When the Ravens take on the Carolina Panthers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, undrafted rookie James Hurst is expected to get the start at left tackle in place of the injured Eugene Monroe.
The fact that Hurst is slated to make his first NFL start is surprising to many considering he went undrafted five months ago, and that he was one of the most unexpected players to end up on the 53-man roster.
But getting to this opportunity was always part of the plan for Hurst. Long before he slipped out of this year's draft, Hurst was a blue chip recruit coming out of high school and thought to be destined for a long career in the NFL.
Now he can capitalize on that chance.
"Obviously, he's on a big, big stage right now," Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said.
The lineman out of North Carolina went into his senior season garnering buzz as a potential early draft pick, and then the reputation started to grow after he stone walled eventual No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney in the first game of the season. Some even started talking about Hurst as a first-round pick himself.
But then he went down with a broken leg in the final game of his college career on Dec. 28. Suddenly NFL teams weren't that interested, and he sat through all seven rounds of the draft without getting a phone call.
"It has been a long journey – a lot of ups and downs, but mostly ups," Hurst said. "And right now is an opportunity for me. I'm excited about it. I'm going to put in all the work that I can to be responsible for my job on Sunday."
The Ravens jumped on the chance to sign Hurst soon after the draft, and he knew that Baltimore was a good spot for him. The Ravens were somewhat thin at offensive tackle, and they hadn't used any of their eight draft picks on a tackle.
He came to Baltimore knowing he could end up in the position where he is now.
"A big part of it was the opportunity to make the team and the coaches they had here," Hurst said. "They have a great reputation for developing guys, and I was undrafted, and I wanted a chance to make it in the NFL. I felt this was the best spot for that."
When Hurst arrived in May, he was a bit of an unknown commodity. The injury had kept him from working out for teams or participating in combine drills. The Ravens liked what they had seen from him on tape, but there were still questions about how he'd recover from the broken leg.
Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo and the front office liked Hurst's potential, and wanted to give him a chance.
"James had a good reputation, but he had been hurt," Kubiak said. "A lot of people were concerned about that. They had done their homework and felt like he'd be ready to go, which he was, and as you go through camp and stuff, he just continued to grow."
Hurst didn't take long in training camp to show that the Ravens had found a prospect with potential to develop into a quality player. He went up against the team's top pass rusher Terrell Suggs consistently in practice, and quickly became the top backup behind Monroe at left tackle.
Hurst proved enough to the coaching staff that were willing to enter the season one snap away from the rookie protecting the blindside of franchise quarterback Joe Flacco.
"I'm confident," Hurst said. "We have a lot of good guys on the line that I have been able to learn from for a long time now. We have a great coach, great coaching staff, great game plan. So, I'm really confident that I have the pieces around me to help me out as much as possible."
The Ravens may have found a diamond in the rough with Hurst, and he hits the mold of successful undrafted free agents that the Ravens have found in the past. He was a highly regarded recruit with plenty of talent, but he slipped through the cracks for a variety of reasons.
It's a familiar storyline to undrafted wide receiver Marlon Brown, who was also a five-star recruit who suffered a leg injury late in his career and fell out of the draft. The Ravens gave Brown a shot and he ended up tying the franchise record with seven touchdown catches.
Hurst is following a familiar path, as injuries have forced him into game action.
Now it's up to him make the most of the opportunity.
"It is a big situation. It's my first NFL start. I'm excited about it," Hurst said. "There are going to be nerves. Everybody has nerves. So, it's just a matter of going out there and knowing that you prepared and you've done everything you can for that opportunity."