Demontre Hurst is the latest Oklahoma Sooner cornerback with a chance to make it with an NFL team, joining Jamell Fleming and Dominique Franks. Hurst, like his predecessors, was a three-year starter for Oklahoma, although he did see plenty of time in his freshman season as well.
With a projected draft range of seventh rounder to undrafted free agent, did Hurst do enough at his pro day to sneak higher in the late round?
Hurst is one of the more unheralded athletes at the position.
He possesses the foot speed and natural hips to get in and out of his breaks with virtual ease. Whether he is backpedaling or running straight forward looking over his shoulder, Hurst has the natural athleticism to stay with even the quickest of receivers. If Hurst does bite on a fake, which is not often, he can recover quickly because of an explosive step.
The former Oklahoma standout also knows when to break off of his matchup to come up and make a play in run support. As long as the ball-carrier is not much bigger than him, the 5’9” Hurst is a sure tackler in the open field.
Hurst’s aforementioned size is the most obvious detractor to his draft stock. Hurst was a productive college player and found himself on many of the preseason awards lists last season, but his size makes him a lesser commodity at the next level.
NFL teams are focusing more on bigger corners to match up with the ever-growing receivers, much in the mold of the Seattle Seahawks defensive backfield. Wherever Hurst lands, he will likely be restricted to dime packages as a corner on the inside of the defense.
Due to his size, Hurst can be taken out of a play when engaged with a stronger blocker. He simply does not have the frame to get much bigger.
Hurst is on the smaller side for a corner, but he possesses enough physicality to be successful at the next level. What Hurst lacks in size he makes up for in speed and fluidity.
He posted a 4.5 40-yard time at the Oklahoma pro day a couple of weeks ago (via NFL Draft Scout), which is not blazing fast, but Hurst plays faster on the field. Hurst also performed well in the vertical with a 37” mark, which is just a hair under some of the top prospects at corner, many of whom are a couple of inches taller. That speaks volumes about his explosiveness and athleticism.
Browsing through a couple of interviews, Hurst demonstrates a solid level of professionalism and intelligence. His football IQ matches his intelligence off the field. Hurst takes good angles on balls and makes good reads to peel off his man at the right time to make a play.
He has played both man and zone, but he is probably suited better for zone in the NFL. He shows good awareness to make plays in front of him, even if that means coming off his man.
Playing the Ball
Hurst has a knack for finding himself in good position to make a play on the ball. Even if he is matched up with a towering receiver, Hurst uses well-timed and explosive jumps to tip balls away.
He posted solid stats during his two-and-a-half years of starting on the defense, with 35 passes defensed and two interceptions. The interception numbers may trouble some people considering how often he was around the ball, but the tipped passes are a plus for a corner of his size.
Against the Run
The former Sooner will be a contributor in the run game at the next level if given the chance. Due to his high football IQ, Hurst can often diagnose a play quickly enough to get the first step toward the ball-carrier.
However, once he gets wrapped up in a block, he will likely stay there. He will also have a hard time making tackles on bigger, downhill running backs like Adrian Peterson or Brandon Jacobs consistently.
Hurst played quite a bit of man at Oklahoma, but he does not possess the necessary skill set to do so well at the next level. He can get turned around fairly easily, and although he does have good recovery skills, Hurst gets burned in man too often.
A few times during the season—Notre Dame and West Virginia come to mind—Hurst was badly burned for long plays that set up scores because of double moves.
Any team that is looking at Hurst is probably running some type of zone-based defense. He makes better reads in a zone in comparison to man. Zone allows him to use his closing speed and play-recognition skills to make plays on the ball in front of him. A slender frame and an inability to get off blocks also make Hurst a zone-exclusive corner.
Hurst is physical enough to wrap guys up that are around the same size as him. A high motor also allows him to make good tackles against bigger players, just not too much bigger. He will struggle against physical receivers and bruising running backs. He is a good, but not great, open-field tackler.
Hurst is a fluid athlete, but he can get turned around by a speedy or shifty receiver. He meets the ball at the point of attack, which led to lofty numbers in passes defensed. He's a little bit too aggressive at times, which leads to him getting burned by quicker players, especially fast receivers with a solid route tree.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Hurst will primarily be a slot corner in the NFL. His knowledge and skill set fits a zone scheme, which allows him to make reads on more than one receiver in his area of the field. He will never be a quality starter on the outside, but he could be serviceable inside.