Panthers’ signing of Hayden Hurst brings new element to TE position

Between taking control of the 2023 NFL draft and dipping into the open market, the Carolina Panthers have had a particularly busy week. And in the middle of their work came tight end Hayden Hurst, who may give the organization something they haven’t had in a long time.

But first, we go back to 2018—when a 25-year-old Hurst was the first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. While his selection was a questionable one due to his age, the two-sport athlete had some upside given his elite playmaking ability at South Carolina and his explosive 40-yard dash (4.67 seconds) at the combine.

Hurst’s early lack of high-end production, however, was a tad underwhelming given that investment. He’d be traded away from Baltimore after just two seasons, a run where he totaled 512 yards and three scores off 43 receptions.

The tides would, however, turn for Hurst—who then had his best pro season in his first year for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2020, he recorded career-highs across the board with 56 receptions, 88 targets, 571 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

After an ankle injury shortened his 2021, Hurst hit free agency and stuck on in Cincinnati. Although he wouldn’t replicate the career campaign, the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder played a productive role for the defending AFC champion Bengals—posting 414 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly to Panthers fans, those 414 yards from Hurst were only three off of what Carolina’s three tight ends combined for throughout the entire season. So, yes, they now have themselves an actual pass-catching option at the position.

Even though he does not possess the most impressive résumé as a former first-rounder, Hurst can still be used in packages to stretch the field out of heavier formations. There is a strong chance he will push Ian Thomas for starting reps early in his tenure with the team. Plus, given head Frank Reich’s history with using multiple tight ends in the passing game, he could see significant touches.

Hurst will never be the Travis Kelce to their eventual starting quarterback’s Patrick Mahomes, but he does add an explosive element that was severely lacking for the past handful of years in Charlotte.

More Free Agency!

What Panthers RB coach Duce Staley said of Miles Sanders' big-play ability in 2020

New Panthers DL DeShawn Williams is happy to be home

Bears to sign former Panthers QB PJ Walker

Story originally appeared on Panthers Wire