With the tight end position evolving, this report will examine just the players who will remain at the traditional position. For H-Back, slot receiver, fullback hybrids, I will be analyzing those players in a category called “Super-back.” With more and more NCAA teams turning to the spread offense, developing NFL-ready tight ends have taken a back seat to generating more points on the board via the deep passing game, rather than utilizing big receivers to move the chains in the short-to-intermediate areas.
Dallas Goedert - South Dakota State
Overview...While he might not be the first tight end drafted, Goedert is the one performer in his draft class that seems to be able to check off all the boxes - big play receiver, physical blocker and the body that teams look for. Besides making highlight reel catches, the All-American has perhaps the best hands in the business. Evidence? On 244 passes targeted to him, he caught 198 balls - that’s an 81.15% success rate. The average for this tight end draft class’s top ten tight ends? 57.33%.
A first-team selection on six different All-American teams, Goedert put together a streak of seven consecutive games in which he notched 100 or more receiving yards. He will be greatly counted upon in 2017, even more so due to the lack of depth on the roster behind him. None of the other tight ends on the current roster, all of whom are sophomores, has caught a pass in a collegiate game. Sam Steckman and Kallan Hart saw limited action a year ago, while Matt Fitzgerald has moved to tight end after spending time as a defensive end during his first two years in the Jackrabbit program.
Do not be fooled by Goedert’s imposing frame – he may be 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, but he moves and catches the ball like a guy who is much, much smaller.
2017 Season...Goedert earned All-American Dream Team honors from The NFL Draft Report, as the only FCS member on that squad. The consensus All-American first-team choice (The NFL Draft Report, STATS FCS, American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press, FCS Athletics Directors Association, HERO Sports, Walter Camp Football Foundation FCS and Phil Steele), he was also a finalist for the Walter Payton Award for the second-straight year and an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team for the third consecutive season. Selected to play in the 2018 Senior Bowl, Goedert led the team with 1,111 receiving yards, pulling in 72-of-90 targeted tosses (80%) with seven touchdowns. He dropped just two passes and recorded six 100-yard receiving performances.
Body Structure...Goedert has a good-sized frame with solid overall muscle development, thick, cut legs, good bubble, no softness in the midsection, broad shoulders and chest width, with room to add more bulk (ten pounds) with no loss in his above average quickness. He has the long arms and big hands teams look for in a prototype tight end and with his upper body muscle definition, he has had very good success in breaking arm tackles for extra yardage after the catch.
Athletic Ability... Goedert has outstanding athletic ability and size for this position. He shows above average agility, balance, speed, vision, change of direction moves and excellent hand/eye coordination. The thing that makes him stand out the most is his quickness in-&-out of his breaks and off the line of scrimmage. With the added reps as a senior, scouts were able to recognize that this is a player with very good vision, as he shows urgency working back to the quarterback when the pocket is compromised and he shows good pad level, base and hand punch stalking and neutralizing second level defenders as a blocker. He is quite flexible for a player his size and his ability to contort his body and elevate for high throws reminds analysts of the Cowboys’ Jason Witten. He stays on his feet and displays outstanding balance moving the chains after the catch (see 2017 Montana State, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Missouri State games). He is quite effective at gaining separation underneath and shows the quick burst needed to get into deep patterns. He is flexible with his body movements extending for the ball away from his frame and has that crisp change of direction agility to come out of his breaks cleanly. He is almost certainly the best athlete at his position eligible for the 2018 draft and is an elite chain mover (over 75% of his catches resulted in first downs) and a powerful open field runner who runs with a smooth, athletic stride.
Football Sense... Goedert is a field smart player with no problems digesting the playbook. He does okay academically, but football appears more important than academics. He excels at seeing and adapting to broken plays. He made a very quick transition to starting tight end, especially during the second half of his senior season. He came into the program after big schools failed to recognize his immense talent, but he quickly showed that he looks very natural moving around as a receiver and hits with intent as a blocker.
