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Maurice Hurst Jr. a superior run defender with pass rush potential

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When talking about some of the best interior defensive linemen in the 2018 NFL Draft, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst Jr. should be one of the first names brought up.

The son of former New England Patriots defensive back Maurice Hurst, the 6-foot-2, 282 defensive tackle was a force for the Wolverines this season, racking up 59 tackles,13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 13 games,  as a redshirt-senior. In 17 career starts, he recorded 134 career tackles and 33 tackles for loss while also registering 13 career sacks.

He didn’t just wrap up opposing ball carriers either, but awards as well.

He was named a consensus first-team All-American and a consensus All-Big Ten first team selection. Hurst was also named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year and the Bo Schembechler MVP award. To add to his on-field honors, Hurst was a four-time selection to the All-Big Ten Academic team. According to the University of Michigan, he graduated with a degree in Sports Management and was working on a Master’s Degree from the School of Social Work in Management of Human Services, with a focus on Child/Youth Services.

I had a chance to watch every snap of Hurst during the 2017 season and found some of the traits that make Hurst successful as a run defender. I have also uncovered a few of his underrated traits as a pass rusher that provides the hope for further development as a potential situational pass rusher.

According to the analysts over at Pro Football Focus, Hurst graded a 94.4 this season against the run, tops of all draft-eligible interior defensive lineman and there is a huge reason to that… his first step. One of the first traits that stood out when watching his film was his ability to set himself up for success with a great first step. There are moments where he is so quick with his initial step that he’s able to beat down blocks with ease without having to fight through contact. There are also snaps where he has the lateral agility to redirect, turn and run against oncoming zone blocks. This snap against Wisconsin late in the 2017 season is probably been shown in coaching clinics about the importance of a quick first step.

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Wisconsin is looking to run power with the left guard and the wing pulling. Lined up as a three technique over the left guard, Hurst’s first step nearly replaces the void left by the pulling guard,  beating the left tackle’s inside step while putting a strain on the center to make the down block at such a tight angle. With the center riding his hip, he is able to knock the wing off his track, forcing the running back to stop his feet before being cleaned up by a host of defenders.

Like most stout run defenders, Hurst is very good at loading his hips to generate his power, which is a direct correlation to his get off. That short, choppy step is enough for him to keep his power within his base before exploding through opposing lineman. It also gives him the strength to fend off double teams without being blown off the line of scrimmage.

One reason why Hurst is so tough to defend on down blocks is that along with his first step, he does a good job of keeping a low pad level. It’s a rarity to see him pop up out of his stance and moreover, he is so detailed in his step progression. When he fires off, he does a good job of keeping that first step six inches, allowing him able time to use his technique to redirect against zone blocking schemes.

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Lined up as a nose tackle, Hurst takes a 45-degree step toward the left guard. Aside from his first step, he has good awareness and football IQ, excelling at block recognition and reading his keys. He’s quick to diagnose the guard working toward him and with a good initial strike with his helmet and hands, he provides the shock to halt the left guard’s movement and disengaged. While continuing to work to completely disengage, he was able to turn and run while riding the momentum of the guard into the running back.

Hurst does possess good short area quickness and is fluid enough in his hips to turn and run down the line of scrimmage. There are times where he fires off the ball was still able to cut him off, which is where his strength and power within his hands come into the fold.

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Lined up in a 4i or over the inside shoulder of the right tackle, Hurst was initially beat off the snap despite taking 45-degree step toward the guard. Now, if you look closely, you can see that he was attempting to rip off the tackle into the B gap. Despite being caught, a quick forklift with the left arm and bringing his hips through opened up the tackle’s breastplate and allowed for him to regain control with both hands. After establishing his hands, Hurst was able to disengage with a strong shock.

Not a perfect product, Hurst does have some minor details when playing the run that he will have to refine when he reaches the next level. The biggest being that at times, his base becomes too narrow, leaving him susceptible to being washed on double teams or down blocks. There are also times where the game seems to become a bit long for him as he has a good initial step, but stops his feet on contact.

As a pass rusher, there isn’t one area that he is overly dominant at, but there are a handful of traits that make him become an intriguing interior pass rush presence. According to PFF, Hurst graded a 92.3 after collecting 48 pressures, seven sacks, 10 QB hits and 29 hurries.

A theme with Hurst stopping the run was his feet and power. As a pass rusher, it’s his feet and hand usage.

While they might not always be effective, his hands are always moving. He has a decent repertoire that will need refinement at the next level, possessing a good swat and chop-rip. When facing slide protection, he displays the ability to still generate pressure despite having to go through more than one opponent. However, his ability to utilize his power is where he becomes lethal.

In their home game against Minnesota this season, Hurst’s only sack on the night came by way of near flawless technique and power. With the Gophers displaying man-zone protection, Hurst gets a one-on-one situation with the right guard.

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Despite missing with his hands (each hand attacked each shoulder), he was able to get to the edge of the guard off the snap. What is really good about this snap is that you can see that he replaces his right arm to get inside of the guard’s breastplate while grabbing the wrist with his left hand. Once he regains control, he turns the corner, brings his hips and forklifts the left arm of the guard, overpowering him with a strong bull rush right into the lap of the quarterback.

There are snaps where he is unable to get to the edge or generate penetration. When he is unable to “win” his rush, Hurst has the awareness to work into the passing lane of the quarterback to try and deflect the pass. Sacks are great, but they aren’t everything when grading pass rush potential. The biggest key is whether or not they are disruptive on a consistent rush-to-rush basis and while it may not be a legitimate snap-by-snap basis, the chances of Hurst creating disruption and making the quarterback break the pocket are fairly high. When designated as the contain player in stunts, Hurst shows the lateral agility and ability to move in space.

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In a 2i, Hurst is activated on a line game with the left defensive end. At the snap, he does a good job of threatening the right guard, providing ample time for the left defensive end (No.15) to threaten upfield and come underneath the right tackle. As the LDE is coming underneath, he creates a natural pick, running into the right guard to down the tackle and free up Hurst on his loop. What makes this rush effective is that he is tight to the pileup, showing decent ankle flexion to run the arc and flush the quarterback into the boundary.

There snaps where he tends to get too wide on his loop and struggles to tighten the angle to the quarterback, adding to the list of areas – rushing with a plan, retracing on screens and refined fundamentals – that he must improve on as a pass rusher to make defensive coordinators confident enough to keep him on the field in pressure situations.

I think Hurst is going to make him a coveted prospect throughout the draft process and could see himself go in the top half of the first round. I would be very surprised if he slides out of the first round and much of that belief is due to his scheme versatility as a run defender. I believe he possesses the frame as well as the explosiveness needed to be a fairly solid three-technique at the next level, but also has the strength to play over the center. He has demonstrated during his time in Ann Arbor that he can be a force against the run and some of the traits he contains could make him become an integral piece to a front four. He has a technical base that is strong enough to take on the challenge of improving minor details to his game as both a run defender and as a pass rusher. He’s not going to be a 10 sack-type player, but he has the ability to develop into a consistently disruptive player.

 

 

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Joshua Zimmer
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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