Draft Profile: DE – Margus Hunt
Margus Hunt out of SMU is a player to keep an eye on as a possibility for the 49ers in the 2nd round…
Margus Hunt out of SMU is a player to keep an eye on as a possibility for the 49ers in the 2nd round. With Justin Smith getting older and not much depth on the defensive line. Hunt is a player the 49ers would love to have on the D-line.
The NFL loves upside, and few prospects possess more of it than Hunt, a gold medal-winning track and field athlete and native of Estonia who has only been playing football since 2009.
Possessing an extraordinary combination of size and explosiveness, Hunt became the first junior athlete to ever win both the shot put and discus gold medals the same year, accomplishing both feats at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing. He moved to Dallas to train with SMU’s world-renowned track and field coach Dave Wollman just in time to see the university drop the program. Rather than move again, Hunt elected to try football.
The game didn’t initially come easy to Hunt. Despite playing in 13 games in 2009, he recorded just eight total tackles. He nearly doubled the SMU record, however, by blocking an eye-popping seven kicks in his first season, coming within one of tying the NCAA single-season record. Hunt blocked three more kicks in 2010 and saw his production jump in every other category, as well, notching 45 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in his second year of playing.
Though Hunt’s stops behind the line of scrimmage would rise as a junior (7.5, including 3.0 sacks) and senior (11.5 including 8.0 sacks), Hunt’s ascent hasn’t been as consistent as scouts might have envisioned after his first two years. The 45 overall tackles he posted as a sophomore remain his single-season career high.
Characterized by CBS’ Bruce Feldman as the biggest athletic “freak” in college football, Hunt possesses the extraordinary upside to warrant early consideration. After four years in the game, however, he remains a better athlete than football player, and ranks as one of the bigger boom-or-bust prospects of the 2013 draft.
Strengths: Certainly looks the part. Possesses a long, tapered build with room for additional muscle mass. Boasts a surprisingly quick first step and gains ground efficiently due to his long strides. Closes quickly on the ballcarrier due and can provide a thump on arrival.
Naturally powerful defender who can simply bull-rush his opponent deep into the pocket. Big, strong and reasonably active hands to fight through blockers’ attempts at grasping a hold of him. Good hand-eye coordination and times his leaps well to aid in his kick-blocking prowess. Has emerged as a player the offense must account for on virtually every snap and yet remains a better athlete than football player, which speaks to his exciting upside.
Weaknesses: Highly inconsistent. Has a tendency to make a splashy play and then disappear for long periods of the game. Struggles with pad level and can get blown off the ball against the run because he loses the leverage battle.
Like a lot of taller defensive ends, Hunt is stiff in his upper body and he struggles to re-direct when attempting to break down and tackle agile ball-carriers. Can be eluded and has a tendency to lunge at ball-carriers as a result, leading to some ugly whiffs.
Doesn’t get his hands into passing windows as much as he should considering his height and kick-blocking prowess. Has only seven passes defended in 53 games. Inconsistent effort in downfield pursuit.
Compares to: Corey Wootton, DE, Chicago Bears — Wootton was a productive player at Northwestern who slid on draft day due to injury concerns. Optimistic talent evaluators preached patience as Wootton had shown the length, power and surprising speed to be successful once he acclimated to the NFL and healed sufficiently. While the concern with Hunt lies with his relative inexperience and inconsistency, the team that gambles on Hunt could be similarly rewarded with a future standout.
Estonia has not been a fertile scouting ground for the NFL in the past, but teams might consider going abroad more consistently if they can find talents like Hunt. His name first appeared on the international athletic scene after he won gold medals in both the shot put and discus events at the 2006 World Junior Track and Field Championships in Beijing. Hunt, who also won the 2005 European Junior discus title, was the first junior ever to pull off that double.
Hunt arrived at SMU in 2007, working with track and field coach Dave Wollman with the hopes they would revive the previously cut men’s program. That didn’t come through, so he decided to turn his attention to the football field. He made his name on special teams in his first year with the Mustangs, blocking seven kicks (one short of the NCAA record). Hunt had eight tackles in 13 games, including a sack against Nevada in the team’s Hawaii Bowl victory. He started all 13 games as a sophomore, registering 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and three blocked kicks. And though he started just two of the 13 games in which he played in 2011, his three-sack effort in the BBVA Compass Bowl win over Pittsburgh made scouts take notice. He also blocked four more kicks, giving him 14 in his career -– including an NCAA career record nine field goals.
Following his breakout bowl performance, Hunt earned the number one spot in Bruce Feldman’s Annual “Freak List,” noting Hunt’s incredible combination of size, length, and speed. He took over a starting role at defensive end for SMU his senior year. His knack for blocking kicks continued, ending his career with 17 total, two short of the NCAA record. He accumulated 31 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, and 1 interception on his way to earning first team All-Conference USA honors. He has displayed impressive progression through his career and figures to be heavily coveted by 3-4 teams to play defensive end.
Strengths: Tall, thick but athletic lineman with loads of potential. Much quicker than you’d expect off the snap given his size, and his long first step helps him pressure the outside shoulder of tackles when outside and win the gap at three-technique. Shows the ability to anchor from both the 3-tech and 5-tech spots. Has the speed to run the arm and beat tackles off the edge. Fast and strong hands stun his man, extends his arms to keep leverage. Uses his length very well to keep blockers off his body. Plays contain well on the edge, pops off his block and swallows backs with his strong upper body. Long strides eat a lot of grass when closing to the quarterback. Good closing speed. Will chase plays downfield. Height and length allow him to affect quarterbacks’ vision when unable to reach him; they also make him an ideal interior player on the field goal block team. Flashes the ability to come off the ball hard and low in short-yardage situations despite his height. Good natural strength – can anchor and shed even when he loses the leverage battle. Varies the tempo of his pass rush well once the offensive line overplays his speed rush.
Weaknesses: Must be cognizant to play with bend due to his height, pops up off the snap and will stand upright during the play if tired, losing leverage. Agile for his size, but is still a linear athlete with questionable change of direction and flexibility. More mobile quarterbacks and quick running backs will elude him in the backfield. Turning the corner on his initial pass rush is a chore due to his bulk. Still learning the game, must find the ball consistently. Older than most prospects (will be 25). Doesn’t bring his body when he tackles and subsequently misses a lot. Ineffective bull rush due to not playing with leverage and lacks counters when his initial move fails.
NFL Comparison: Calais Campbell
Bottom Line: Hunt initially moved to the United States from his native Estonia to further his amateur track career (he won gold medals in the shot put and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships). Now the 25 year-old uses his elite size/athleticism combination to make an impact on defense (three sacks in the BVAA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh to finish off 2011, a sack and two forced fumbles against Fresno in the Hawaii Bowl) and special teams (17 blocked kicks in four years). Fulfilling his potential as a starting NFL five-technique defensive end as a senior could land him in the top half of the first round in April.