Release...Goedert has outstanding ability to escape the hold-up at the line of scrimmage, as he has the head fakes and hip snap to elude and get a clean release, along with the punishing hand punch to defeat press coverage. He runs at a low pad level that allows him to elude and break free once he gets into the second level. He can release with his strength or his feet. He uses his hands effectively to escape the hold up at the line of scrimmage. He also has more than enough foot quickness to break arm tackles and run through defenders to generate big yardage after the catch (see 2017 Montana State, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, South Dakota games). He is very combative fighting through any potential jam and shows good urgency to quickly get into his route. He uses his hands with force to keep defenders away from his chest and he is very slippery when avoiding linebackers and safeties trying to reroute him in a crowd. He runs with good acceleration vs. both man and zone coverage. One thing that added reps allowed him to do in 2017 was to refine his head fakes and swim moves. He has the balance and body control to weave through traffic, especially when avoiding under coverage and once he builds to top speed, he is a load to bring down in the open field.
Acceleration...Goedert uses his size and quickness well in order to be able to exploit the center of the field. He does a very good job of working back to the quarterback and locating the ball on short routes. He has the deep speed needed to find the open seam. He also does a very nice job of looking the ball in and tracking the pigskin over his shoulders. With his size, he is a big, inviting target who plays with above average field and coverage awareness working in the short areas (see 2017 Montana State, Missouri State games). He is a big, rangy type who has become comfortable using his long arms and sure hands to be an inviting target for his quarterback when operating vs. zone coverage (quick to locate and settle into the soft areas). He is very combative when trying to stay open, knowing how to use his hands to push off defenders without getting “caught” by the game officials. He shows good synchronicity with the passer and works back to the pocket when the quarterback is pressured. One of his best assets, especially rare for a tight end, is his ability to find the open seams on deep routes. He also has the eyes and upper body flexibility to track the ball over his outside shoulder on those deep patterns. Much like the New England tight ends, where Goedert really excels is with his ability to cover ground and be a valid deep threat working down field.
Quickness...Goedert has good quickness off the snap. He easily gains advantage over the defender getting into his routes, showing a sharp burst off the line. He gets off the line suddenly and with good urgency and it is very rare to see him be late getting to the top of the route. He is one of the fastest runners at his position in this draft class. As a blocker, he shows the sudden burst off the snap to be quite effective reaching and sealing vs. ‘nine-tech” types. With his “football IQ” and suddenness of the snap, he consistently gains advantage on a defender, as he possesses the burst and second gear to gain yardage after the catch.
Route Running... In 2016, Goedert surprised most scouts who came in to review him with his ability to be very smooth and athletic for a big man. He shows quickness in and out of his breaks and superb body control to break down and make the quick cuts. He displays the balance and footwork to cut sharply and no longer drifts or rounds his cuts going deep. He has very good flexibility to drop his weight to get out of his breaks cleanly and with his proper pad level, he has no problems attempting to leverage and weave. He is crisp to stick his foot in the ground, cut sharply and gain separation, a rare trait for a player with his big body. Most players his size are more deliberate and mechanical, but Goedert is one that is perfectly labeled as an athlete who is sudden and smooth working through his patterns.
Separation Ability...Goedert has the speed to separate, getting open quickly, thanks to his burst. One of the first things you notice on game films is his ability to make the sharp cut and execute an explosive burst in-&-out of his breaks. He is savvy enough to know when to slow to settle or burst to find holes in the zone. He has good stick-to-fake moves and with his head fakes, he knows how to turn the corners and safeties covering him, along with showing strength when executing collision or bounce moves to run through arm tackles. He is very alert to pocket pressure, knowing how and when to work back to the quarterback. He also has the balance to adjust on the move and uncover. He also uses his body well, delivering forceful hand punches to push off and create separation from the defender.
Ball Concentration...Goedert looks very natural catching the ball. He will consistently fight for the jump ball and looks natural extending for the pass away from the body’s frame (see 2017 Montana State, Missouri State, South Dakota games). He is tough and aggressive when challenged by defenders, as he’s very determined to make sure nobody prevents him from staying in his route, which he does, thanks to his very good balance and his awareness to the defender’s position. He is the type that will maintain ball concentration when the “bullets are flying” working through a crowd or competing for the jump ball (sort of has that Simon & Garfunkel verse going through his head when he locks on to the ball in flight - I only have eyes for you). He is very conscious protecting the ball with his body and is the type that you will never see flinch going for the ball over the middle.
