IDP Rookie Watch: Is Defensive Tackle Maurice Hurst the Answer to Jon Gruden’s Question On Finding a Good Pass Rusher?

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Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden traded away an all-pro edge rusher in Khalil Mack. Now he wonders where to find a pass rush. Maurice Hurst might be the answer.


The Oakland Raiders pass rush is bad. The Raiders are dead last in sacks with seven in eight games. When asked, after two weeks of a poor pass rush, why it is so hard to find a pass rusher, head coach Jon Gruden said “It’s hard to find a great one. It’s hard to find a good one. It’s hard to find one; you just said it. With college football, they aren’t dropping back to pass and throwing anymore.” Fans, reporters, and analysts alike have been trolling Gruden ever since.

We have been trolling Gruden because he sent a then hold-out Khalil Mack, a 2020 second-round pick, and a conditional 2020 fifth-round pick to the Chicago Bears. In return, the Raiders received first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a 2020 third-round pick, and a 2019 sixth-round pick.

Mack has made the Pro Bowl in the last three seasons, has been named First Team All-Pro twice, is the only player to be named First Team All-Pro at two different positions (linebacker and defensive end), and has a won defensive player of the year. In each of his first four seasons, Mack has accumulated over 70 total tackles. In the last three seasons, he has achieved double-digit sacks. Since 2015, Mack leads the NFL in total pressures according to PFF. Gruden traded arguably the best pass-rusher in the game. This is why we are trolling Gruden.

However, the past few weeks have shined more light on Gruden’s rationale. Gruden seems to be blowing up the team for a rebuild in his own image. The Raiders traded under-achieving, star wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick in 2019. They also released their best remaining pass-rusher Bruce Irvin.

It is not as if the Raiders had a dominant pass rush with Mack and Irvin. In 2017, the Raiders tied for 24th in the league with 31 sacks. In 2016, they were last with 25. The Raiders entered the 2018 NFL draft with a lot of needs, pass rusher defensive line and pass rusher being one of them.

Thus, the Raiders drafted two defensive tackles and a defensive end. The defensive end, Arden Key, I have already written about. One of the defensive tackles, Maurice Hurst, may be the steal of the 2018 draft.

College

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Hurst was dominant in his career at Michigan. After playing as a reserve in his freshman season, Hurst accumulated 127 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three passes defended over his final three. In his senior season, Hurst had the best season of his college career with 59 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and two passes defended.

Hurst’s senior season was the most dominant seasons ever for an interior defender as graded by PFF. He also ranked first among draft eligible interior defenders in pressures and first in run defense grade by PFF.

The statistics and PFF grades tell us the well-roundedness of Hurst. He is both a great pass rusher and run defender. Here we see him take on two blockers and get pressure on the quarterback to force an errant throw.

Hurst yet again fights through to blocks to pressure the quarterback out of the pocket.

Hurst has an elite first step, using it to blow through the line and get to the quarterback. Look how quickly he gets off the ball.

Hurst regularly blew up run plays as well. He uses his quick first step to create a push to get to the running back.

He also has power to push lineman back and breakthrough to the ball carrier.

All of Hurst’s abilities led many scouts and draft gurus to give Hurst a first-round grade in the 2018 NFL draft. He was ranked third on PFF’s big board.

NFL Preseason

Hurst dropped significantly in the draft, however. Diagnosed with a “heart condition”, Hurst was sent home from the 2018 NFL combine. Later cleared to participate in Michigan’s pro day, but the damage was done. Hurst fell to the fifth-round where the Raiders selected him with the 140th overall pick.

Unsurprisingly, Hurst impressed at Raiders OTAs. He carried that momentum into minicamp, impressing All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele. Hurst continued to impress throughout training camp.

In his first NFL action, Hurst, along with Hall, provided a ton of pressure against the Detroit Lions in week 1 of the preseason. In week 2 of the preseason, Hurst once again was a problem, this time for the Los Angeles Rams. Hurst stuffed a run on third down, forcing the Rams to kick a field goal in his first play of week 2. He also produced his first sack.

Against the Green Bay Packers in week 3, Hurst added another half sack. He put a couple of nifty moves on the Packers guard and met Packers met defensive end Fadol Brown at the quarterback. Hurst did not play in the Raiders final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.

NFL Regular Season

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Hurst started the season on the second team defense behind fellow rookie P.J. Hall. Over the first four weeks of the season, Hurst progressively got better, according to PFF.

Against the Denver Broncos in week 2, Hurst recorded his first sack. In week 4, He had his best game to date against the Cleveland Browns. Hurst accounted for four tackles, one for loss. Though he only pressured the quarterback Baker Mayfield twice, one of them resulted in a strip sack and a turnover.

Through five weeks, PFF gave Hurst the highest grade among Raider defenders.

His run defense has also translated to the NFL.

Hurst had another dominant game in week 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers. He accounted for four tackles and recorded his third sack of the season.

Through nine games of the 2018 season, Hurst has 21 tackles, three sacks, three passes defended, and one forced fumble. While he has not been a stat sheet stuffer per se, traditional statistics do not account for much of Hurst’s value. Hurst only has three sacks, but he has been able to create a lot of inside pressure, which is extremely valuable for a defensive tackle, but traditional statistics do not account for. Filling gaps and cutting off running lanes is also part of a defensive tackle’s responsibilities. Stat sheets do not account for those either.

Summary

Even before trading away arguably the best defensive player in the league in Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders had a hard time getting to the quarterback. Thus they drafted defensive line help. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, a first-round talent, fell to the Raiders in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. Thus far in the 2018 season, Hurst has shown why he was thought of as a first-round talent, grading as the best Raiders defender through week 10. The Raiders are in the midst of blowing up the team for a rebuild, and Hurst is a key piece to build around.

In IDP, Hurst is not worth much as of right now. He has not been able to accumulate tackles nor sacks. However, he is only a rookie. Hurst will be extremely valuable in IDP as soon as next season. In dynasty leagues that require defensive tackles, Hurst is a must-stash.


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Started playing fantasy football with my dad 15 years ago. Still have no idea what I am doing. Just trying to pass on any analysis I can to help you win.