The center of attention at the Ravens’ introductory news conference Friday afternoon was not South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst, the team’s top NFL draft pick, but the player selected after him, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
After a series of questions for Jackson, Hurst was asked whether it was “bizarre” to sit and watch as a No. 32 overall pick was treated like someone of far greater stature. Hurst said Jackson “deserves the recognition,” and that he was happy to have been taken by the same organization.
“He's a quarterback,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said jokingly of Jackson. “He gets all the questions.”
Hurst’s unlikely ascent from minor league baseball flameout to Southeastern Conference star to No. 25 overall draft pick has left little doubt about whether he can hack it in the NFL. Now it seems to be a matter of how quickly he’ll be a primo target for whichever Ravens quarterback’s targeting him.
Assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman recalled that “from the moment we turned on the tape with him, you just see a multidimensional athlete that has exceptional hands.” Later, he rattled off the positions at which the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hurst might line up: in the backfield, split out wide as a receiver, closer to the line as a traditional tight end. “And he can throw, too, so watch out.”
Perhaps the biggest worry about Hurst is something he can’t change. He’ll be 25 by the Ravens’ first regular-season game, older than 2015 draft pick and fellow tight end Maxx Williams by almost eight months.
“I heard a couple of questions about it at the kind of combine and things like that, but you're always going to have people that like you and you're always going to have people that don't like you,” Hurst said. “That's always out of your control. I don't think it's a negative thing whatsoever, but everyone's entitled to their own opinion.”
For a Jacksonville, Fla., native who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and later walked on at South Carolina, Baltimore has a surprisingly special place in his heart. Hurst grew up rooting for Miami football, and to play for the franchise of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis is, he said, “extremely humbling.”
“I can only hope that I bring the same thing they brought every single day,” he said.