Our sixth breakout candidate for 2020 is a player the Falcons traded a second-round pick for this offseason, as they attempt to replace the production of Austin Hooper. This former first-round selection never really found his footing in Baltimore — in a run-heavy offense with a crowded tight end room — but will find himself in a much better position as the primary tight end in an offense that loves to pass the ball.
Hurst is entering his third year in the league after being drafted in the first round out of South Carolina. The athletic 250-pound tight end will be tasked with replacing the production of Austin Hooper, who became one of the best receiving tight ends in football over the last two years, but you could argue a lot of that had to do with his role in the offense.
Hurst’s first two seasons haven’t exactly gone to plan. He dealt with an injury as a rookie that forced him to miss four games and hampered him in many others. That opened the door for Mark Andrews to take over as the team’s primary pass-catching tight end, and he didn’t disappoint, making Hurst expendable. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be extremely valuable for Atlanta.
In his second season, Hurst was healthy for all sixteen games, catching a respectable 30 balls for 349 yards and two touchdowns. While his production wasn’t eye-popping, he proved to be an explosive target with fantastic hands, which will fit well in Dirk Koetter’s pass-happy system.
A primary reason for Austin Hooper’s explosion last season was Dirk Koetter becoming the offensive coordinator. The former Tampa Bay Buccanneers head coach has a noticeable tendency to incorporate his tight ends into the passing game. With Hurst now a primary option, I expect his targets to double compared to last season, resulting in a lot more receiving yards and chunk plays. I don’t see any reason why Koetter won’t be able to put him in a similar situation to thrive. On top of that, while Hooper was an excellent pass-catcher, he left a lot to be desired as a run-blocker. Hurst will be an upgrade in that regard, as the Falcons aim to be a more balanced team in 2020.
It’s not fair for fans to expect Hurst to become a 1,000-yard receiver — like Austin Hooper was on pace to be had he not been injured — overnight, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hurst could catch somewhere around 70 balls for 700-800 yards. He has all the talent in the world, and Koetter is the perfect coordinator to make the most of that ability.