Ball Adjustment...Goedert is so athletic, he can make smooth body adjustments to the ball seem routine. He is very adept at turning and adjusting to the off-target tosses. His outstanding flexibility is evident when he works back for the pass, along with displaying above average body control. He is very alert to coverage and thanks to his field vision, has had good success creating open lanes. With his body control, he makes smooth adjustments on the move and is quite adept at keeping his feet in bounds when working along the sidelines and boundaries. Unlike most big tight ends, he has no stiffness in his hips, evident by the success he’s had to turn or scoop for the low ball (see 2017 Western Illinois and South Dakota games). He is a naturally fluid and smooth route runner whose body adjustment skills rival those of a smaller wide receiver.
Leaping Ability...Goedert is a former prep basketball standout that is athletic and smooth going up for the ball. He uses his size well to shield away defenders and despite his bulk, looks fluid extending for the pass at its highest point. He has excellent leaping ability, and in the second half of the 2017 schedule, he showed marked improvement with his timing when leaving his feet to catch the ball at its high point (see Western Illinois, Missouri State, South Dakota games). He knows how to use his body to secure the ball and has good arm extension to go up and over the defender. His vertical leap is certainly impressive, but it is his timing that brings him most of his success competing for the ball in flight.
Hands... Goedert looks very comfortable making the catch. He has large, soft hands with excellent ability to pluck and snatch, even in tight quarters. Once he extends and brings the ball in, he knows how to properly secure it before turning up field. He is a natural hands catcher with soft “mitts” and good arm extension, along with long fingers. While most coaches preach to receivers about the importance of developing good hands, Goedert is the type that you can see has Jason Witten-like qualities – he knows how to look the ball in (catches with his eyes). He is fluid extending and catching outside his frame and has a wide radius to pluck and stab at the pigskin.
Run After the Catch...Goedert does a nice job getting up field after the catch. He has very good foot speed for his position, but it is his running strength to break tackles after initial contact that makes him excel in this area. He turns up field quickly and is very combative fighting for yardage. He is simply too big and strong for secondary defenders to bring down one-on-one. Even second level defenders have to gang-tackle him, making it difficult for those opponents to hit him and wrap, thanks to his leg drive through side tackles and weave to elude. After the catch, he runs at the proper pad level and is a “runaway train” once he gets a head of steam heading up field.
Blocking Ability...Goedert is a wall off type who gives good effort. When blocking in-line, he shows a very good surge off the snap to make contact. He generates forceful pop and proper hand extension to sustain, never letting his hands get outside his framework. When blocking down field, he has the ability to climb into the second level and make the cut-off block to neutralize the linebackers. He is also very alert, doing an excellent job of hitting moving targets. As an inline blocker, he showed marked improvement in attempts to uproot and stalemate defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. Earlier in his career, he would over-extend or lose position late, but he now plays with a wider base and demonstrates a stronger anchor than he did as a junior.
Down field, he has very good ability to reach and shield vs. second level defenders, as he demonstrates outstanding balance to sustain. On the move, he is capable of adjusting and making contact, as it is rare to see him leave his feet behind. You can see on film that he has become much more aggressive when working down field than in the past, as he can now fire, fit up and finish, doing a nice job of chipping to land and sustain. With his balance and low pad level, I feel he can be equally effective on the move or serving as a lead blocker.
Compares To...Travis Kelce-Kansas City Chiefs...Goedert has a sharp change of direction and shows excellent hip swerve while combating for the ball over the middle. He gets a good push off the defender to escape the jam and stays low, extends his arms and keeps his feet shuffling when providing pass protection. He is very effective in finding the soft spot in the zone, but also uses his body properly to shield the ball from the defender in man coverage. He has natural hands, keeping then properly extended away from the body going up for the ball, along with explosive quickness to outrun a linebacker after the catch.
