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With big shoes to fill, Maurice Hurst has ‘grown leaps and bounds’ for Raiders

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The rookie DT has emerged as a cornerstone for the Raiders defense.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Through 15 weeks, the Raiders rank dead last in the NFL with only 12 sacks on the season. For perspective, that’s half as many as the next lowest ranked Miami Dolphins (24) on the year. It can be difficult to find positives on what has become one of the worst defenses in the league, but one has shone bright — rookie Maurice Hurst.

The former Michigan defensive tackle was considered one of the top talents in the 2018 NFL Draft, but fell to the Silver & Black in the fifth round due to a heart condition. In just his first season, he has already emerged as one of the best players on the Raiders defense.

“He’s grown leaps and bounds,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on Friday. “We knew we drafted a good player when we took him, and he has not disappointed. He was a little dinged up last week coming off the last ball game. He’s done a good job in both the run and the pass. He’s been able to push the pocket some on third down, so he’s going to be a great player for us.”

Even while battling an injury the past few weeks that have caused him to miss a game and be limited in others, Hurst ranks fourth among rookie interior defenders this season with a 72.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

His 4.0 sacks lead the Raiders. That may not be a lot, but if you’ll recall, that was how many sacks Khalil Mack recorded during his rookie year in 2014.

With Mack’s absence, the Raiders were left with an enormous hole on the field and in the locker room; one that Hurst has looked to fill taking over a leadership role on the defense.

“Mo is certainly special that way, as far as preparing,” added Guenther. “He cares a lot and is working out all the time. He’s all football, so I think his energy and stuff leaks out to the other guys.”

While Hurst might never have the same impact as Mack on the Raiders defense, his skill-set does closely align with another defensive star, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Both players were considered undersized pass rushing 3-techniques coming out of college. Donald has thrived in the NFL because of their elite quickness offering proof Hurst can as well.

Donald recorded 9.0 sacks in his rookie campaign, but also had the luxury of playing next to Robert Quinn who totaled 30.0 sacks from 2012-14. Hurst has no such help. Just as with Mack in 2014, he draws most of the attention from offenses since he is the Raiders top defensive lineman.

While Hurst wasn’t a first round pick as Mack and Donald, Hurst was considered a first round talent prior to the news of his heart condition was revealed. So, basically the Raiders are getting a first round talent for pennies on the dollar.

After the 2014 NFL Draft, Oakland inked Mack to a fully guaranteed four-year deal worth nearly $19 million. Hurst was a signed to a four-year rookie deal worth less than $3 million.

The future is bright for Hurst, and he will only continue to grow as a centerpiece in Paul Guenther’s defense.