One of the biggest stories of the 2018 NFL Draft was one-time top rated defensive tackle prospect Maurice Hurst’s fall to the fifth round following the discovery of a heart condition that kept him from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Raiders took some heat for making the First-Team All-American their selection at 140th overall. Teams around the league viewed the move as “irresponsible” despite Hurst having been medically cleared by doctors at both Harvard University and the University of Michigan.
Without that red flag, the star defensive tackle was a top-ten talent in the draft. Raider Nation was thrilled when Hurst was drafted, but they weren’t the only ones happy with the selection. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was shocked Hurst was even on the board.
“I was saying, ‘Draft him, right here,’” Guenther said this week following OTA practices. “When you watch him play at Michigan, he had certain traits for a three-technique in our defense. When he started to slide and he was there for us to pick in the fifth round, I couldn’t believe it, really.”
We’re just a little over a month since he arrived and already his new coaches and teammates in Oakland have taken notice of his immense talent.
“You know, when you’ve been in it long enough, you kind of know, even in shorts, what it’s supposed to look like,” said Guenther. “I think both of those young guys (Hurst and P.J. Hall) are really coming along. Obviously, Maurice is probably a little bit ahead of P.J. because P.J. comes from a small program.”
Veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson added that Hurst and Hall are “Very athletic guys that can move around” and “can get off the ball.”
Johnson knows the value of a dominant defensive tackle, as he played behind Dontari Poe in Kansas City for five seasons. Like Hurst, the two-time Pro Bowler wreaked havoc in backfields with his quickness, becoming one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the league.
“It’s a pass-happy league,” added Johnson. “You need some guys in the inside that can get some, everybody has these big money guys on the outside, you need some guys on the inside that can rush the passer on third down.”
Hurst could potentially start from day one as a three-technique defensive tackle giving the Silver & Black a much needed interior pass rusher. With 10.5 sacks in his last two seasons for the Wolverines, Hurst was widely viewed as the best interior pass rusher in this year’s draft.
The 6-2, 290-pounder is a perfect fit for Guenther’s 4-3 defense that relies heavily on defensive lineman to create pressure without blitzing. His skill set is comparable to six-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, who saw some of his most productive seasons under Guenther when he was the Bengals defensive coordinator from 2014-2017.
“He has great off,” added Guenther. “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.”
Expectations are high for the fifth round pick, as Hurst was listed among the favorites to win Defensive Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Focus. While it is still early, the Raiders appear to be impressed with what they have seen.