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Top draft pick Hayden Hurst finds home at TE with Ravens

(AP Photo/David Richard)

By DAVID GINSBURG

AP Sports Writer

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Hayden Hurst has finally found a sport, position and team that are best suited for his athletic ability: football, tight end, Baltimore Ravens.

After being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 draft, Hurst pitched in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. He tried first base the following year before calling it a career.

"It wasn't exactly the easiest three years of my life. But I learned a lot about myself," Hurst said.

He then played football at South Carolina, lining up as a wide receiver in 2015 before moving to tight end. In 38 games with the Gamecocks, Hurst scored four touchdowns - one of them on a 2-yard run.

Still, Hurst was impressive enough to be picked 25th overall by the Ravens in the 2018 NFL draft. Just 39 minutes into his first game last Thursday night, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound rookie caught a touchdown pass to help Baltimore beat Chicago 17-16 in the Hall of Fame Game.

"It's pretty exciting," Hurst said after Saturday's practice. "I'm a big body guy, and I like to be utilized in the red zone. I'm a threat there. At South Carolina, I wasn't used a whole lot in the red zone. Nut here I think they're going to take advantage of it. So it should be a fun career."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has long relied on his tight end for big plays and touchdowns. From Todd Heap to Dennis Pitta to Benjamin Watson, the man in the middle of the field has been a vital component of the Baltimore offense.

Hurst could very well be the newest addition to that impressive list.

"Joe throws to the tight ends a lot. He has a lot of faith in that position," Hurst noted. "When things kind of break down, he tries to find us. It puts more emphasis on my position."

Flacco didn't take a snap in Baltimore's preseason opener, yet both Baltimore touchdowns were scored by tight ends. Hurst's 8-yard TD came on a pass from Lamar Jackson, a former Heisman Trophy winner who was after Hurst (32nd overall) but has received far more publicity and acclaim.

"The quarterback gets all the attention. That's how this league works," Hurst said. "It doesn't matter to me."

Baltimore lists six tight ends on the roster, so the 24-year-old Hurst is going to have to earn playing time. Though he admits he needs to know the playbook better, Hurst has already made a positive impression.

"It was good to see Hayden play well in the first game. That's the first test," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The next test is to come back and have a good week of practice and take it into the next game."

Toward that end, Hurst made a sensational grab between three defenders Saturday, drawing a collective cheer from the fans in attendance.

Not bad for a former baseball player.

"I'm glad I experienced it," Hurst says of his abbreviated baseball career. "It kind of hardened me, made me the football player that I am today. That's why I play fast and physical, because I don't want anything to be taken away from me like I kind of had with baseball."

In other news, the Ravens activated six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda from the physically unable to perform list Saturday. Yanda had offseason shoulder surgery and will slowly be worked back into a practice routine.

"Very encouraging," Harbaugh said. "This was the target date, so he's right now schedule."

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Updated August 4, 2018

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