You can see on film that he is very good at adjusting to the low passes and is not afraid to sacrifice his body to get to those balls. He demonstrates fluid weave in his run and the leg drive to drag a defensive back after the catch. He has now become a fluid route runner who maintains balance near the sidelines. With his aggressive style of play, he seems to relish searching out defenders to deliver a crunching block for the ground game up field or powering through arm tackles to gain additional yardage after the catch.
Mike Gesicki - Penn State
2017 Season...Gesicki finished his career with at least one reception in 27-straight games, as the senior was named second-team All-American by The NFL Draft Report, SB Nation and Sporting News, adding third-team honors from College Sports Madness and Phil Steele. He garnered National Football Foundation’s (NFF) South New Jersey Collegiate Player of the Year honors and was a first-team All-Big Ten Conference pick by the media and second-team from the conference coaches.
Body Structure...Gesicki is built like a tight end, but with his quickness, he could be highly effective as a motion-type H-Back than as a traditional tight end. He has a well-developed frame that can carry more bulk without it impacting his impressive quickness. He has very good arm length and wing span and is a natural hands catcher with good-sized “mitts.” He shows good chest and shoulder muscle structure with a firm, defined midsection, good bubble, strong hips and tapered thighs and calves.
Athletic Ability... Gesicki has that rare timed speed that makes linebackers and safeties accountable for him when he gets into the deep part of the secondary. He has a good second gear, yet is not explosive, as he builds his acceleration nicely and with his loose hips, he can generate elusive moves to escape the initial tackler. He is stronger than his frame looks, but will have to continue his development as a blocker, which is the weakest area of his game. He shows outstanding balance and body control, along with marked improvement making the sideline grabs (more conscious of boundaries) as a senior. The thing you see on film is his ability to adjust and contort his body to get to the off-target throws. He is very flexible weaving in and out of traffic and is a fluid-moving athlete in the open areas, easily getting behind coverage to get into the deep zones. He shows the ability to build acceleration nicely throughout the route’s progression and while not overpowering as an in-line blocker, he has enough strength to face up to second level defenders and a strong punch to invert edge rushers in pass protection. You have to be impressed with how he can move off the snap, showing good urgency to get in his routes and proper hand usage to defeat the jam. He comes off the ball with above average athletic ability and acceleration, quickly getting into his patterns. He plays with good urgency and has the second gear needed to elude in the open. His ability to elude and not be rerouted by defenders makes him a player that needs to be always accounted for when he is on the field.
Football Sense... Gesicki has shown very good field vision and patience, doing a nice job of settling into the soft areas when working in the slot and going underneath. He is a bright kid with good academic standings. He has no problems “learning on the fly” and needs just minimal reps to retain plays. He understands defensive coverage and is alert to edge rushers and backside pressure when protecting the pocket. He has a good understanding of concepts and has no problem dealing with game-time adjustments.
Release...Gesicki is sudden in his release off the line and can easily get behind a second level defender. His size poses issues for cornerbacks and he has the quickness to gobble up the cushion and come out of his breaks cleanly. He is not only one of the stronger tight ends in this draft class, but he shows good hand placement and a surprising punch, along with a pretty nifty swim move to get a clean release attempting to get into his route. When linebackers try to push him off the route, he has the loose hips to sidestep and avoid contact on the move. With his smooth release, he gets into his running stride quickly and is savvy enough to know when he has to swim over or fight through the jam.
Acceleration...Gesicki has the quick feet and cat-quick moves to eat up the cushion and get behind coverage in an instant. He might not be as explosive when multiple blockers try to attack him off the line, but he covers ground quickly and is much like a wide receiver with his ability to stretch and threaten the deep seam. On short patterns, he has that natural feel for knowing when to adjust to uncover and shows very quick ball reaction skills looking the pass in over his shoulder without having to break stride. He has the vision to watch the ball into his hands and with his vertical speed (4.54 in the 40-yard dash), he forces teams to align a cornerback on him when attacking the deep areas. Especially vs. Cover-2 defenses, he has the ability to get down the seam and make things happen in the open field. He flashes fluid moves and the burst to separate and adjust to the ball in flight and is more than capable of making the initial tackler miss with his array of moves. His speed needs to be accounted for by the defense at all times, as he is a threat to affect and stretch the coverage. In the short area, he is an inviting target due to his above lateral agility.
