The Atlanta Falcons declined tight end Hayden Hurst's fifth-year option and drafted Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall within a five-day span. The 27-year-old Hurst now enters a contract year with pressure to finally live up to his first-round draft status.
"I'm definitely on a mission this year," Hurst said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I've got a lot of reasons to play a little bit harder this year."
As the Falcons' primary TE last season, Hurst caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six TDs. Each mark was a career-high for the TE in three seasons since being selected No. 25 overall by Baltimore but remained below expectations.
"It's a big year for me, now," Hurst said. "Obviously, being a free agent at the end of the year. I've got my priorities in line, and I know what I need to do this year."
The Falcons prioritized upgrading the position, adding the pass-catching Pitts, who became the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. Atlanta also traded for blocking TE Lee Smith from Buffalo.
Hurst believes the addition of Pitts will be a benefit and won't affect his ability to produce.
"I think a lot of the stuff that we are going to do is out of multiple tight-end (formations)," Hurst said. "I thought (the selection of Pitts) was a good thing. He's going to draw a lot of attention when he's out on the field. So, I think it's going to help everybody across the board."
New coach Arthur Smith liberally used two-tight end sets in Tennessee, so there is a chance Hurst and Pitts see the field together a lot -- particularly if Atlanta ends up trading Julio Jones. Hurst said that in his view, Smith is the first coach who will develop his talents properly.
"I think it's a great offense," Hurst said. "Finally, in my fourth year, going to get utilized vertically. That's what I was able to do well in college and then finally an offensive coordinator can see that and hopefully utilize it this year."
Hurst's speed and YAC ability got him drafted in the first-round. Heretofore, his production has lagged behind the projection. Hurst needs everything finally to click in Smith's offense before he heads to the open market next season.