Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is a bit undersized, but earned consensus All-America honors in 2017 by wreaking havoc all year with 14.5 tackles for loss. His combination of speed, power, and pass rushing moves made him effective and landed him in the first round of most mock drafts.
But in the first two days of the 2018 NFL Draft, Hurst didn’t get picked. He lasted until the Raiders took him in the fifth round.
The concerns for teams stem from a heart condition that was found during medical checks at the NFL Combine in March.
What’s the medical concern for Hurst?
The exact diagnosis for Hurst hasn’t been revealed, but Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press cited an NFL executive who called it “the same issue” as the heart condition that sent defensive tackle Star Lotulelei home from the 2013 NFL Combine. The same executive said it’s also similar to defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s heart condition.
An ESPN report in 2013 said a test at the NFL Combine showed that Lotulelei’s left ventricle was pumping at an abnormally low rate. He was later cleared when a subsequent MRI showed “no evidence of dysfunction.” Doctors reportedly believed the results of the first test were likely the product of a virus.
Still, Loutlelei slipped to No. 14 in the 2013 NFL Draft after being considered a top-five selection. Five years later, he has played in 76 of a possible 80 games and signed a five-year deal with the Buffalo Bills in March.
Fairley was also reportedly diagnosed prior to getting drafted, and it could explain why he slipped to No. 13 after getting projected as a top-five pick in 2011. The exact nature of the diagnosis wasn’t revealed, but Fairley was absent from voluntary workouts during the 2017 offseason and spent the entire season on the non-football injury list. He was cut in February and is currently a free agent.
Lotulelei’s career has gone just fine since the 2013 NFL Combine, but by all reports, he doesn’t actually have a heart condition. Fairley does, and it appears unlikely he’ll ever play again.
Hurst does have a condition and Reggie McKenzie says the team will keep a close eye on it:
McKenzie said Hurst is good to go. So why was he still on draft board? “He has a heart condition and he will need to get checked every year but right now, he’s good.” #Raiders— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 28, 2018
But wait, Hurst was cleared to participate at the Michigan pro day?
And it’s not just that. Hurst told reporters in March that he first learned about the condition when he arrived as a Michigan freshman in 2013.
Hurst said he “missed about a week’s worth of football activities” after the initial diagnosis, but was cleared and got his college career started. It clearly didn’t slow him down, and he said that his condition is the same as it’s always been. “I don’t see it being a problem at all,” he said.
So when he was sent home from the NFL Combine in March, Hurst set out to quell the concerns and get cleared. Via Birkett:
The week after the combine, Hurst went for follow-up tests at Michigan, and a week after that he traveled to Harvard for a similar battery of exams that included an EKG, MRI, stress test and more.
”I knew about it here so I was a little surprised that they held me out, but I was excited I was able to do everything at pro day,” Hurst said. “I think it was just the fact that I had not had any testing done recently. Just a lot of times, the combine will play it safe. That’s what they did.”
Hurst said he believed teams would view him the same after getting the green light to participate at the Michigan pro day.
“I think they’ll view me exactly the same as before,” he said. ”If you’re cleared, you’re cleared, it’s not really anything to look back on.”
With Hurst falling out of the first two days of the NFL Draft and teams reportedly pulling him from their boards entirely, it’s clear teams didn’t view him the same anymore.
Is Hurst worth the risk if he might not be cleared to play?
Hurst is really good. He landed at No. 17 on Dan Kadar’s big board of the top 200 prospects, making him easily the top player remaining after the first three rounds:
Michigan likes to have their defensive line get after the quarterback, and Hurst excelled in the system. He played all over the line, but probably spent the most time at nose tackle. There he utilized a quick first step and decent pass rush moves to get off blockers and make the quarterback move around in the pocket. Hurst’s best asset is his quickness, which makes the comparison to Geno Atkins plausible. Hurst isn’t the biggest interior defensive lineman, and he’ll get pushed around at times, but his speed to power play makes him worthy of a first-round pick.
Pro Football Focus likes him even more, ranking him as the No. 3 player in the entire class behind only quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Former NFL lineman Stephen White wasn’t a fan of Hurst’s effort from play to play, but said he’d take the defensive tackle in the top half of the first round if he hustled every play.
So his slide is clearly not because of his ability on the field, but it cost him money:
Hurst said due to money lost in draft, may have to keeping driving an Uber like he did at Michigan— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 28, 2018
And there was obvious frustration there for Hurst. “It’s tough going into it thinking that you’re one of the top players in the draft,” Hurst said over a conference call. “Just having good tape and everything like that. Just having to wait and see guys that you believe you are better than go ahead of you. It sucks.”
While he was cleared to play at Michigan and cleared again to participate at his pro day, and Hurst is confident he can play immediately.
“I’m ready to go right now,” Hurst said. “Just show up to rookie minicamp just like everyone else and just go through things as anyone else would.”
The only explanation for his slide is that some NFL teams were scared of a scenario in which his heart keeps him from having a long career.