Quickness...Gesicki possesses above average quickness in his hands, feet and body, along with great flexibility. He has that sudden movement off the snap that forces second level defenders to leave their backpedal too early and flashes that snap quickness to even gain initial advantage vs. cornerbacks. He flashes the ability to defeat the jam with his feet and maintains his acceleration throughout the routes. He shows suddenness coming off the snap and getting into his routes. He also displays urgency to gain advantage when blocking on the edge or when cut blocking in the second level (good concept for taking angles).
Route Running... Gesicki has really worked hard at refining and sharpening his cuts out of his breaks. He no longer takes extra steps and shows very good awareness to coverages, as he can consistently get open vs. man coverage, even initially vs. a speedy cornerback. He is very alert to schemes and does a nice job of finding holes and soft areas when challenging the zone. I really like his body control and timing, as he has that crisp plant-&-drive agility to make the initial tackler miss. He has developed good sticks-&-boundaries awareness and has worked hard to improve his footwork to remain in bounds hugging the sidelines. He is a very disciplined route runner (no drift or false steps in his route progression), doing a text-book job of finding his marks, breaking and getting his head turned around on time. He has the ability to isolate the linebackers and safeties and shows the second gear needed to elude in the open. He has a very quick second gear to elude after the catch and does an excellent job finding the small crease when working in traffic.
Separation Ability...Bigger defenders might try to overpower Gesicki coming off the snap, but he has those cat-like moves and vastly improved footwork to defeat the jam. He won’t try to go one-on-one vs. the press coverage, but has the slippery moves to escape and get a quick outside release. He runs with good forward body lean and his ability to fluidly apply his weight transfer allows him to instantly snap off his breaks and separate, especially when utilized on flag and drag routes. He has above average ability to uncover with awareness. The thing you see on film is his ability to make sharp cuts underneath or accelerate to get open immediately on deep routes. He also uses his body very well to shield defenders from the ball.
Ball Concentration...Gesicki will sacrifice his body with no hesitation, if it means he has even the slightest of a chance to get to the ball. He does a nice job of extending for the ball away from his frame and reaching and plucking it at its high point. He might lack brute strength, but he is a physical receiver who will not hesitate to fight the defender for the ball, especially when working in traffic. He has no fear of going inside to make those catches and will assert himself after the catch to break arm tackles. He has very good focus looking the ball in over his outside shoulder and I dispute the report of some scouts that say he can drop the easy passes (had just five drops on 146 targets during his last two years.
Ball Adjustment...Gesicki has a bit of contortionist blood running through his veins, as he is very good at pleasing the fans with acrobatic catches. Whether at half speed or full stride, he has the flexibility to reach low or behind while making adjustments to get to the pass. He has that natural athletic ability to get to off-target throws or make the tough catch in a crowd. He is also very effective at tracking the ball on deep routes. With his athletic ability, burst and body control, he has made Penn State quarterbacks look like pro prospects (ha), thanks to his excellent ball adjustment skills. He just does a very nice job of reading the flight of the ball and making adjustments to it. He has above average body control and enough vertical ability to get to the pass at its high point. Most of his RAC comes when he catches the ball in stride, as he has that sudden burst to elude and get open quickly (in the last two years, 594 of his 1,242 yards came after the catch - 47.83%).
Leaping Ability...This is an area that will never need any work on, as Gesicki has the natural leaping skills to high point the pass, along with leading (tied) the Combine tight ends and all players in attendance with a 41 1/2-inch vertical jump. He is a quick leaper and when he has time to plant and jump, he can extend and reach for the ball away from his frame. He can generate the same burst after the catch when he has to go up for the ball as he does when he catches it in stride. He is just the type that displays the ability to suddenly turn and run with the ball after the catch, thanks largely to his above average balance.
