Maurice Hurst nearly had his NFL dreams crushed by a heart condition. Instead, he’s a Raider after they traded up to select him with the 140th pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Hurst was diagnosed with an undisclosed condition right before the NFL Combine, raising questions about whether or not he could continue playing football without putting his health at risk. He was cleared before Michigan’s pro day, where he showcased the skills that made him one of college football’s most productive defensive linemen. His strength and speed were on full display, reinstating his status as a first-round talent:
From start to finish, @mohurstjr put together an impressive performance at today's Pro Day. #ProBlue pic.twitter.com/Tuno4hoUKX— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) March 23, 2018
There was late talk that his heart condition would cause him to fall in the draft:
When I brought up Michigan DT Maurice Hurst to Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt today, Klatt said more teams than you might think are really concerned about Hurst's heart issue. Did some checking around and I think he's right. Sorry for Hurst, but he seems likely to slide big time.— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) April 25, 2018
And he did end up falling to Saturday.
But it wasn’t an issue for the Raiders.
What makes Hurst a worthy gamble?
Hurst isn’t the biggest defensive tackle out there; he’ll cede 50 pounds in certain matchups against NFL blockers next fall. But he plays bigger than his 6’1, 291-pound frame would suggest thanks to his low center of gravity, explosive quickness, and firetruck engine strength in the middle.
He was able to overpower Big Ten blockers — a solid analogue for the bulk he’ll face at the next level — in a productive four-year career. He racked up 24.5 tackles for loss as an upperclassman, including multiple TFL performances against teams like Penn State, Florida State, and Michigan State. His ability to blast through gaps and disrupt pulling guards makes him a capable run defender. He splits blockers and uses solid speed to chase down runners, making him useful beyond the line of scrimmage.
More importantly, he’s a strong pass rusher from the center of the line. Hurst tallied 10.5 sacks his final two seasons with the Wolverines, all of which came against Power 5 opponents. His strong lower-body drive reacts with hyperactive hands to shed blockers and shrink pockets — not just giving him a path to the quarterback, but also making life easier for the pass-rushing linebackers and defensive ends around him.
Why might Hurst struggle in the NFL?
Vita Vea, Washington’s similarly rated defensive tackle, clocked in at three inches and nearly 60 pounds heavier than Hurst, which highlights just how small a 290-pound man can be. The Michigan standout didn’t let this gap affect him in college, but he’ll be facing a different class of blocker in the NFL. That will negate some of the power and force advantages he had as a Wolverine, and he’ll have to rely on speed and technique to make up the difference.
It also limits his role in the NFL. He lacks the size to man the middle in a 3-4 defense, and teams may be reticent to move him to the outside in that scheme. That may lock him in to a 4-3 team where he can shoot the gap as a three technique tackle. There’s still plenty of value to that, but the lack of flexibility that comes with it could mean a change in defensive philosophy costs him a job.