New England Patriots draft board: A look at TE Hayden Hurst

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 24: Hayden Hurst /

Bill Belichick has taken a closer look at South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst, does that mean he is a potential first-round draft pick for the New England Patriots?

With four combined picks in the first and second round of the 2018 NFL draft, the New England Patriots will have some flexibility.  They will also have a greater opportunity to fill some of their needs.

Is tight end one of those needs.

With star tight end Rob Gronkowski still mulling retirement, but likely just holding out for more money, the Patriots may be forced to think about a possible replacement now rather than later.

Typically, Bill Belichick would find such a player in the later rounds, but depending on how the Gronk drama plays out, there could be urgency to add a player to the depth chart with a great talent.  That’s where South Carolina tight end prospect Hayden Hurst comes in.

Belichick met with the tight end prospect two times in March.  With one of those times coming at the Combine in Indianapolis, it appears the Patriots head coach likes what he sees in Hurst, who has drawn comparisons to former tight end Dallas Clark.

Why Bill Belichick loves him?

Hurst, who is projected to go in the first or second round, is a former baseball player who displays the type of versatility Belichick salivates for.  With his good combination of size and quickness, Hurst has an about to release quick into routes.  Those attributes would prove to be ideal in the Patriots offense.

Along with his dependable hands, Hayden Hurst has shown an ability to separate from defenders and could give the team similar blocking to that of Rob Gronkowski given his frame and overall size.

In saying that, he still needs to work on his blocking skills, which he could certainly do in New England.   He will also need to work on his ability to manipulate defenders during routes.  Those are both weakness he will have a chance to work on, but could he excel under a coach like Bill Belichick?

With the way he described his meeting with the future Hall-of-Fame coach, it appears he isn’t intimidated by the mystique of Belichick.

"“He’s just a normal football coach,” Hurst said, via 98.5 the Sports Hub.  “You get in the room with him and he just talks football, asks you about plays, your offense, things like that.  It’s not that crazy.  At first, when I walked in, I was like, “That’s the guy I see soon TV,’ but you get used to it after a little while.”"

Meeting with Bill Belichick and playing for him are two different things.  Could Hayden Hurst handle playing for a coach as strict and football savvy as Belichick in an atmosphere like New England?

The question to that answer will be revealed if the team actually drafts him.

The numbers don’t lie

While he is a little bit older than most prospects entering the NFL, Hayden Hurst has the ability to become a top tight end in the NFL probably because of his age and maturity.

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Combine that with his athletic ability and you have an old school tight end more than capable of making an impact, just ask ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who loves the potential of Hurst.

"“He’s a little bit more a true old-school tight end.  I think he’s more physical at the line of scrimmage (than Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews),” Herbsreit said in contrasting Hurst from other tight end prospects.  “He’s fun to watch after he gets his hands on the ball because he’s looking to hurt somebody.  He’s looking to run over somebody over.  I just love his energy and athletic ability.”"

Sounds like the type of tight in the New England Patriots have enjoyed the past several seasons.  In all, Hayden Hurst is coming off a season in which he had 44 receptions for 599 yards and two touchdowns.  In his career at South Carolina, he caught 100 balls for over 1200 yards. 

Personal thoughts

While the New England Patriots should definitely draft a tight end in the draft, they shouldn’t go higher than the second round for Hayden Hurst.  They have other needs more important and if Gronkowski does return, Hurst will not get much time on the field unless an injury limits the All-Pro tight end.

At the same time, Bill Belichick may be looking for someone to play right away.  In that respect, Hurst appears to be the more seasoned tight end given his age.  With the way the Patriots utilize tight ends, he may have an opportunity to excel in Foxboro quicker than he would with another NFL team.

Next: New England Patriots: Top 5 pass catching tight ends of all time

I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if the New England Patriots selected him with one of their first four picks…if they keep them all.