Hands... Gesicki is a natural hands catcher with the second-biggest “mitts” (10 1/4-inch width) for any tight end at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. He has the smoothness to pluck the ball away from his frame and makes a concentrated effort to catch the ball with his hands, rather than let it absorb into his body. He shows good touch and flashes the ability to snatch the pass, even with defenders draped on him. He secures the ball on contact and it is very rare to see him “bread basket” (leave it exposed), as he makes a conscious effort to keep it away from the defender (good ball distribution).
Run After the Catch...Gesicki is not going to “Jim Brown” and simply run over defenders after the catch, especially level-one and level-two types, but he will show good leg drive and forward body lean to pick up extra yards when securing the ball in a crowd. He has the strength to run through arm tackles and take on safeties and cornerbacks. Even with good tight end’s bulk, he has had very good success with his escape skills to avoid linebackers on the move. Once in the open field, he is very elusive and has the speed to put on the afterburners and take the ball to the house. He will do anything he can to advance the ball. He has the straight-line speed to make the big play and very good run vision to elude. He has top finishing speed for a tight end and can turn it up field in an instant. He is the type of player that will consistently threaten a defense in deep routes.
Blocking Ability...As for Gesicki’s blocking, well, where I hail from in Brooklyn, the word that comes to mind is “forgettaboutit!” Even with his strength and size, I doubt that he will ever become a stunning in-line blocker, but he will not hesitate to face up to the bigger defensive linemen. He will never shy away from contact, but he won’t seek it out, either. He is on the edge rusher quickly and follows up with good hand placement and a pretty decent punch, but he has to keep his feet more active in attempts to leverage (can be inverted).
Compares To...Jimmy Graham-Green Bay Packers...Well, the Jimmy Graham of old, not the version we saw in Seattle the last few years. Gesicki possesses the vertical speed to easily beat second level defenders. He has sure hands, doing a nice job of extending to catch away from the body’s frame-work and makes good body adjustments to get to the off-target throws. He has the ability to get open quickly in the short and medium areas and has good acceleration after the catch, but if you are looking for him to be an efficient blocker, forgettaboutit!
Hayden Hurst - South Carolina
Body Structure...Hurst has acceptable size and a frame with good muscular development, but also has the ability to carry at least another fifteen pounds without the added weight impacting his overall quickness. He has developing chest and shoulder muscles as he transitions his body from that of a basketball player’s to one that can effectively perform on the gridiron. He displays a tight waist, firm midsection and a good bubble with developing lower body thickness in his thighs and calves. He will need time in the weight room to develop more strength, as his Pro Day bench press performance is just adequate.
Athletic Ability... Thanks to his impressive quickness and lack of experience as a blocker, Hurst has been utilized more as a pass-catching tight end who is not heavily involved in the blocking assignments usually associated with his position. He could easily add 15-20 pounds of bulk and convert to the traditional tight end, but with his large hands and good leaping ability, he is a definite mismatch for safeties and linebackers in jump ball situations. He is still a neophyte when it comes to blocking, but in limited opportunities handling that role, he has shown an efficient hand punch to shock and jolt and shows the loose hips and quick feet needed to mirror and sustain blocks (all he needs is reps to refine his technique). He comes off the snap with good explosion and has the burst to escape second level defenders to challenge the deep secondary, once he learns how to properly transition in and out of his cuts at the stem. His excellent change of direction agility, along with his acceleration, allows him to easily get behind second level defenders and he has the valid foot speed to stretch the field (see 2017 Missouri, Georgia games).
Football Sense... Yes, Hurst is still learning the nuances of the game, as he has only 26 games of starting experience, but he is the type that quickly learns from his mistakes and is a good student of the game. Because of his lack of experience, a coach will find him to be a “clean slate” who might not have the desired reps at his position, but one that shows a willingness to “learnce” and has a very coachable attitude, along with a work ethic that sees him do more that the staff requires from him. Hurst made great strides for someone who has such limited gridiron experience, but his technique is still raw and he is in the “baptism under fire” stage of learning the intricacies of playing football. However, he has a multitude of ability that makes him a prospect a position coach will love to mold, drawing comparisons to former Colts standout Dallas Clark.
