Falcons' Hayden Hurst 'a man on a mission,' poised for a breakout year

Former first-round NFL draft pick cites several reasons why he expects big things in 2021 campaign

Hayden Hurst takes the first month after an NFL campaign completely off to relax, rewind, reset. The Falcons tight end doesn't let the offseason last any longer than that.

Once the calendar page turns, it's freaking on.

"I hit it pretty hard," Hurst said after Thursday's OTA session. "I try to get as strong and as fast as I possibly can. I'll do whatever it takes to do that, whether it's lifting for three hours and hitting the field after that. That's just how I'm wired."

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Intense workouts are an offseason staple, though Hurst took things a bit farther this year by taking away some indulgences. What he put into his body became as important as energy expelled getting in great shape.

"This year was big for me, adding the diet to my routine as well," Hurst said. "I'm down to almost eight percent body fat right now. I'm definitely a man on a mission this year. I have a lot of reasons to play a little bit harder."

Take a look through tight end Hayden Hurst's life on and off the field in this player spotlight gallery.

Hurst isn't kidding.

The more he learns about first-year head coach Arthur Smith's offense, the more he likes. The new Falcons system prize versatility and downfield speed, traits that Hurst has in spades he hasn't been able to showcase as much as he could in 2021.

That's why Hurst 2021's a breakout year in the making.

"What I bring to the table is pretty unique as far as my vertical speed and how I'm able to move at my size. The way I play in games, my tempo is a match [to the system]. I think it's a great offense and I'm excited. I think that, in my fourth year, I'm going to get utilized vertically. That's what I was able to do in college. Finally, an offensive coordinator can see that and utilize it this year."

Smith sees great potential in the South Carolina product and will find innovative ways to use Hurst even with No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts in the mix. That will often happen with both guys on the field at the same time, with blocking and receiving skills that must be respected. That makes the Falcons unpredictable even if obvious run and pass formations.

"That's the beauty of this offense," Hurst said. "We're going to operate at multiple tight end sets. History has proven that with Coach Smith in Tennessee. I think we have a pretty good group of guys here in Atlanta and that he's going to be able to utilize all of us in specific ways to create mismatches and make defenses uncomfortable."

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Hurst insists the Falcons decision to decline his fifth-year option didn't make things uncomfortable. The 2018 first-round pick now enters a contract year season supremely motivated to prove his worth. That could be another reason why Hurst is a "man on a mission," as he puts it.

Smith said Wednesday that Hurst is a valued member of the team, that he has "high expectations" for the 27-year old tight end.

Hurst feels the same way. He thinks big things are coming, and won't let the declined option play a role in his approach.

"I'm always going to bet on myself," Hurst said. "I'm not going to let that stuff ever affect me. I'm going to go out and do my job. I'm going to like where I'm at come the end of the year."

Fans react to an Atlanta Falcons touchdown during the first half of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA, on Sunday November 24, 2019. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Atlanta Falcons)

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