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Making the Case for Hayden Hurst in 2021

hayden hurst

Arthur Smith was hired by the Atlanta Falcons to be their new head coach for 2021 and beyond. The Falcons are 28-36 since losing the Super Bowl four years ago, and it appears the Falcons are leaning towards a rebuild. Trading Julio Jones further suggests the idea to be true. However, Matt Ryan is under contract through 2023 while carrying a massive dead cap hit in 2022 ($40.5M) and a sizeable dead cap hit in 2023 ($15.6M). The Falcons selected Kyle Pitts fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he is one of the most prolific tight end prospects we have seen since Vernon Davis. The Falcons declined Hayden Hurst’s fifth-year option just days after drafting Pitts. All signs point to Kyle Pitts exploding in 2021.

But this article is about Hayden Hurst – Hurst may be the late-round tight end target with the potential to be a league winner in your 2021 fantasy football leagues.

Importance of Arthur Smith’s coaching history

Smith was the Tennessee Titans tight end coach from 2014-2018. Before becoming head coach for the Falcons, Smith was the Titans’ offensive coordinator the previous two seasons. Looking at Smith’s two seasons as an offensive coordinator with the Titans:

  • The quarterback averaged 465 passing attempts per season
  • The lead running back averaged 340.5 carries per season
  • The lead wide receiver averaged 95 targets per season
  • The lead tight end averaged 54.5 targets per season

The statistics do not generalize to the offensive coordinator. Often times plays break down or the quarterback goes through progressions on the play. The point being, there likely are designed play calls for each position and we can understand a system in place.

Arthur Smith had Derrick Henry (RB), A.J. Brown (WR), and Jonnu Smith (TE) as his primary weapons in the Titans’ offense – honorable mention Corey Davis (WR). The Falcons’ roster fairs similarly outside of the running back position. Why is it important to understand Smith’s coaching history?

Arthur Smith utilizes multiple tight end sets

Smith is a fan of multiple tight end sets. In 2020, his offense utilized two tight end sets on 38% of the plays. This is where Hayden Hurst steps in. Looking at the 2020 usage of the Titans’ tight ends, Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser:

Key takeaways:

  • The graph shows both tight ends receiving targets in the offense
  • Variable data
    • Meaning, there is no consistency with the data paths
  • Both tight ends saw 5+ targets in only two games played together
  • Smith averaged 4.38 targets per game
  • Firkser averaged 3.46 targets per game

It is important to note the Titans favored the run game. A.J. Brown and Corey Davis were also receiving options with over 90 targets on the season. It is intriguing to see both tight ends receive targets in the offense. Yes, 4.38 and 3.46 targets per game is not a lot, but the Titans as a whole had the third-fewest passing attempts in 2020. To average three targets as the second tight end, and fourth receiving option is impressive.

Hayden Hurst will be utilized in the Atlanta Falcons offense in 2021. Hurst appears to be a late-round tight end target worth picking up as your TE2.


It is important to note the Arthur Smith while with the Titans had Derrick Henry, while the Falcons are deploying Mike Davis as their RB1. The Titans favored the run – isn’t it obvious why? Henry is one of the running backs where you can force-feed him carries and he will lead the offense to victory. Davis finished as an RB1 in the 2020 season following Christian McCaffrey’s injuries. However, the Panthers’ offense is designed to benefit the running back.

The only thing we know for certain is the uncertainty. We have no idea how the 2021 Falcons offense will be utilized. What we do know is the importance of two tight ends in an Arthur Smith offense. The Falcons trading Julio Jones leads us to believe Kyle Pitts will be heavily involved in the offense. Many people are hoping to acquire Russell Gage (WR) or Olamide Zaccheaus (WR) as a sleeper pick for the 2021 fantasy football season.

Let everyone focus the attention on the wide receiver options believed to make a 2021 impact — then swoop in for Hayden Hurst.

Dynasty Implications for Hayden Hurst

This article focused on Hurst and his 2021 fantasy football relevancy. However, there are still takeaways if you are in a dynasty league. The fifth-year option for Hurst was declined because the Falcons likely do not want the guaranteed 5.4 million dollars on the books for the 2022 season. Hurst is playing for a contract and said he is on a mission during the 2021 season. I would not particularly say Hurst is a “buy low” option given him turning 28 years old before the season and being 29 for the 2022 season. Hurst is athletic enough to make big plays in an offense, especially if he is the third or fourth option. If Hurst is utilized vertically in the Falcons’ offense, he will benefit from having defenses scheming out Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, and shutting down the run game. Remember, Smith utilized two tight end sets 38% of the time. Hurst will find his way on the field in 2021.

The point I am trying to make is, do not single out Hurst. If Hurst is a throw-in or if you are able to acquire for a late-round rookie selection, I am all for bringing Hurst on my team. Especially given the scarcity of the tight end position.

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