Margus Hunt is unlike other prospects — he’s older. He’ll be 26 years old this July, making him the oldest prospect in this year’s draft class. You can tell his maturity by his interviews, which was obvious when he talked with NFL Network following his impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was cool and calm while telling his fascinating journey to the sport of football.
You can also tell his age by his Twitter account. While many young prospects tweet about their fresh new shoes and how hard their working in the gym, he tweets about his new “double up” windshield wipers. It’s that kind of life for Hunt.
While he has seniority in age, he doesn’t have it on the football field. He’s one of the rawest prospects, lacking great footwork, hand usage, and pad level. He stands too tall at the snap and doesn’t bend his knees consistently — both negatives that are detrimental to successful pass-rushing. It doesn’t help that he’s 6-foot-8, size that many pass rushers don’t have. That’s a natural disadvantage, but not one that is impossible to overcome.
To the surprise of many, Hunt bends his knees fairly well, even though it’s not done consistently. He shows the ability to dip his pads when splitting combination blocks or chasing quarterbacks around the edge. He doesn’t dip his shoulder when turning the corner, but that raises another question: why was he on the edge to begin with?
He is far from an edge-rusher no matter how experienced he ends up being. He’s a defensive end, yes, but a 3-4 end, which is more of a three technique as opposed to the typical five technique. He is at his best when he’s collapsing the pocket from an inside alignment, where he can use his quickness to beat blockers at the snap and slice between linemen for a tackle in the backfield.
This raises one of the million-dollar questions with Hunt. He flashes the traits that will lead to success at the next level, but will he ever do it consistently? An argument can be made that he’s one of riskiest prospects in recent memory simply because of how raw he is. Little experience is always a concern, especially for a guy who didn’t know how to put his pads on a few years ago and, to this day, sometimes looks like he has zero awareness when on the field. His defensive line coach at SMU, Bert Hill, alluded to this in a recent interview, when he also noted that the light came on for Hunt later in the season.
“There are times when he’s unblockable,” Hill said. “Then there were times on film when it looked like he didn’t really know he was playing football. The lights came on for him about halfway through his senior year. The guy just started playing lights out. He kept his pads down. He kept his hands on people. He got off of them. And he made a lot of plays.
Perhaps Hill was referring to his bowl game against Fresno State, when he had two sacks and three tackles for a loss. It was his best game of the season — albeit against a questionable at best opponent — and many took notice, even if they didn’t know his name. A good friend of mine said he wanted his favorite team, the Oakland Raiders, to select him after he saw a dominant second quarter performance in the bowl game. He couldn’t remember Hunt’s name, though.
During that game, Hunt recorded a very impressive pressure on the quarterback that led to a sack. The sack wasn’t added to his name, but he was largely responsible for it. He was lined up at defensive end, and at the snap he charged forward, attacking the B-gap between the right guard and tackle. When he went through the gap, he was met by both linemen, and in order to beat them, there was only one option: get his pads lower.
He did just that despite his towering stature.
It wasn’t just a combination block from the offensive line, it was a triple block. The running back was involved on the play as well, but he wasn’t much of a factor. Hunt slid past him after passing by the linemen, and he forced the quarterback to step up in the pocket, which eventually led to the sack.
The play wasn’t just an example of Hunt’s flashes of proper pad level; it was also an example of his knee-bend. It’s not often that an athlete of his size has that kind of flexibility, and that’s why he’s being considered a first-round prospect. There’s been many plays like the one above where he’s shown what kind of potential he has, and another example came against Texas Christian University.
It’s second-and-goal and TCU is in the red zone. Hunt is the five technique defensive stance on the strong-side of the play, which ultimately becomes the back-side. The play begins and the running back takes a handoff to the left, opposite of Hunt. That makes him the weak-side defender, where he’s responsible for the back-side of the play and is required to be disciplined. Immediately upon exploding off the line of scrimmage, he jars the right tackle back and bends his knees. His pad level is slightly high, but again, it’s always going to be considered a bit high when one remembers his daunting height.
The play goes away from him and he has little involvement in it at the end. It’s not one that will go down in the stat keeper’s box score, but it shows his potential nonetheless.
Later in the game — specifically the beginning of the fourth quarter — Hunt is defending another run, only this time it’s in his direction. He’s on the weak-side and it’s a Wildcat play. The trigger-man fakes the handoff to the jet sweep, and takes it himself. Hunt is there waiting for it, using his length, flexibility, and patience to defend it. It’s another snapshot that shows the potentially impressive NFL career of the former shot put gold medalist.
You might be wondering what all this really means. He had eight sacks last season — more than his three previous seasons combined (7.5) — and not many of them were eye-popping. His tape wasn’t entirely impressive, and many that consider drafting him will think about his future, not his present.
It’s about what he can become, which is a grand risk for general managers. His flashes of flexibility, strength, and length means that he has the upside to develop into a cornerstone of the defense, depending on which position he plays. He’s best suited as a three technique in a three man front, but he’ll need a lot of developing to get to that point. What if he doesn’t develop though? What if the aforementioned traits never amount to anything? There’s a chance they don’t, which is the risk a GM runs while drafting him.
And if they do? Well, they’ll have a very good player on their hands. Despite many saying Hunt will be a bust and is only worthy of a mid-round selection, he has the potential that makes worthy of a higher pick. And he also has the potential to become a very good player in time, even if he doesn’t ever rack up half a dozen sacks in a season.
GMs always talk about what a prospect can do. But for Hunt, it’s about what he could do. That alone makes him worthy of a first-round selection.