Detroit Lions draft target: defensive tackle Maurice Hurst

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Miles Sanders
ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Miles Sanders /

The question to ask is not whether Maurice Hurst is the best gap-shooting defensive tackle in the draft. The question is whether the Detroit Lions are looking for a gap-shooting defensive tackle at all.

The Detroit Lions are looking at defensive tackles. The reports out of various pro days say that the Lions are looking very closely at defensive tackles. How far do they really need to look though? One of this draft’s best players at the position is right there in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He fills a role that the Lions may be desperately looking for, the interior pass rusher. Maurice Hurst to the Lions just makes too much sense, right?

If the Lions are looking for a three-technique defensive tackle, this is their man. Hurst uses his elite first step to get into a gap, and he churns his legs after contact to press that advantage. He has shown an uncanny ability to time the snap of the ball. He is stronger than his size might indicate, he stands 6’1″ and weighed 291 lbs at the Combine. His 32″ arms are not ideal but match up with the majority of NFL guards reasonably well. Hurst’s height, or lack thereof, helps him get underneath blockers and gain leverage. More often than not this outweighs his arm length deficiency.

Hurst gets into backfields and disrupts plays, which is an incredibly valuable skill set. He doesn’t just run around blockers, he goes through one shoulder or the other. Unlike many gap-shooting defensive tackles in this class, Hurst maintains awareness of what is happening in the backfield and works toward the play. You don’t see him harmlessly flying to the side of the pocket or deep into the backfield on the backside of the play. He fights to remain relevant until the whistle.

Hurst’s heart condition is the only reason that he will be available at pick 20. It may even drop him to pick 51. His on the field play is among the top 15 prospects in this draft class. There are holes in his game, no prospect is perfect. The upside of Hurst’s ability to penetrate into the backfield while maintaining awareness of the play in front of him will make him dangerous in the NFL.

Hurst is not a fit for every scheme, however. Lions head coach Matt Patricia ran a scheme in New England that required his defensive linemen to play a two gap technique. The players that tend to do best on the interior of this style of defense are bulky, strong, and relatively long players. They are the opposite of Maurice Hurst. The Patriots did run some single gap defense under Patricia, but it was not the bulk of their scheme.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will have playcalling autonomy in Detroit, with Patricia focusing on total team oversight rather than calling plays. It is hard to imagine the Lions not sticking to Patricia’s generally preferred style of defense though. It would seem likely that Patricia hired coaches he was familiar with specifically because they would stick to the program. When Hurst has difficulty, it is because he engages a blocker squarely. He simply lacks the length or bulk to be effective in a two-gap role.

Maurice Hurst is exactly the kind of player the Lions needed in every draft from 2015-2017. He would have fit brilliantly into  Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme. Unfortunately for the Michigan alums with dreams of a Honolulu blue and silver Hurst jersey to match their maize and blue, Hurst may not be on the Lions shopping list at all.

Next: A tight end for every round of the draft

If the Lions want a three-technique to add to their defensive tackle group, Maurice Hurst is the best one. It is just not clear that they have any use for a player that can only play that role. The Lions have taken advantage of the fact that they can visit with Hurst as a local prospect. Whether that means they actually want him remains a mystery until April 26.