The 49ers remain committed to defensive tackle Maurice Hurst this season despite a forgotten 2021 campaign where injuries got in the way.
A little over a year ago, the San Francisco 49ers made it something of a habit, picking up castoff scraps from the Las Vegas Raiders in NFL free agency.
Two notable names come to mind: EDGE Arden Key and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, both relatively high-profile NFL Draft picks by Las Vegas whose individual draft stocks fell for very different reasons.
Key resurrected his career by recording a career-high 6.5 sacks with the Niners in 2021, then turned that into a quality free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason.
Hurst, meanwhile, wasn’t so lucky.
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The 6-foot-2, 291-pound Hurst looked like a quality pickup during training camp and for brief moments in the preseason. But a calf injury ultimately derailed whatever hopes the former fifth-round NFL Draft pick out of Michigan had for thriving in a new context with San Francisco.
Playing just two games during the regular season, missing almost all the year because of calf issues, Hurst nevertheless found him re-signed by the 49ers and joining an awfully stacked defensive line.
He’ll have to overcome that positional battle to make an impact, but there are reasons why he can and then some.
Why Maurice Hurst finally makes an impact with 49ers
As noted earlier, Hurst was having a strong training camp back in 2021 and seemed poised to be a regular part of the Niners rotation, only to lose that chance because of calf injuries.
Setting the injury concerns aside for a moment, it appears as if Hurst is back on that same trajectory, at least early during San Francisco’s offseason workouts.
Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn had to say about Hurst from mandatory minicamp:
Burst into the backfield and tagged running back Jordan Mason for a loss. Hurst missed most of last season with a calf injury, but he seems healthy now, and he’s good when healthy.
Granted, these practices were padless and didn’t involve actual tackling. But it’s the burst that should stand out, as that was one of Hurst’s top calling cards out of college.
If he can replicate that in camp and into the preseason, he’ll have an excellent chance.
Why Maurice Hurst flames out with 49ers
There are two things working against Hurst.
For starters, calf injuries aren’t simple things to come back from, and him being out for essentially all of 2021 signals why this could be a problem again.
On top of that, the 49ers still have that awfully deep offensive line. Despite losing nose tackle D.J. Jones to free agency this offseason, they’re still looking at 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw to shoulder the bulk of the load on the interior.
That’ll keep Hurst pushed down deeper on the depth chart, and he’ll have to battle alongside some new faces, too, such as former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway.
One minor setback for Hurst could ultimately cost him valuable training camp reps and subsequently endanger his spot on the 53-man roster.
Chances Maurice Hurst makes 49ers’ 53-man roster
Make no mistake, Hurst is far more than just a camp invitee.
Saying it’s “either Ridgeway or Hurst” is a bit unfair, especially considering the former has a $1 million dead-cap hit if cut this season, whereas Hurst has zero and is poised to make up to $945,000 this season with nothing by the way of guarantees.
Yet Hurst could find himself battling it out with other defensive linemen who are poised to play a depth role, such as Kerry Hyder Jr., Kevin Givens and Alex Barrett.
On paper, Hurst is the better option out of those three, so much of it will come down to how healthy he is and whether or not he can secure one of those reserve spots on the depth chart’s interior.
If so, expect Hurst to be that rotational player the Niners envisioned him being a season ago, only making a substantially better impact because he’s actually available.
That’d be a good turnaround in the wake of his setbacks from 2021.