and put up even bigger stats, in the NFL. Hurst has incredibly soft hands and makes a lot of contested catches. He reels in everything that comes his way.
Asked what the Ravens like about Hurst, Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz first pointed to Hurst’s versatility. He was flexed out wide, on the line of scrimmage and even lined up in the backfield. South Carolina even used him on end-arounds.
“And he’s productive in all of those roles,” Hortiz said.
“He’s a good blocker, obviously the way they use him. But his athleticism as a receiver and then his hands, he just doesn’t drop the ball and he makes some spectacular catches. He can run after the catch. So, he’s just a versatile and talented athlete who can help us in pretty much all phases of our game.”
The Ravens only had Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams in their tight end room, and they are better blockers than receivers. Thus, Hurst should have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in Baltimore’s offense despite coming in as a rookie.
Hurst also has an interesting backstory. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft and he spent two years as a pitcher and one year as a first baseman in the Gulf Coast League.
Hurst moved back to football and walked onto the Gamecocks’ football team in the summer of 2015, playing in 12 games as a receiver and tight end. He was an immediate starter despite the transition, and in just his second season, Hurst set South Carolina tight end records for receptions (48) and yards (616). He was the first sophomore in USC history to be a team captain.
Hurst said his baseball background helps him in a lot of areas, particularly with hand-eye coordination.
“I feel like tracking a baseball is a little bit harder than tracking a football, so I think that carries over,” Hurst said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that I carry over from baseball is just the maturity. I’ve experienced some things that some guys haven’t with failure.”
Perhaps the biggest knock on Hurst is his age. His late arrival to football means he’ll turn 25 years old before his rookie season begins. However, the Ravens drafted Dennis Pitta in 2010 and he was a couple months older than Hurst when he went into his first season.
“You acknowledge that he’s 24 years old, but it happens every once in a while,” Hortiz said.
The Ravens had an opportunity to draft some top defensive talents, including Florida State safety Derwin James, with their 16th pick. They traded back and still had all the top pass catchers on the board. They then moved back again, this time three spots.
The Carolina Panthers took Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore at No. 24, one pick ahead of Baltimore. The Atlanta Falcons selected Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley at No. 26, one pick behind the Ravens.
In the end, Baltimore still got a pass-catcher, even though it didn’t come at wide receiver like many analysts and fans expected.
“I think one of the themes since we were down in Florida back in January was ‘playmakers’ – guys that can make critical plays in situations,” Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said. “Honestly, we’re just getting started.”