Predicting the Falcons offensive statistics: Tight end

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Continuing this series of predicting the offensive statistics, we highlight the third most significant acquisition of the offseason, Hayden Hurst. Hurst is coming from a completely different scheme, as he was traded from Baltimore, who runs an option-based offense. Because of this differing offensive philosophy, we will use Austin Hooper’s 2019 stats in Atlanta to help predict Hurst’s numbers. Carrying over from the previous positions, we will consider the opposing position groups in this prediction. Tight ends are situationally guarded, which means I will have to consider both the safeties and linebackers of opposing teams.

Highlighting Austin Hooper first, he had 75 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns before signing with the Cleveland Browns. When comparing the two players, physically, there are some discrepancies in athleticism. Hurst is a better athlete than Hooper.

“It starts with my speed,” Hurst said via the AJC. “A lot of guys don’t understand how quickly I can move around. I think I am able to get on those safeties pretty quick. With the way that Matt (Ryan) throws the ball, I’m able to use my size to box those guys out and make those big boy catches.”

Matt Ryan described Hurst as a ‘matchup problem.’ This could be a veteran leader attempting to instill confidence in a new guy, but I think Hurst is a better player in a system that was holding him back. He is most deadly running along the seams, where he can use his body on smaller defenders or run past slower linebackers. The seam route stretches the field for underneath routes, which will benefit Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

When considering who he will be matching up against, the teams with an advantage at safety are the Vikings, Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Packers. The rest of the matchups are fair or in favor of the Falcons. 

The Vikings have potentially the best duo in the league with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but not far behind them is the Chief’s tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill. Both safety groups have incredible versatility. The Broncos have Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, who are very underrated in terms of the national spotlight, and the Seahawks acquired Jamal Adams, the best safety in the league in my eyes, who will line up all over the field just like Earl Thomas did for Seattle. The Packers drafted Darnell Savage last year, who was electric but also inconsistent. Additionally, Green Bay signed Adrian Amos — a veteran that will most likely take the assignment of Hayden Hurst.

Most teams will try disrupting offensive rhythm by throwing multiple coverages at the quarterback. Aside from zone coverage, when safeties are not covering a tight end, a linebacker will assume responsibility. A coverage linebacker is a specific niche that some players have made careers out of.

Raiders linebacker Cory Littleton is a top 15 linebacker but is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and will likely shadow Hurst the entire game. The Cowboys have freakish athletes in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, who can each follow the tight end. Lavonte David and former high school running back Devin White are also capable of matching up against Hurst for the length of a game. Finally, the Bears and the Vikings boast an impressive duo at linebacker that will be hard to attack. The rest of the opponents have fair or sorry linebacking cores when it comes to coverage.

With all these things to consider, especially Hayden Hurst’s 12.5 yards per catch average, it can be expected he will put up similar numbers to Hooper’s last year. If Hurst can catch five passes a game while maintaining his average yards per catch, Dimitroff will look like a genius.

2020 prediction: 65 catches, 850 yards, 5 touchdowns

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