Approximately a month before the 2013 season began, the Panthers asked their long time starting left tackle to restructure his contract, and he willingly obliged. The new deal reduced his remaining three years down to one, which means that we currently don't have a blindside protector under contract for the 2014 season. It would be foolish at this point for the Panthers to let Gross walk away from the stadium after the season ends without a two or three year contract offer, especially in light of the fact that he has had a revival this year. Would you believe that number sixty-nine has graded out as one of the best left tackles in the league through the first eleven weeks of the NFL season? He's always been steady, but I didn't see that coming.
If the Panthers ultimately re-sign Gross to a new deal, that shouldn't preclude a move to secure a younger replacement in the 2014 draft, and I know just the guy. It isn't typical to find a franchise left tackle after the first ten picks, but there's an outside chance today's Tuesday Afternoon Prospect could be one of those rare exceptions.
His name is James Hurst and he has started almost every game at left tackle since stepping onto the University of North Carolina campus in 2010. As a true freshman, he played well enough to be named an All-American by Rivals.com, Phil Steele and The Sporting News. The following year he garnered second team All-ACC honors and stepped up to first team All-ACC after playing the best season of his career as a junior. This is the same season that the Tarheels set several offensive school records in three categories: Passing yards, scoring and total offense. UNC also finished the season ninth in the country in sacks allowed per game(.92) and there is little doubt that Hurst played a huge role in the considerable achievements of their 2012 offensive line.
As his accolades indicate, Hurst exhibits many of the tools that would portend success at the next level. At 6-Foot-7, 305-Pounds, he most certainly looks the part with the frame and arm length necessary to survive on an island. For the most part, he is technically gifted as a pass blocker, particularly against bull rushes. The Indiana native doesn't possess elite lateral movement and as a result, he struggles against speed rushers at times.
Any deficiencies Hurst may possess as a pass blocker are quickly neutralized by his ability as a run blocker. He has a powerful base that he uses to seal the edges and effectively drive opponents backward. Although Hurst isn't an elite athlete who will run a sub 5.0 forty like Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson, he is surprisingly impressive when tasked to get to the second level. Most importantly, he is a tireless worker who plays through the whistle.
Of course, Hurst isn't a finished product and will need to gain some strength in order to take on the more explosive athletes, but I think he is up to that task.
From my perspective, it wouldn't shock me if Hurst is available when we are on the clock in the second round of the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. If that is the case, he would be on my short list of prospects to consider in that range. It is my belief that he would immediately improve the offensive line by starting day one at right tackle and potentially move to the left side after Gross retires. Keep in mind that this would also buy the Panthers some more time to find an answer on the blindside if Hurst is unable to make the move.
What about you CSR? Would Hurst be a steal in the 2nd round?