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Panthers TE Hayden Hurst plans to become rookie QB's 'best friend' 

After trading for the No. 1 overall pick, the Carolina Panthers had a massive hole in the pass-catching corps.

One of the Panthers' significant additions in free agency was ex-Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst, who sees himself playing a pivotal role for whichever rookie quarterback Carolina selects.

"Tight ends are always a quarterback's best friend," Hurst said, via the team's official website. "Especially (for) a rookie coming in, you want that reliable guy in the middle of the field, where your vision is. Obviously, you need the guys on the outside, too, to make your life easier. But if you can have that reliable guy where you know he's going to be somewhere within 10 yards or going down the middle of the field, and just put it up, that's why I came here."

After trading D.J. Moore as part of the package for their choice of a rookie quarterback, the Panthers added veteran pass catchers to the equation. In addition to Hurst, Carolina signed Adam Thielen and DJ Chark. The goal seems clear: Whichever rookie QB it chooses will acclimate better with experienced weapons.

A former first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, the 29-year-old Hurst took time to find an offense willing to give him a chance to be a more significant part of the picture. He generated just 43 catches for 512 yards and thee touchdowns in two years with the Ravens before being traded to Atlanta, where he spent two seasons. He had a career-high 571 yards on 56 catches and six TDs in 2020 as a Falcon, but Hurst said last year with Cincinnati was the first time his skill set was truly utilized. In 13 starts with the Bengals, he generated 52 catches for 414 yards and two TDs and added 13 catches for 141 yards and a score in three postseason games.

"It's a really, really cool feeling when you come into your own and figure it out," Hurst said. "Just listening to the coaches saying, 'We've watched your film; we see what you bring to the table. We're excited to have you in this building.' Because it's taken five years, I hadn't really been given the opportunity until last year in Cincinnati, where they kind of let me be me.

"You do a lot of soul searching; you try to figure out, 'Am I the problem in this situation? Is it me? Is it my skill set?' It's really just all about opportunity. I was given that last year in Cincinnati, and it kind of revitalized me and helped me learn who I am. So that's what I'm going to bring here to Carolina."

Hurst joins a Panthers TE room in need of a veteran presence with Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble atop the depth chart. No Panthers tight end surpassed the 200-yard mark last season. Hurst hopes to change that by becoming the No. 1 overall pick's security blanket.

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