The Lions added a running back and a safety in the second and third rounds of the 2018 NFL draft. Justin Rogers, Detroit News
Michigan had its first player taken in the 2018 NFL Draft on Friday night, it just wasn’t the player many expected would go first.
Offensive lineman Mason Cole went No. 97 overall near the end of the third round to the Arizona Cardinals, the only Wolverine taken the first two days of the draft. Still on the board was defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, a player many had rated as a first-round talent following his senior season when he was named an All-American.
However, it was the versatile Cole that was selected.
"Going into the day, I knew I could be (drafted)," Cole said on a conference call Friday night. “If I was going to be (drafted) it was going to be late in the day. Then I just got the phone call and … just beyond excited. It's unbelievable.”
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Cole started 51 consecutive games at Michigan, a program record for an offensive lineman. He played primarily at tackle but was also used at center, showing versatility that was something that impressed NFL teams.
“I love his toughness, his leadership,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “During our research and talking to a lot of guys that I know at the University of Michigan, they stood on the table for this young man. He jumps off at you on film.”
Cole, who was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2016 and 2017, started all 51 games of his four-year career at Michigan.
That stood out to Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.
“He’s played a ton of football at a big-time university,” Keim said. “He’s a great technician. He went down to the Senior Bowl and showed those things as well. Again, to me, once you get to the middle rounds, those are the things you look for. Guys who are smart, tough, competitive.”
While Cole was celebrating, Hurst went undrafted through the first two days.
Projected as a first-round pick by many headed to the NFL Combine in early March, the Wolverines’ All-American was diagnosed with an irregular EKG during routine tests. It forced him to sit out the workouts and immediately raised concerns over where he might go in the draft.
By the end of March, however, Hurst had been cleared and took part in Michigan’s pro day in Ann Arbor.
“I knew everything was going to be fine,” Hurst said. “I think (teams will) view me exactly the same as before. If you’re cleared, you’re cleared. It’s not really anything to look back on.”
The EKG irregularity was discovered during a medical exam while Hurst was in Indianapolis for the Combine. He went through a similar issue at Michigan during his freshman year. A week later, he said, he was cleared.
However, that didn’t seem to appease the folks in the NFL as Hurst now hopes to be taken in the final four rounds on Saturday. That, though, is no guarantee either as there have been rumblings that Hurst could go undrafted.
Early this week, ESPN analyst Todd McShay wrote that concerns over Hurst’s health could drop the 6-foot-2, 282-pounder to the third day and potentially out of the draft.
“Because of the nature of his heart condition, several teams have taken him off their board,” McShay wrote. “It’s a risk-reward issue, but he could fall into Day 3.”
While Hurst’s draft stock has been affected, how much impact it has on his production at the next level is another debate.
Kirk Herbstreit, a college football analyst for ESPN, said last week that Hurst is on his list of “sneaky” prospects because his status fell off.
“People better remember,” Herbstreit said. “Just turn the film on. He is quick. He’s a little undersized but makes up for it with his quickness, and he’s a playmaker. We’ve got these big guys, inside guys, and I’m telling you, Mo Hurst will be one of those guys.
“I don’t know where he’s going to go, my guess is somewhere in the first round, but he’s gonna be a guy next year everybody’s watching and he’s making plays in the backfield, and people are going to be going, ‘Who’s this guy?’ I think he’s slipping through the cracks and hopefully somebody, if he’s healthy and everything is OK, somebody is going to get a steal in my opinion with whoever picks him up.”
The first player drafted with Michigan ties was Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who went in the third round at No. 92 overall to the Steelers.
In addition to Hurst, others waiting to hear their name on Saturday include Michigan State center Brian Allen, as well as Spartans running back Gerald Holmes and linebacker Chris Frey. Michigan linebacker Mike McCray also has a chance to be selected.
Western Michigan cornerback Darius Phillips, running back Jarvion Franklin and tight end Donnie Ernsberger have a chance to be selected while tight end Tyler Conklin and defensive end Joe Ostman of Central Michigan also will be hoping to hear their names late in the draft.