The word “elite” is thrown around a little too casually for my taste. His word should be reserved for the very best of the best and not just every player that catches the eye. So when a player turns up that actually possesses an elite skillset it should be very exciting. That is the case for Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
When Big Mo is at his best then he’s as fast off the line as anybody. And that’s not just anyone in college football, that’s as fast as the best defensive linemen in the NFL. He can absolutely obliterate the line of scrimmage by either blowing past the opposing guard or submarining his opponent before they can react and create a huge pile up. This burst off the snap has generated a lot of buzz in draft circles and many are considering him a first round and even a top 15 caliber talent.
I’m not ready to buy into that kind of hype. Here are my full thoughts.
Yes, Hurst shows elite burst off the snap and that is a big part of why he’s a very good prospect. However, he’s inconsistent with his jump. While it is always pretty good, more often than not it isn’t dominant. In these cases where he doesn’t win off the snap he is much more manageable for several different reasons.
The first reason is his size. Hurst is undersized for an NFL defensive tackle at 6’2” and 280 lbs, and while being a little shorter than most NFL lineman helps him keep good leverage to prevent him from getting pushed back, it also makes it very difficult to overpower opponents to make plays in the backfield.
The second is that Hurst doesn’t have many rush moves in his arsenal to work with. He does show a nice push/pull move where he bull rushes his opponent to force them on their heels and then pulls them forward and tosses them aside. This move has shown to be very affective, but it’s unclear if it will work in the NFL against bigger, stronger blockers. Other than that he’s pretty pedestrian in his pass rush moves.
This combination of weaknesses make me question if Hurst can be disruptive or even effective at the NFL level if he doesn’t win off the snap. At least not in terms of being disruptive in the backfield. He’ll have to make plays in other ways if he can’t get penetration. This is something he’s very capable of.
Hurst shows good field awareness and usually knows where the ball is going. In those instances it’s running towards his gap, he shows the upper body strength and ability to extend his arms, keep blockers out of his chest and make a tackle. This combined with his ability to keep leverage makes it difficult to run the ball right at him, even when he doesn’t win with his burst.
Versatility will also add to his value come draft time. Hurst is probably best suited as a 3-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. However, despite lacking overall speed and quickness he could also play a defensive end in a 3-4. He’s shown the ability to dip his shoulders to where he could provide some pass rush from the outside and he looks comfortable stunting to help open up rushing lanes for the exotic blitz packages.
Overall I’m not sure I can come up with a great player comparison for Hurst. My best bet would be Kansas City defensive end Chris Jones, who also flashed fantastic, though somewhat inconsistent, burst in college. I’d also think that Hurst will be drafted in the same range (37). Don’t be shocked if you see him off the board toward the end of the first round, but mid second wouldn’t come as a surprise to me either.