Ravens use 25th overall pick on South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst after trading back twice

In his final draft before he steps aside after the 2018 season, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome solidified the team at the position he once excelled at.

After trading back twice in the first round, the Ravens used the 25th overall pick in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft on South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, who was widely considered the best tight end in his class. Hurst fills what was arguably the Ravens’ biggest need heading into the draft and gives quarterback Joe Flacco another pass-catching weapon to pair with the three veteran receivers the team has added this offseason.

"I was sitting on the couch and I saw the area code pop up — Baltimore, Maryland. Mr. Newsome was on the line and my heart was about to beat out of my chest,” Hurst said. “I figured this was going to happen, but until you get phone call … I mean, there are so many emotions I can't even put words to it right now.”

The Ravens picked Hurst after moving back nine total spots in the first round after two trades. Initially set to pick 16th overall, the Ravens sent that pick and their fifth-rounder to the Buffalo Bills for the 22nd pick in the first round and the 65th overall selection, which is the first pick in the third round. They then traded the 22nd pick and the second of their two sixth-round selections to the Tennessee Titans for the 25th overall pick in the first round and the 125th pick in the fourth round.

The trades left the Ravens with six of the first 125 picks in the draft. Hurst was their first selection despite potential targets, Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson still being on the board. The Falcons selected Ridley with the pick immediately after the Ravens. Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore went to the Carolina Panthers at No. 24, right before the Ravens selected Hurst.

"I told my agent I had a really good feeling when I went on my thirty visit up there that they had liked me,” Hurst said. “The facilities up there are great. I really wanted to be a part of it. The coaches said they liked me and thought I was a good fit and I could not be happier right now."

Hurst, a former minor league baseball player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, played three seasons at South Carolina, catching 100 balls for 1,281 yards and three touchdown receptions in 31 games. He averaged nearly 13 yards per reception in his career.

Hurst is a solid blocker as well, but his best assets are his strong and reliable hands and his ability to get open down the field. He should be a nice complement to roster holdovers Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, who are both solid blockers and more underneath pass-catching options. Hurst also could help fill the void left by Benjamin Watson’s free-agent departure.

"They said the needed a guy to come in, as far as a tight end and stretch the field vertically,” Hurst said. “That suits me perfectly. I want to come in and compete and get in that group of tight ends and see what I can do and hopefully help the team.”

Newsome had previously picked only one tight end in the first round and that was Todd Heap back in 2001. However, it was widely speculated this year that the team was targeting tight ends and it had brought Hurst in for a pre-draft visit. Flacco has had much success throwing to tight ends, but the Ravens have lacked a young player at the position that has the ability to run by defenders and make big plays.

Hurst, 24, certainly fits the profile with his combination of size and speed. He is 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds and he clocked a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He plays with great energy and effort.

With good feet and an ability to get in and out of breaks quickly, Hurst flashed an ability in college to beat linebackers and found holes in the defense. He made plays in every area on the field and showed a willingness to go after balls in traffic and take big hits.

According to his draft profile on NFL.com, Hurst dropped just one ball in three seasons. When he makes the catch, he also is a hard and decisive runner who seeks contact rather than going out of bounds.

A Jacksonville, Fla., native, Hurst was selected as a pitcher in the 17th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft. He spent two years in the Gulf Coast League before returning to football. He walked on with the Gamecocks ahead of the 2015 season and was initially used as both a receiver and tight end. His breakout season came in 2016 when he started 12 games and set school records for a tight end with 48 catches for 616 receiving yards. He became the first sophomore in South Carolina history to be named a team captain.

If there is a knock on Hurst, it’s that he will turn 25 in August. That’s an advanced age obviously for an NFL rookie. However, the Ravens clearly can live with that given what else he brings to the table.

A passing game that struggled for much of last season and was one of the league’s least-explosive groups has now added veteran receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, and perhaps the draft’s top tight end.

The Ravens have seven more picks in the three-day draft, which continues Friday night with rounds two and three. They have one pick in the second (52nd overall), two in the third (65 and 83), two in the fourth (118 and 125), one in the sixth (190) and one in the seventh (238).

They figure to add a receiver at some point and solidifying the offensive line remains a priority. The Ravens are also looking for a few defensive pieces, including a weak-side linebacker and an interior pass rusher.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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