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Film Breakdown: How Hayden Hurst Will Fill C.J. Uzomah's Shoes

The former first round pick signed a one-year deal with the Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals have a new starting tight end following C.J. Uzomah's decision to go to the New York Jets. 

Hayden Hurst signed a one-year deal with the team last week. 

After the Falcons drafted Kyle Pitts at No. 4 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, they had no real reason to keep Hurst. 

Let’s watch the film and see if he can provide the stability the Bengals are looking for at tight end. 

Where He Excels

  • Hurst has strong hands and rarely drops passes. He averages one dropped pass per season and does a great job of catching the ball and securing it through contact.
  • Hurst is capable athlete and will be a credible threat in the intermediate and deep areas of the field. He should be a mismatch if he is manned up or matched by opposing linebackers. 
  • He does a good job of getting physical when he needs to both after the catch and while running routes trying to get open. He uses his body well and is not afraid of contact.
  • Hurst is an intelligent route runner who does a great job to sit in the void areas of zone coverage.
  • Hurst is very good at cut blocking defenders. He makes contact with their upper thigh and actually cuts them down. A lot of players just roll into them like barrels in Donkey Kong and let themselves become obstacles. Hurst is more physical than that.
  • He was the 2020 winner of the NFLPA's Alan Page Community Award, which shows the impact he has had off the field. He should seamlessly fit right into the Bengals locker room.

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Areas of Concern

  • Hurst isn't a good run or pass blocker other than the cut blocks. His smaller size and shorter arm length really hurts him in this area, even though he does not shy away from contact.
  • At times makes some mind-boggling decisions like trying to hurdle over defenders.
  • Ball security was an issue this past year. He was charged with three fumbles, which were the only fumbles of his career, but there were a couple more plays where the ball came out either out of bounds or after the whistle was blown for forward progress. It could just be a small sample size thing, but it's something to monitor.

Scheme Fit

I think that Hurst will fit into Uzomah’s role pretty nicely. He’s a smart player to work the underneath areas and to sit in the voids of zone coverage while he has the athleticism to threaten down the field and be utilized on slide routes. He is not an upgrade at the position, but he provides the stability the Bengals needed at tight end heading into the draft.

Overall Thoughts

Hurst is a very talented player. He was a first round pick just four years ago and for good reason. He has very nice athleticism, hands, and intelligence. He has never become the elite tight end that he was drafted to be, but he’s still good.

He should be able to play as both an in-line tight end and as a big slot player. While his run blocking needs work overall, he can be utilized to cut block on the backside of zone or to sift block and cut that way as well. He’s not a guy you can trust to block edge rushers, but most tight ends are not.

As for catching the ball, I think he should provide near what Uzomah was able to do. He has just as good if not better hands and similar athleticism. He can work all of the routes that Uzomah did from a stick route to a wheel route. His intelligence and athleticism make for a nice combination to get open while his hands provide the reliability that Joe Burrow needs from his tight ends.

This one year deal should not inhibit the Bengals' plans on possibly drafting a tight end this year, but it will allow a rookie to ease into their role. Hurst will provide stability at the position for a team looking to compete right now.

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