The Carolina Panthers have a huge decision to make after giving away multiple draft picks – and star wide receiver DJ Moore – to obtain the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 National Football League (NFL) draft.
The franchise is in desperate need of a starting quarterback – although there appears to be little consensus as to which signal-caller they will choose when they are called to the podium on April 27 in Kansas City. Also, the 2023 draft doesn’t seem to feature a sure-fire franchise quarterback on par with with Kyler Murray in 2019, Joe Burrow in 2020 or Trevor Lawrence in 2021.
The latest reading of the tea leaves is that the team is focused on 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young – who has long been regarded as the favorite of owner David Tepper. However, cases are still being made for former Ohio State signal-caller C.J. Stroud, former Kentucky quarterback Will Levis and former Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson – the latter of whom had one of the best combine workouts of any quarterback in NFL history.
Whichever quarterback Carolina picks, they will have a reliable target to look for downfield in the form of sixth-year tight end Hayden Hurst – who signed with the franchise on Wednesday.
Hurst – a 6-foot-4, 260-pound native of Jacksonville, Florida – was a walk-on at the University of South Carolina after spending two seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league baseball organization (he was selected by the Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 draft.
“Garnet Thor” caught 100 passes for 1,281 yards and three touchdowns during his career at South Carolina from 2015-2017 – earning all-SEC honors as a junior. Following his time as a Gamecock, Hurst was a surprise first round pick of the Baltimore Ravens – who chose him No. 25 overall in the 2018 NFL draft.
After two underwhelming seasons in Baltimore, Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons prior to the 2020 season. In his first year in Atlanta, he posted career numbers – 56 receptions, 571 yards and six touchdowns. His role was reduced the following season, however, as the Falcons relied on Kyle Pitts – the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft – as their primary tight end.
Hurst signed last March with the Cincinnati Bengals, appearing in thirteen games and catching 52 passes for 414 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Those weren’t exactly sensational numbers, but the Panthers got only 50 receptions for 417 yards and three scores from all four of the tight ends on their roster in 2022.
So Hurst is a significant upgrade at the position …
“I’m happy to be back here,” Hurst said in his first tweet as a Panther. “I started my career in Bank of America stadium.”
That’s true. Hurst’s first college football game was a 17-13 South Carolina win over North Carolina to kickoff the 2015 season.
As I noted earlier this month, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Tepper heading into the 2023 season. The Panthers have posted an anemic 29-53 (.353) record since he assumed ownership of the team – failing to post a winning record or reach the playoffs over that time. By contrast, during the five years prior to Tepper’s purchase of the Panthers the franchise went 54-32-1 (.621) – reaching the playoffs four times (including a trip to Super Bowl 50).
In addition to his team’s atrocious on-field performance, Tepper has been dogged by allegations of racism in hiring new head coach Frank Reich – and remains the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations tied to the Panthers’ botched crony capitalist deal with the state of South Carolina.
The Panthers agreed to move their corporate headquarters and practice facility to Rock Hill, South Carolina back in 2019 – a deal hailed as the signature economic development of S.C. governor Henry McMaster. The agreement collapsed, though, and in 2022 Tepper’s holding company filed for bankruptcy in Delaware.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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