Hayden Hurst’s Long-Term Future with Los Angeles Chargers: Can He Solidify Tight End Role in 2024?

Could the Los Angeles Chargers be Hayden Hurst's permanent home?

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Hayden Hurst has been a journeyman. Having earned a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason, at 30 years old this will be his fifth team since entering the league in 2018. He was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, spending two years with them and two in Atlanta, but has never spent more time than that on one single team (he was with Cincinnati in 2022 and Carolina in 2023). 

Andy Bischoff, who was the assistant tight ends coach for the Ravens from 2018 to 2020, has a history with Hurst, and as the new tight ends coach/run game coordinator for the Chargers, he talked in his introductory press conference about developing Hurst into a top tight end. He said that Hurst has the speed, and the hands and that he just needs the right situation. The LA environment seems to suit Hurst and there is a willingness to develop his skill set to its fullest. It’s definitely a “if he can’t thrive here, he won’t thrive anywhere” situation. 

Hayden Hurst’s History 

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Hayden Hurst: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Hurst’s stats are a bit all over the place, similar to his history in the NFL. In his first season with Atlanta in 2020, he had career-highs in receiving touchdowns (six) and receiving yards (571). During Week 2 against Dallas, he got a touchdown after catching a 42-yarder from Matt Ryan, as he turned on the jets in a completely unguarded area of the field to make it into the end zone. That catch marked his longest of the season, and he had quite a few games with double-digit yards after catch that year. 

Being that wide receiver option, having speed, and good ball-handling ability, are definite positives for Hurst. And it’s an added bonus that he’s not afraid to be aggressive and has stiff-armed his fair share of defenders. Even though his playing time in Carolina last year was cut short due to a concussion, he started out the first game of 2023 with five receptions for seven targets, one receiving touchdown, and 41 receiving yards.

Where he’s struggled is in pass and run blocking. 

Though 2020 was his best season in terms of production, it was his worst in terms of pass blocking. He played the second most pass-blocking snaps of his career (24) that year and was given a grade by Pro Football Focus (PFF) of 30.5. And despite playing more run-blocking snaps over the various seasons, he hasn’t been much better in that area, and most of his grades for that have hovered in the 40s and 50s.

The lack of reliability when it comes to protection, coupled with decent but not great receiving stats, along with injuries over the last few seasons, make Hurst not the most compelling tight end. But this season with the Chargers may be his chance to turn things around.

How Hurst May Fit With the Los Angeles Chargers Long-Term

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
Hayden Hurst: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

During his introductory press conference, Hurst seemed grateful to be back in a system that he’s familiar with. He said that the Harbaugh mentality is to be physical and you want teams to give up in the fourth quarter when you’re just hitting our stride. He remarked that as a tight end in the Harbaugh system, you have to be able to do everything.

Bischoff mentioned that tight end Will Dissly, who was also acquired by the Chargers this offseason, owns the C gap, and emphasized that they were really going to focus on the offensive line this year. The key for Hurst in LA will be to become that well-rounded tight end, succeeding in those areas of pass and run protection where he’s failed.

Staying healthy and amping up his pass and run blocking will take Hurst from “decent” to “good” and then with a few more touchdowns under his belt and receiving yards, he’ll easily be able to jump to “great.” If he can become that versatile tight end and an essential piece on the offensive line, he could have a shot to stay with the Chargers beyond this year and dare I say, even beyond two years.

If he can’t, he’ll serve as that stopgap for if or when the Los Angeles Chargers draft or acquire someone better and younger to fill the position.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Hayden Hurst: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports