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Maurice Hurst to be Khalil Mack’s biggest on-field help in turning Raiders defense around in 2018

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How Maurice Hurst is a 5th-round steal that will help Khalil Mack the most in turning the Oakland Raiders’ defense around.

NFL: Oakland Raiders-Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Khalil Mack is the best edge rusher in the game today. But the Raiders have yet to finish in the top-3rd in overall defense or sacks since drafting him at 5 overall in the 2014 draft. That’s because he hasn’t had much help.

Opposing teams have been getting away with triple-teaming Mack and blocking everyone else one on one. And receivers have gotten open so quickly, there hasn’t been time for the rush to get there anyway.

The Raiders did something about that this offseason.

They hired new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, whose specialty is scheming his pass-rushers into one-on-one matchups. He already got Mack help on the other side by moving Bruce Irvin to defensive end. Gareon Conley, the team’s 2016 1st-round pick, is healthy now and has fellow CB Rashaan Melvin to hold up opposing WR’s. But Mack’s biggest help will be Maurice Hurst, whom the Raiders stole in the fifth round due to a heart issue he has since been cleared to play with.

Hurst is a top-10 caliber talent Pro Football Focus ranked at No. 3 and is just what the Raiders need. Remember, Lawrence Taylor dominated the NFL with Leonard Marshall as his star interior rusher. And Hurst has everything it takes to be for Mack what Marshall was for Taylor.

Hurst dominated college football. He accumulated a grade of 96.5 from Pro Football Focus; the highest grade they have ever given an interior defensive lineman.

These college grades usually translate well to the NFL at a high rate and if the player goes into the right situation, it doesn’t take long for them to excel.

Leonard Williams came out of USC with a grade of 91.9 then posted a solid 86.7 as a rookie with the New York Jets. DeForest Buckner came out of Oregon with the second-highest college grade of the Pro Football Focus era at 93.7 in 2016. He went into a bad situation with the San Francisco 49ers, posted a solid 82.3 then upped it to 90.4 with a new coaching staff.

Physical traits are important in evaluating a prospect too. You don’t want to take a receiver with great production early then have a bust on your hands because he’s too slow to get open in the NFL. But there’s no worries about Hurst in that department either. The player he compares best to is Geno Atkins, whom defensive coordinator Paul Guenther coached when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.

At 6’1”, 292 pounds he’s coming into the NFL the same height and weight as Atkins. Atkins was a little stronger with 34 reps of 225 to 29 for Hurst. And while he’s faster, running a 4.85 40 to 4.98 for Hurst, Hurst’s 10-split edges Atkins’ 1.73 to 1.75.

Another big part of the evaluation process is technique and Hurst has that. He comes off the ball extremely low and puts technically sound swim-moves on you with his quick hands. That low posture also helps him shoot gaps and anchor in the run game. He’s already impressing his new teammates and coaches with his explosiveness.

“He has a great get-off,” Guenther said after an OTA practice. “The three-technique is the penetrator of our defense. He does a great job with that. He’s going to have to learn big man’s game a little bit where you don’t get the double teams as much in college. You’re going to get a lot more of that in the NFL. Then obviously in the pass rush. He’s slippery in the pass rush. He has good side to side movement. He’s a powerful guy.”

“I’m really impressed with Mo,” guard Kelechi Osemele during minicamp. “Definitely got a steal with him. He’s looking real good. He’s going to be good. If he just keeps going, the sky is the limit for that guy.”

His pedigree, physical gifts and skills say the Raiders have a real one in Hurst. They are on the same level if not above Williams’ and Buckner’s coming out and look what they’re doing. Hurst will see Osemele and fellow guard Gabe Jackson in training camp to sharpen up too.

So teams will have to double him, taking one off Mack to do so. His interior rush will also prevent opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket when Mack beats his man on the edge. That could very well help Mack get up to the 20-sack in 2018. Hurst is also great against the run so he’ll help to Mack turn the Raiders’ defense around immediately.

Down Below is a detailed look at him.