Hurst is the type that plays up to his size and ability when it comes to the passing game. He is never going to be a “blow ‘em up” type of blocker on a consistent basis, but you will never see him shy away from contact or take a side when he needs to face up to bigger defenders. He gives excellent effort in all areas of the game, even if the technique is still quite raw, especially as a blocker. He has put in the extra hours after practice to learn route technique and how to adjust to catching outside the frame.
Release ...Hurst might still be raw technique-wise, but his athleticism is very noticeable. He shows good pad level and explosion coming out of his stance and into the route (see 2017 Missouri, Texas A&M, Georgia games). He displays fluid change of direction agility and the hip shake to wiggle into tight areas. He runs with a long stride, showing the burst to ride up and get behind the safety. He still needs to learn how to stay in his routes better (will drift), but he has good quickness releasing off the line when lining up in the flex position. Hurst has the enough functional strength to work through the jam effectively, but can get rerouted when he does not use his hands properly to get a push off the defender. During the team’s 2017 season, the junior seemed to have transformed – doing an outstanding job of getting up field and into his routes, either from a three-point or two-point stance. He works hard to get a free release and because of his sudden burst, second level defenders have often struggled in attempts to hold him up.
Acceleration...Hurst accelerates with average speed up the seam. He has started to show confidence in his ability to thrust and generate a quick second gear, showing very good body control coming off the snap and into his patterns. Once he learns how to use his hands better to avoid the hold-up, he could be even better here. He can quickly find the seam in the short area zones, doing a nice job of sitting and coming back for the ball. His speed allows him to get deep and his quickness makes defenses conscious of his position on the field. If given space, he can take the ball for valid extra yardage (gained 384 of his 559 yards after the catch in 2017). With his athleticism, Hurst can continue to develop as a valid intermediate area threat at the next level, but he is usually mirrored by quicker linebackers and safeties when trying to go deep. He’s become quite effective at catching the “skinny seam” in the team’s mid-range passing game and his baseball skills are evident when he displays balance, body control and timing going for the jump balls.
Quickness...What makes Hurst easier for linebackers and safeties to cover on deep routes is his average speed and he is not really very sudden with his initial move. Still, he has good body movement skills and that high step to break tackles and gain valid yards after the catch. When left uncontested, he generates a quicker get-off on his routes. His speed gets negated a bit when he takes soft angle cuts, though. His agility is evident, as he has no problem lowering his pads to get a better burst coming out of his three-point stance. He needs to be quicker getting into his route, but he has the loose hips needed to escape and take the ball up the seam. He is best when working across the middle, as he has the flexibility needed to turn, catch the ball, plant and drive and sneak through tight areas on the way to get valid yardage. You can see on film that he moves easily and in 2017, he demonstrated much better balance and quickness in and out of his cuts, along with nice vision when he settles into the soft areas on the field.
Route Running... Hurst is still a work in progress, but you can see his rapid development in becoming a polished route runner. He is developing savvy and moves, always working hard to get open consistently. He has shown throughout the last two seasons that he continues to improve his route recognition and in finding the empty spots in the zones. He is best when used on outs, ups and shallow crossing routes and he also does a nice job of extending to pluck the ball away from his frame. He has shown good progression in knowing how to adjust to oncoming defenders and no longer short-arms when working in a crowd. He still has concentration lapses getting off the snap, but that should be eliminated as he gains experience. His big progress here is that he has learned when to gear down rather than outrun the pass and has developed confidence in his speed, as he seems to transition quicker in and out of his breaks. He has also developed a good feel for knowing when to shield the ball and box out the defender. If given room to operate, he can take the ball up the seam and challenge the deep safety, but he usually needs to power through the initial tackle.
Separation Ability...Hurst’s recent success is partly due to his success in learning how to lean into or out of his breaks, as he has enough acceleration and initial burst to separate, but just average foot speed. He’s learning how to jab one direction and break off his routes squarely, doing a nice job of finding holes in the short zones. Unlike most tight ends that look mechanical in transition, Hurst has shown consistency coming out of his breaks (more often on hitches and curls). He gains most of his success pulling away from defenders on drag routes and has the ability to cause mismatch issues when he is flexed out, as few corners or safeties have the size to challenge him for jump balls or stay on his hip.
