With the New Orleans Saints now just a little over 2 weeks away from selecting their top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft at #27 overall, another name has been recently "thrown into the mix" of the conversation about who the team will target at that particular spot: "elite" University of Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
In case you may have missed it: this past Friday it was reported by NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport that none of the NFL's 32 teams are requesting any further medical "re-check" on Hurst's irregular heartbeat that kept him sidelined last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"NFL Combine rechecks are next Thursday and Friday, and Michigan DL Maurice Hurst (heart issue) was not requested back for it, a good sign," Rapoport tweeted. "Doesn’t mean he’ll be cleared by every team. But at the least, it’s a good sign for the player who was able to do his school’s Pro Day."
NFL Combine rechecks are next Thursday and Friday, and #Michigan DL Maurice Hurst (heart issue) was not requested back for it. A good sign. Doesn’t mean he’ll be cleared by every team. But at the least, it’s a good sign for the player who was able to do his school’s pro day.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 6, 2018
Hurst was named a consensus All-American and First Team All-Big Ten selection last season, racking up a career-high 61 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
His unique blend of size (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) and talent landed him in the first round of most mocks heading into the Scouting Combine, but there was doubt cast after he was sent home from Indianapolis after not clearing medical tests.
Naturally if you're reading this as a Saints fan, the next question becomes:
WHY should the Saints and their fans, even care about Hurst and his medical issues?
That's an easy one, which is that Hurst is considered a prototypical "3-Technique" defensive tackle who possesses an "elite" combination of up-field burst, use of hands and play speed that is unmatched by any other similar prospect in this year's class.
1st Round Grade
Proto 3T with elite up field burst, use of hands and play speed. Slightly undersized and lacks lower body strength. Good technique vs run making him a 3 down player. Flagged /w Medical
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) April 9, 2018
But here's where the irony of the entire situation comes in for New Orleans, which is that the team has yet to essentially "replace" former DT Nick Fairley — who was forced to retire from the NFL last year after doctors determined that he was suffering from a heart condition that would make playing football a health risk for him.
The Saints essentially used a combination of DT's Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and David Onyemata last season to fill the 3-Technique role, following Fairley's departure.
But it certainly doesn't mean that they're comfortable with leaving things the way that they are, and a defensive tackle who could assume the previous role held by Fairley is certainly on their 2018 Draft "wish list".
Hurst certainly warrants consideration to be the Saints' top pick at #27 overall, but given their experience last year with the entire Nick Fairley situation; it's easy to understand how the Saints would be very hesitant to use their top pick on a player who potentially could put them in just as bad of a situation, that they found themselves in with Fairley.
Nevertheless, Hurst is good enough of a player to make the Saints brass think twice and to ponder long and hard about whether he's worth taking a risk for.
Fair or unfair the recent health issue with Nick Fairley hurts Maurice Hurst, especially with Saints. But I still believe he goes in Round 1. Quickness, timing skills off the snap and explosive inside pressure gets him that call in Round 1.
— Michael Detillier (@MikeDetillier) April 9, 2018
NDT Scouting.com Draft Analyst / NFL Scout Scott Bischoff says that Hurst is going to play as a 3-Technique in a 4-3 base defense (and the Saints would most likely place him in that same role), but he is versatile enough to slide around and play out of different spots along the defensive line. However, the 3-Technique is going to be where Hurst lives, and that is where he will make his money.
Bischoff notes that Hurst has excellent first-step quickness and he can penetrate the backfield quickly to make plays. He is a powerful interior defender, making plays with a rare combination of quickness and power to hold up at the point of attack and defeat blockers inside.
Bischoff also adds that Hurst is a fantastic interior pass rusher, but he is not a one-trick pony as he is stout against the run too. Additionally, he makes the observation that not too many NFL quarterbacks are going to be thrilled about staring down a 280+ pound tackle that can close quickly to make plays inside.
To summarize, Bischoff says that Hurst is going to produce at the next level because of his outstanding capability to disrupt an offensive line — and he will help his new teammates with his next team once that he enters the League, in multiple ways.
Just thinking out loud: imagine a Saints D-Line of Hurst and Sheldon Rankins in the middle, with Cam Jordan coming off the weakside edge. If strongside defensive end Alex Okafor is able to recover fully, you'd have to say that would make the Saints D-Line rival that of the Rams, Vikings, or the defending champion Eagles, for the League's best.
For the Saints, the biggest question will be whether or not they'd want to take the risk of getting "burned" again by a player who has similar health concerns to the very same player that they just lost a year ago.