“When I got to Baltimore I put on some weight because of the run game, but I was able to maintain my speed,” Hurst told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “I played last year at 265 and that’s where I’m at right now. I think that’s a pretty good playing weight for me to handle the run game and I kept my speed as well.”
The speed part is what makes Hurst an intriguing replacement for Hooper. The Falcons were considering Hurst in the 2018 draft, but the Ravens selected him one position in front of Calvin Ridley.
Hooper made two trips to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, working mostly underneath the routes of wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Hooper ran a lot of crossing routes and found holes in zones.
If they get the right matchup, the Falcons can shoot Hurst up the seam of zones on deeper routes.
“It’s going to be a perfect fit,” Hurst said. “(Offensive coordinator Dirk) Koetter’s pass-heavy offense is going to suit me well. It’s going to allow me to do some things that I personally do well (like) stretch the field vertically and hopefully create some mismatches for the other guys, Julio and Calvin. I saw where they’ve picked up Laquon Treadwell as well. It’s a pretty potent offense. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
In the trade, the Falcons received the Ravens' fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, but gave up their second-round (55th) and a fifth-round pick in this year's draft to get Hurst. With Hooper set to join the Browns in free agency and the release of tight end Luke Stocker, the Falcons were getting thin at the position.
Jaeden Graham and Carson Meier were the only tight ends on the roster before the Hurst trade.
Hurst’s career has gotten off to a slow start. He played in 28 games and made only four starts for the Ravens, in which time he caught 43 of 62 passes targeted for 512 yards and three touchdowns.
“My first year was tough with the whole stress fracture in my foot,” Hurst said. “I missed four games, but I felt like I was competing at a high level before (the injury). I finished my first season pretty well.
“I came back the next year, and the way that (Ravens offensive coordinator) Greg Roman utilizes the tight ends in Baltimore is pretty unique to any situation. I think with me, Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews, we had quite the rotation at tight end. We all did things really well and complemented each other.”
Like most young tight ends, Hurst had to work on his blocking.
“As far as the run game, that’s the thing that really helped me mature as a player,” Hurst said. “He utilized me down the field. I was able to make some plays there at the end of the season to help us win some ballgames.”
Hurst, who has talked openly about his battle with depression and a suicide attempt, is a former baseball player who played three years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system. After that, he was invited to walk-on at South Carolina by Steve Spurrier Jr. After Spurrier Sr. retired/left, Will Muschamp moved Hurst to tight end.
“It was kind of whirlwind once I left the Pirates,” Hurst said. “I came back here to Jacksonville and actually practiced with Bolles, my old high school team. ... The college coaches were coming by looking at the high school kids, and coach Spurrier (Jr.) came down. He watched me practice with them one day and offered me the walk-on spot. The rest is kind of history from there.”
Hurst spoke with Koetter, tight ends coach Ben Steele and coach Dan Quinn.
“Me and coach Koetter talked last week, and he told me about how he used Cameron Brate (in Tampa Bay) and the things he did with Hooper last year,” Hurst said. “It’s exciting to be a tight end in that offense, especially with how Matt (Ryan) throws the ball to the tight ends and utilizes them.”
Steele has provided some playbook materials for Hurst to start working on.
“Coach Quinn reiterated the Brotherhood message, and I think I’m going to fit that well,” Hurst said. “I always have been a team-first guy. Coach Muschamp really instilled that in us at South Carolina.”
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