The Oakland Raiders may not be playing in Las Vegas yet, but they’re already taking Vegas-sized gambles on talent in the draft.
The Raiders drafted Maurice Hurst, a defensive tackle out of Michigan, 150th overall in the fifth round on Saturday.
Some viewed Hurst as a first-round talent on the level of elite defensive linemen like Ndamukong Suh and Fletcher Cox, the kind of impact player who could anchor a run-stopping, pass-rushing trench warfare juggernaut for years to come.
Trouble is, Hurst had to leave the NFL combine early due to a heart condition, one that will have to be monitored with annual checkups and that could end his career at any moment either due to loss of medical clearance or … worse.
For every team in the draft’s first four rounds, even those with a need on their defensive line, that was enough to spook them off of picking Hurst.
The Raiders, however, decided in the fifth round that the chance of lucking into a first-round talent on Day 3 of the draft Saturday was worth the risk of having the pick go to waste if Hurst were unable to perform on the field, since many players taken in the fifth round and below fail to make the team anyway, getting cut in the preseason and forgotten.
General manager Reggie McKenzie was sanguine on Hurst’s prospects.
“It’s something he has to go through, however you want to term it,” McKenzie said, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Now that they’ve found out whatever this condition is — I’m not going to get into all the medical terms, all the what-ifs. He’s just going to have to follow a certain deal where he gets checked just so everyone is on the same page and we all know everything.”
Hurst has known about his condition for a while now, downplaying the significance it has on his pro prospects.
He was initially diagnosed in 2013, but he wouldn’t say what exactly caused the abnormal EKG that first surfaced five years ago and then drew sufficient alarm at the combine that the doctors there refused to allow him to work out and sent him home.
With health care and medical records the last remaining well-kept secrets thanks to HIPAA requirements, if Hurst doesn’t want the media to know what his ailment is, no amount of cajoling or demanding of either Hurst or the Raiders will be able to make it public; to leak that information is a federal crime.
But it must have been something dangerous if the league, which fears liability like most people fear spiders or snakes, just flat out refused to let him participate in the biggest scouting event leading up to the draft.
Heart conditions are no laughing matter; Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions died during a game in 1971 from a heart attack, and in basketball, Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics collapsed on the court from a heart condition and died in 1993.
— Ramzi Aquino (@OfficialRamziA) April 28, 2018
But Hurst continues to insist that he’s OK and that the condition won’t lead him to a similar fate.
“I knew about it here so I was a little surprised that they held me out, but I was excited I was able to do everything at pro day,” Hurst said. “I think it was just the fact that I had not had any testing done recently. Just a lot of times, the combine will play it safe. That’s what they did.”
“I think they’ll view me exactly the same as before,” he said. “If you’re cleared, you’re cleared; it’s not really anything to look back on.”
Hopefully this is much ado about nothing, and Hurst will have a successful career and, more importantly, a long life.
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