Ravens dealt early-season blow at tight end position

August 24, 2018 | Luke Jones

The Ravens have been dealt their first summer injury that will impact the start of the 2018 season.

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to miss three to four weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out of the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo. On Friday, Hurst will undergo a procedure to insert a screw in his foot to aid with the healing process. He had practiced without any apparent incident earlier this week, making the news surprising going into Saturday’s preseason contest at Miami.

It’s a tough early-season blow for a talented skill player the Ravens were expecting to contribute immediately as both a receiver and blocker. Hurst’s absence increases the roster chances of Maxx Williams as Baltimore uses tight ends prominently in its run-blocking schemes and the former second-pick is a good blocker despite never realizing his full potential due to injuries. Veteran Nick Boyle is Baltimore’s best blocking tight end and was already a lock to make the roster.

Turning 25 on Friday, Hurst was already trying to defy the history of NFL tight ends typically struggling as rookies by becoming a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco, so a foot injury won’t help his cause.The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hurst caught five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

Fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, has been hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the spring and summer and hasn’t stood out in the preseason with just two catches for seven yards.

Hurst caught a combined 92 passes for 1,175 yards and three touchdowns over his final two seasons at South Carolina and was regarded as having some of the most reliable hands in the draft class. Boyle and Williams combined for just 43 catches last year while top receiving tight end Benjamin Watson signed with New Orleans in the offseason.

Hurst’s early absence as well as the disappointing performance of the young wide receivers on the preseason roster could help create a path to a roster spot for tight end Darren Waller. Formerly a wide receiver, the 6-foot-6 Waller is coming off a yearlong drug suspension, but he brings the size and athletic upside to be a red-zone target and a bigger slot option. Waller has also shown the ability to contribute on special teams in the past, which could further enhance his case to make the team over 2017 special-teams contributor Vince Mayle.

The Hurst news comes just three days after the NFL announced Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith would be suspended for the first four games of the season without pay for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.