The Bengals And Hurst Needed Each Other

August 4, 2022

Despite being selected in the first round in 2018 by the Ravens, Hayden Hurst lost out to Mark Andrews in Baltimore, and after a trade to the Falcons, he was supplanted by Kyle Pitts. Now he arrives in Cincinnati to a team that hasn’t had dynamic and consistent production at his position in years.

C.J. Uzomah was a team captain and a respected figure in the locker room, but after his departure to the Jets, there’s clearly room for potential improvement at the tight end position. Hurst, a first-round talent entering his 29-year-old campaign, is coming off a very disappointing season with the Falcons on a prove-it deal but is the perfect fit for what the Bengals had been missing, and he is looking to showcase the skills that once made him one of the most tantalizing players in his draft class.

The last time the Bengals had an exciting receiving option at tight end was in 2015 when Tyler Eifert caught 13 touchdowns in 52 receptions on route to his only Pro Bowl nod. It’d be hard to match that scoring output, but Hurst has shown he can be a reliable passing option when given the chance. Two years ago, in his first year with Atlanta, Hurst caught 56 passes in 88 targets and hit paydirt six times. He was the third most-targeted player for a middle-of-the-pack offense there. With Joe Burrow at quarterback and a collection of enviable weapons around him, it’s easy to envision him matching at least his numbers from the 2020 campaign.

Hurst has already made an impact during Training Camp, and his natural skillset is a great fit for the offensive scheme of head coach Zac Taylor. Because Burrow is so good at diagnosing opposing defenses, the Bengals like to give him multiple targets on every play and spread the field for him to decide where to go with the ball. Hurst was always viewed as more of a pass-catching tight end, and his combination of size, strength, athleticism, and sure hands, make him a great addition to an already loaded offense.

The former baseball minor leaguer had to settle for a 1-year $3,5 million deal, but it wasn’t for lack of talent. He had to leave Baltimore because he was sharing duties with one of the best players at the position in the entire NFL. In his lone season as a starter with Atlanta, he proved he could be a featured tight end, but the Falcons couldn’t let go of the opportunity to add a game-changing prospect in Pitts in the Draft, and Hurst was again on the move after only seeing 31 targets in 2021.

He’s not only a capable receiver, though. The Bengals want to improve their running game, and along with upgrading their offensive line, adding a stronger blocker at the position to replace Uzomah was paramount. Being able to run out of 11 personnel formations (1 running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers), which is by far their most used grouping at 77.7% (second-most in the NFL after the Rams), will be key for Cincinnati if they want to throw a few changeups at opposing defensive coordinators in 2022.

Former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan called him a “mismatch problem” and “one of the fastest and most athletic tight ends I ever played with” when he first joined the squad. Hurst knows that at age 29, this is probably his last chance to become a full-time starter in the league, and the Bengals need a tweak in a skill position unit that hasn’t lost any other important contributor from last season’s playoff run other than Uzomah, who got a very lucrative deal in New York.

The way Burrow and the Bengals showed they wanted to attack downfield and stretch the field vertically, having Hurst with his speed and mobility is the perfect fit.