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Hayden Hurst

Why Bengals’ Hayden Hurst Is Poised For Breakout 2022 Season

  • Jack McKessy
  • July 15, 2022
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It’s Hayden Hurst SZN!

Hurst, a tight end, began his career as the first of the Baltimore Ravens’ two first-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, the other being quarterback Lamar Jackson. Over the first two years of his career, Hurst played in 28 games and started four, tallying 43 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns.

That wasn’t the kind of production the Ravens were hoping for from the first tight end taken in that class. It wasn’t all his fault though, as his lack of big numbers can be attributed to the competition he couldn’t quite fight off. The tight end the Ravens drafted two rounds later, Mark Andrews, was healthy to start his rookie year, unlike Hurst, and was completely outplaying Hurst by their second season. With Andrews heading to a Pro Bowl and more than doubling Hurst’s production by year two, the writing was quickly on the wall for the first-rounder’s time in Baltimore.

In 2020, the Ravens traded Hurst to Atlanta, and the tight end took advantage of the change in scenery to put together the best year of his career. He set career highs in starts (9), targets (88), receptions (56), receiving yards (571), and touchdowns (6) that season but slowed down significantly in 2021. Of course, that’s because the Falcons had just drafted rookie tight end phenom Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, once again spelling the beginning of the end for Hurst with his second team.

All of that unfortunate luck led Hurst to his third team in five years when he signed a one-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency earlier this year. If Hurst’s high potential and the Bengals’ recent use of tight ends are any indication, then one of the newest additions to Cincinnati’s pass-catching weapons arsenal will thrive in 2022.

The biggest reason for the Bengals’ Hurst signing was the departure of fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah, who signed with the New York Jets in free agency. Though his numbers from last year don’t immediately pop off the stat sheet, Uzomah was a visibly important part of Cincinnati’s offense in 2021.

Receiver Ja’Marr Chase obviously got most of the love from quarterback Joe Burrow, who had thrown to him since college, but Uzomah had a career year with the Bengals in 2021. He saw more targets than any player besides the starting receiver trio of Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd last year, and tied Boyd for third on the team with five receiving touchdowns.

As Uzomah’s replacement, there’s a good chance Hurst sees a similar share of targets in 2022, if not even more.

Opposing teams saw what happened all of last year with the Bengals’ offense. Receivers Chase and Higgins each put up more than 1,000 yards in 2021, which means opposing defenses are going to commit a lot more energy to stop the two of them. That means the Bengals are likely going to see more two-high safety looks and less one-on-one coverage for Higgins and Chase.

As a result, that means that yes, the Bengals will have to try to lean on their run game a bit more, but it also means more opportunities for Hurst as a receiving-first tight end. Both the team and Burrow specifically showed how much they like to get their tight ends involved in the passing game last year. Now that they’ve substituted Uzomah for a more than competent replacement in a year that they’ll have to reckon with fewer easy targets for their outside receivers, the Bengals may end up leaning on Hurst quite a bit.

Hurst clearly has plenty of talent and the potential to be a strong piece of any offense; he was just unable to stick with the Ravens and Falcons because of injury or bad timing. As he enters his first season with the Bengals, Hurst may end up finally coming into his own with far better circumstances: no competition for the starting job and the chance for a heavy dose of targets. 2022 could be the year that everything comes up Hurst in a big breakout season for the five-year veteran.

Written By

Jack McKessy