Film study: If Hurst is healthy, he can be an NFL star

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 7:36pm

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Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Maurice Hurst’s NFL Draft Combine didn’t go the way he planned.

The former Michigan defensive tackle didn’t run the 40-yard dash or get on the bench press. He was held out of every drill due to an irregular electrocardiogram, which measures electrical activity in the heart. Despite being cleared from the same issue by the Wolverines, per NFL Network, Hurst’s draft stock has, at least temporarily, taken a hit.

That much is out of his control. If Hurst is eventually cleared, as he expects, according to Kim Jones, the part he can control — his play on the field — makes him a first-round pick.

Hurst has elite get-off speed and a quick twitch from the line of scrimmage. His 6-foot-1 height ranks in the 17th percentile for incoming defensive tackles, his 292-pound weight the 15th, per MockDraftable, but Hurst has turned it into an asset. He can fire off the line of scrimmage with gusto, consistently creating easy leverage that turns into pressure.

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown utilized Hurst last season by consistently moving him around the line of scrimmage and stunting — having him start a play lining up over one gap, then moving to another after the ball was snapped. Hurst’s versatility is a major asset at the next level. Though I’d argue he fits best playing at 1-technique — shading the inside shoulder of the guard — you could easily get away with playing him at 3-technique, on the outside shoulder of the guard. Brown did both and got results, as well as lining Hurst up at nose tackle regularly and 4i-technique on occasion.

Hurst’s run defense is a tad more refined than his pass rushing. Once he gets leverage, Hurst can easily control any blocker, putting in grade-A work with his hands and moving off linemen when the time comes. His most impressive plays on tape last year came when opponents ran inside zone, which calls for double-teaming interior linemen. Hurst often plowed through the double-team and stuffed the running back before he could get anywhere. That could change in the NFL, where the linemen are bigger and more precise with their blocks, falling off less often, but Hurst has still shown an uncanny ability to shed double teams throughout his career.

It’s hard to find a flaw in Hurst’s run defense. His size may give teams some pause as to whether he can fill space in the middle of the line the way a 1-technique traditionally does. Compare him to 6-foot-5, 332-pound Vita Vea — the likely top pick at defensive tackle — and that’s understandable. But it didn’t seem to matter on tape.

Hurst’s speed allows him to make plays you rarely see from interior linemen. He can fly across the field to shut down a screen and has the sort of determination scouts love, never giving up on a play.

As a pass rusher, there’s some development left for Hurst. He consistently goes to the same tune — firing into the A or B-gap and hitting some poor unsuspecting guard with a swim move or hand-swipe. That worked wonders for him in college. In the NFL, though, opposing linemen will be ready for it.

That doesn’t mean the swim move won’t work in the NFL. You could make a mixtape from the success Hurst had with it in college, and it’s completely unstoppable if the guard can’t shuffle to the gap quickly enough.

 

When Hurst did break out other moves, he had varied success. He could easily turn his bull rush into a weapon, but it isn’t there yet. Whether the bull rush develops will depend on whether Hurst learns to convert speed into power. Right now, it’s an area where being undersized makes a difference, as it’s tough for Hurst to create leverage rushing with the sheer force a bull rush requires.

Hurst is going to have success in the NFL, assuming his medical situation gets sorted out. He should be an effective run defender almost immediately. Size will keep him from going too high in the first round, but if he turns out to be the best defensive tackle in this draft class, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.