The 49ers are hoping former Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst can reinvent his otherwise scuffling career in his first year in San Francisco.
After all, Hurst was pegged by many draft analysts to be an easy day-two pick, perhaps even someone who could slip into the back end of Round 1. Yet a heart condition likely thwarted his chances of being selected earlier, leading to the perceived draft coup.
Yet Hurst’s efforts with the Raiders seemingly weren’t enough to warrant keeping him around, particularly in light of missing five games last season. And in somewhat of a shocking move, one which was blasted by The Draft Scout’s Matt Miller, the Raiders let Hurst go early in 2021.
While Hurst may never be a dominant Pro Bowl-caliber player, he has shown the ability to be a quality rotational piece, evidenced by the pass-rush prowess displayed over his first two seasons:
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t wait long to snatch Hurst up off the wire, signing him to a one-year prove-it deal on April 23 — a smart move for a Niners team that lost defensive linemen like Kerry Hyder, Solomon Thomas and Ronald Blair in free agency this offseason.
Hurst now has the chance to revitalize his career, likely as a backup and rotational player but nevertheless as someone who could improve his own stock as a player.
And at only 26 years old, Hurst still has a good deal of effective time left in his body.
Why Maurice Hurst improves with 49ers in 2021
At 6-foot-2 and 291 pounds, Hurst can either act as a solid backup in a 1-technique format, but he is also adept at playing more of a 3-technique position, too, giving him some versatility, which will be needed if he expects to carve out a backup rotational role.
But perhaps the best endorsement for Hurst came from Pro Football Focus, which touted him as San Francisco’s most underrated player entering 2021:
After being inexplicably released by the Raiders, Hurst now gets to show the 49ers what a valuable player he can be as part of their defensive line rotation. Maurice Hurst may never have become a devastating NFL player, but he has been a consistently good pass-rusher, earning PFF pass-rushing grades of at least 77.0 over each of the last two seasons.
Certainly good enough for a supplementary pass-rushing role, which will be the forte for Hurst if he’s able to latch on under the tutelage of the 49ers’ defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek.
Why Maurice Hurst flames out with 49ers in 2021
Hurst already dealt with some minor injuries during organized team activities that held him out of practice, and the Niners have to be leery about rostering players who have injury concerns.
This could have been a key reason why Las Vegas parted ways with Hurst in the first place, although one can point out the Raiders front office as questionable in making that decision anyway.
Regardless, it’d be premature to assume Hurst winds up finding that niche role, given he’s had problems shedding blocks dating all the way back to his time in college and doesn’t necessarily have the size or strength to overcome that aspect.
For a player already dealing with injuries, it’s not likely this area of his game will improve anytime soon.
Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster, expected role this season
San Francisco’s starting defensive line is pretty much set with EDGEs Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam, along with interior defenders like Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Jones taking up the middle, rotating Jones out in sub packages.
After that, though, the D-line depth is pretty questionable.
Hurst figures to compete with other depth players like Alex Barrett, Darrion Daniels, Kevin Givens, Zach Kerr, Arden Key and Kentavius Street for one of perhaps four reserve roles for this unit this season.
There are a lot of bodies, yes. But there’s a good reason why Hurst survives the cut.
For starters, he has a substantial $125,000 in guaranteed money associated with his one-year deal. That might not seem like a lot in terms of the greater picture. But when compared to some of the other reserve defensive lineman, it’s noticeable and works in his favor.
Plus, Hurst’s pedigree as a good rotational player should put him a step above players like Daniels, Barrett and Street, who have had signs of quality depth play but never at a consistent enough level.
Should Hurst make the roster, he’ll likely be one of those second-string situational interior pass-rushers to help spell someone like Kinlaw.
And while Hurst probably won’t get to five-plus sacks this season, even boasting three or four would mean he was a wise addition from the 49ers’ vantage point.