Technically sound and uber quick, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst has fallen down draft boards. The Bengals should take advantage of Hurst’s value in the draft.
The Cincinnati Bengals are still in need of help at the defensive tackle position. At just 6’2″, 282 pounds, Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is not the physically overwhelming prospect that other defensive tackle prospects Vita Vea or Taven Bryan are. He wasn’t a top 30 recruit at his own position, either. Hurst couldn’t even perform at the combine because of a potentially detrimental heart condition.
That’s what you see of Hurst before he steps on the field. Once the game starts, though, Hurst pops. Over the course of his career at Michigan, he has become incredibly technically sound. He’s able to get consistent position on offensive lineman and establish leverage early in the play. Hurst is able to maintain that leverage down after down, too, and that high level of consistency gives him a much higher floor than some of the more developmental DT prospects.
What really allows Hurst to gain position inside is his hand placement. His hand placement is textbook and compensates for his size extremely well. He can often get his hands right under the offensive lineman’s shoulders – prime hand placement – which essentially negates any possibility of a counterattack from the lineman.
Hurst also has creativity in his initial moves on the line. He shows the ability to create space with his hands with finesse moves in addition to power moves, almost like a defensive end. This versatility gives Hurst multiple ways of getting into the backfield, making him very difficult to stop on the line.
Hurst’s posting and leverage is just the key that unlocks his greatest asset, though: his burst. At 282 pounds, he gets off the line like a linebacker with ridiculous speed. Not only is his first step lethal, but Hurst also has an impeccable sense of snap timing. Oftentimes, Hurst is moving a half second before anyone else on the line, giving him an even greater advantage in getting into the backfield.
Once in the backfield, Hurst is exceptionally good at wrapping up the ballcarrier and making the tackle for loss. He has excellent tackling form and a very good sense of where the ball is. Hurst also has enough lateral quickness and burst to catch smaller, more elusive players like running backs.
There are concerns with Hurst; he’s certainly not a perfect prospect. Much of what I mentioned at the beginning – Hurst’s size and physical attributes – may be what hold him back from being an elite prospect. His heart condition, however, was initially scary but seems to be a nonfactor now that doctors have cleared him for drill participation.
At 282 pounds, Hurst can’t be as powerful as some space-eating tackles like Ndamukong Suh. As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com writes:
"His ability to come out fast and low should create opportunities to become a disruptive penetrator, but he has to prove that he has the strength to play through redirect blocks and hold up against NFL interior linemen."
However, Hurst plays more powerful than his size. As noted above, his quickness and hand placement allow him to get an initial advantage over offensive linemen. Hurst then uses his legs to generate enough push to get into the backfield. His smaller size also allows him to stay agiler than many other interior defensive linemen.
In many ways, Hurst compares favorably to current Bengals DT Geno Atkins, who has undeniably been the Bengals’ best defensive player for more than a half decade. Atkins, like Hurst, is slightly undersized for a traditional defensive tackle, but he uses it to his advantage. Atkins is more powerful than Hurst but is similarly versatile and quick. This combination of skills has allowed Atkins to become a sack machine on the Bengals defensive line.
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Though Atkins has been a force on the Bengals line, he needs another tackle to help ease the burden. The Bengals were among the league leaders in sacks last year, thanks in large part to Atkins and defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson. That pass rush helped the secondary, which ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per attempt.
However, the rush defense lagged far behind, hemorrhaging an abysmal 4.2 yards per carry, good enough for twenty-first in the league. The Bengals can attribute that failure to a lack of personnel on the interior. Aside from Atkins, there is nobody on the roster to fill in at the second DT spot in the Bengals’ 4-3 scheme.
Therefore, when the Bengals look to address defense through the draft, they need to start at DT. Hurst will almost assuredly be available at pick 21, and possibly even pick 44, although I wouldn’t chance it. Hurst could immediately start opposite Atkins, and he would be an instant upgrade to this defense that desperately needs someone like him to step up.
If this front office is serious about winning now, there is no question Hurst should be the pick. This Bengals team was at its peak when spearheaded by its defense, so it needs to be the defense that leads this team back to the playoffs. Most importantly, the run defense must resurrect itself.
When looking at other options for pick 21, nobody compares to Hurst. Vita Vea will be gone by the Bengals’ pick, and Taven Bryan, though talented, has too many question marks to make a first-year impact. Linebackers Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds will be off the board, as well. The offensive line crop is deep enough that the Bengals can wait for a Frank Ragnow-type to fall to them in round 2.
Hurst was the most impactful and disruptive DT in college football last year. Both his stats and his film back that up. If the Bengals commit to Hurst at pick 21, he can be a key in shoring up the Bengals defensive line next season.