James Hurst, A Top Draft Prospect Faced With Taking On Jadeveon Clowney

Run Blocking

While Hurst’s athleticism is a major asset in pass protection, it serves him even better as a run blocker.

Hurst is very good at using his foot skills to get to the second level of the defense and pick up blocks. Hurst does not only do a great job of getting upfield to make the block, but he also does a good job of sticking his block once he gets there to keep a running lane open.

He has displayed the ability to make second-level blocks five yards or more downfield, but a textbook example of his ability to lead block came on the following Giovani Bernard four-yard touchdown run versus Virginia Tech in 2011, Hurst’s sophomore season.

Hurst does an excellent job of getting off the line and picking up his defender 2-3 yards downfield, then drives his opponent back into the end zone and seals his block to lead the way to a touchdown (along with the tight end to his outside).

Hurst’s feet allow him to cover a good range as a pull or screen blocker. The following play versus Miami is an example of him pulling outside around a tight end to pick up a block on Hurricanes safety A.J. Highsmith, and sealing the outside block long enough to spring Bernard to a 10-yard run up the left sideline.

While Hurst is at his best as a run blocker when he is a moving piece, he does a solid job of making blocks on the line of scrimmage. On runs up the middle or away from the left side of the line, he typically does a good job of anchoring his defender, getting his hands on the defender and turning him outside and away from the play.

Hurst’s weakness is a run defender is a lack of sheer power. He isn’t an overpowering blocker who will drive his opponents off the line of scrimmage regularly.

While he does not frequently get driven back by his opponent, he often fails to get out of the runner’s way because he is unable to clear his opponent out of the lane. Against bigger and stronger defensive ends in the NFL, Hurst is going to need to become stronger and/or become better at obtaining leverage to do consistent damage as a run blocker.

Can He Slow Down Clowney?

Against collegiate competition last season, Hurst was rarely beaten as a pass-blocker and was a big asset as a run blocker. However, there is still reasonable doubt as to how well Hurst will hold up against more explosive defensive ends in pass protection at the next level, and whether his athleticism will translate to the same run-blocking success in a faster game against faster players.

Thursday’s game will be a true test of Hurst’s ability, at least as it pertains to matching up one-on-one with a defensive end, as he will be going up against a player in Jadeveon Clowney who has the talent to already be one of the NFL’s top defensive ends.

Jadeveon Clowney will give just about every left tackle he faces this season the toughest test of their college football careers. (Photo: Kim Klement — USA Today Sports)

Clowney will test Hurst in every way.

Clowney’s explosive acceleration and speed around the edge will force Hurst to be at his best (and fastest) at kicksliding around the arc, getting his hands on his opponent and countering Clowney’s pass-rush moves. Where Hurst needs to prove himself in terms of strength and power, Clowney has the size and power to expose Hurst’s flaws if he has not improved his game.

For those evaluating Hurst on Thursday night, it is of utmost importance to take Hurst’s competition into consideration. Even if Clowney makes a few big plays against Hurst, that does not necessarily mean that Hurst has a bad game.

Two of last year’s most impressive performances by offensive tackles in college football came from Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson and Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan, who both did a good job of handling Clowney for the most part and winning many one-on-one matchups. Against both of those players, however, Clowney still broke through for a big play: he beat Richardson for a game-clinching strip sack, and against Michigan, he of course beat Lewan for the play simply known as “The Hit.”

If one is to evaluate Hurst off of tonight’s game, it is important to watch every play and see how consistently holds up, rather than dwelling on the big plays that Clowney is likely to make. Quite simply, Clowney is a player who could already give NFL left tackles considerable trouble, so it is expected that he will do that week after week at the collegiate level.

Tonight’s game will, however, prove an effective test of Hurst’s ability to match up with NFL defensive ends. Clowney can expose his flaws to scouts tonight. But if Hurst holds his own and shows that he can match up effectively with Clowney, he will prove that he has the ability to match up with NFL-caliber defensive ends and increase his stock as one of the draft’s top left tackle prospects.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, College Football, Jadeveon Clowney, James Hurst, North Carolina, Offensive Tackles

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