Ball Concentration...On 155 passes targeted to Hurst, he has caught 100 (64.52%) with just three drops - none on 44-of-64 targets in 2017 (68.75%). He shows good concentration, blocking out his surroundings when elevating to reach the ball at its high point and does a nice job of positioning his body to make the play (see 2017 Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia games). He has that enough height teams look for in a tight end during jump-ball situations and his athleticism is evident by the way he contorts and adjusts to get under the ball in flight. He works hard to hold on to the sphere after taking the initial hit, but he will need more strength to compete at the next level.
Ball Adjustment...Hurst displayed greatly improved ball concentration the last two seasons, after having been rushed into the lineup without benefit of a playbook back in 2015. He has the arm extension and timing to win most jump ball battles, where he can easily catch outside his frame. When working through traffic or when contested, he has no hesitation sacrificing his body and you no longer see him double catch and short arm throws. He’s learning how to utilize his average strength better, doing a nice job of making the catch with defenders hanging on to him, as he has stopped using his body as a crutch. He has good flexibility to keep his head on a swivel, turn and come back for the ball, possessing good body control to adjust. He still needs to do a better job of getting his feet down along the sidelines, but there is no stiffness evident, especially when going for the low throws.
Leaping Ability...Hurst shows no hesitation to compete for the jump ball. He seems to like catching the ball in stride, but he is also comfortable catching when he elevates for throws and shows good e reach ability, thanks to his large, mitt-like hands. Yes, he is still a work in progress, but he has made great strides in improving his timing, as he is savvy enough to not leave the ground too early to get to some high throws. The height in his leaps is evident, as he came out victorious on 16-of-18 targeted balls where he had to leave the ground to make those grabs last year.
Hands... Hurst shows very good pluck and snatch hands, but early in his career, he would body catch. He has completely reverted to being a natural pass catcher, after becoming more comfortable in the team’s system after not touching the pigskin for years while playing pro baseball. He does a nice hob of catching away from the body’s frame and really impresses with his ability to adjust to the over the shoulder balls. He is effective at looking the ball in over either shoulder. With his long reach and huge “mitts” he has become highly effective being utilized on the seam routes and out patterns. With each passing game, he’s become more comfortable catching the ball easily and away from his frame, no longer fighting to absorb the sphere. With that wing span, he’s a perfect fit for a pass-oriented offense that requires their tight ends to pluck, extend and snatch the ball in their hands and then securing the pigskin upon contact.
Run After the Catch...Hurst has just average speed and elusiveness, but utilizes his functional lower body strength to break some tackles. If given room, he has above enough speed to go the distance with the ball, but has yet to display the second gear needed to pull away from anyone outside, especially from quicker second level defenders. The thing I like about him is his steady improvement turning it up hard after the catch, making one cut after another in his quest to break free from the pile. He has the long stride to compensate when he’s tied up a bit trying to get his release off the snap, but you hope he can develop that second gear needed to pull away from safeties and deep zone defenders. While he still needs to improve his upper body core strength, he has the leg power to break arm tackles. He still is working on improving his vision consistency, as he will sometimes run into spots on the field, but he makes every effort he can to escape or drag the isolated defender for extra yardage after the catch.
Blocking Ability...Hurst slides his feet and uses his hands well, but needs technique work and better use of the weight room to add more football power (current strength does not translate to the field). He will break down and fight, giving a solid effort blocking in-line, but has to get his hands up quicker to jolt back the defensive ends. He stays after the linebackers blocking up field, but tends to lose vision on the run, causing him to get “rag dolled” from the side and behind. Some coach can unearth his talent, but first must completely refine his biggest blocking weakness – his footwork (will get narrow in his base or cross his feet, making him susceptible to cross-over action and counter moves).
Compares To...Dallas Clark-ex Indianapolis Colts...His coaching staff loves this kid, calling him a quick learner and he has the work ethic to give a coach reason to believe that he will be a good program player at the NFL level. You can teach an athlete to be a football player, but you can’t teach a football player to be an athlete. In the draft’s second round, he could be a pick that pays huge dividends in a few years. Just be patient with his development and you will be rewarded.