Margus Hunt was "the talk of the town" after his combine performance, wrote Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com. The 6'8", 277-pound defensive end from SMU walked into Lucas Oil Stadium a curiosity and rode out on top of a hype train.
Hunt's official 40-yard dash time was a blazing 4.6 seconds. Only two defensive linemen, Barkevious Mingo and Trevardo Williams, ran faster—both of them 240-pound speedsters who beat Hunt by a only couple hundredths of a second.
Hunt then tied 335-pound monster Brandon Williams for the top bench press, lifting 225 pounds 38 times. Hunt's 34.5" vertical leap was the ninth best out of the 38 linemen who jumped. His 121" broad jump ranked him seventh.
Hunt's height, weight, speed and explosion make him a physical mismatch for almost any blocker. Hunt was No. 1 on Pete Prisco of CBS Sports' "Freak List," his list of the "10 craziest athletes" in college football.
If Hunt can bend that sky-scraping frame, and come at NFL linemen with quality pass-rush technique, he could become the next Julius Peppers or J.J. Watt.
If he can't, he's going to be yet another "workout warrior," a tantalizing prospect who starred at the NFL Scouting Combine, but couldn't play ball once he strapped on pads.
Hunt, a junior world champion in shot put and discus, moved from Estonia to Dallas, Texas to join SMU's track program, but SMU shut down their track program before he could compete. Encouraged by the laid-off track coach to go out for football, Hunt put on a show for head coach June Jones much like the one he put on for NFL scouts this week, and he was offered a scholarship.
Not surprisingly, it took Hunt some time to learn the game.
Hunt figured out blocking kicks right away, getting his mitts on an SMU-record seven kick attempts his freshman season. For the first of what would be three consecutive seasons, Hunt was named to the All-Conference USA's honorable mention team.
In each year, Hunt would turn more and more of his potential into reality. As a senior, Hunt had by far his most productive year; his 28 tackles and six sacks finally put his name on the All-C-USA First Team.
In his final game as a collegian, Hunt made an emphatic statement. He completely took over the Hawaii Bowl:
Hunt had four solo tackles and just his second multi-sack game in SMU's 43-10 dismantling of Fresno State. In that game, he gave us a glimpse of the human wrecking ball NFL teams hope he'll become. Hunt flashed speed, power, outside and inside moves while abusing Fresno State's right tackle. But what about all the other games?
Let's look a little more closely at a game Hunt didn't dominate. Here's a cut-up of Hunt's snaps against TCU:
You'll see a lot of good, you'll see a lot of bad in that clip. Here's a run-defense snap. At about the 30-second mark the right guard stands up Hunt at the point of attack:
The guard then drives Hunt backwards:
Hunt is reduced to flailing at the runner with a doomed arm-tackle attempt:
The upshot of the play is a nine-yard gain on first down, all from running right at a single-teamed Margus Hunt.
Here's a goal-line play where Hunt was again matched up against the right guard. This one's at the 1:47 mark. Right away, Hunt fails to get beneath the guard:
The guard ties him up, and drives him up and away from the play:
Even after the play-fake, and the quarterback has long since rolled out, the right guard is still driving Hunt away from the play:
This is Hunt's first major problem, his inability to get under and off blocks. All Conference USA guards weren't able to give Hunt this much trouble—but it just so happens that TCU's right guard is Blaise Foltz, another athlete on Pete Prisco's "Freak List."
Foltz wasn't athletic enough to have earned a combine invite, but he's got NFL strength and is able to bench press 580 pounds. Before the combine, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller had Foltz as his No. 12 guard and 224th-ranked prospect. Foltz is right on the edge of being draftable, but his strength, hand placement and leverage were enough to overmatch Hunt's freaky measurables.
Hunt's other major problem is tackling. Even when he manages to shed blocks and get up in running lanes, he fails to drive through runners and wrap those huge arms around them. Check the plays at 0:37, 1:27 and 5:45 for examples.
At the 2:59 mark, though, we see what has NFL teams drooling. It's 2nd-and-6, and TCU's spread offense is showing pass. Hunt gets a great first two steps:
Hunt swims past the right tackle without breaking stride:
The tackle has no choice but to try hold on for dear life to prevent the sack. Even that doesn't work:
Hunt is a very raw prospect. He has a lot to learn about leverage, technique and run-stopping, especially if he's going to play as a 3-4 end in the NFL. Whichever NFL team drafts Hunt, they're going to need to have patience with him.
Moreover, fans are going to have to be patient. Hunt's upside may be Julius Peppers or J.J. Watt, but he wasn't nearly as productive, and didn't look as good on film, as many of the combine's prospects he outperformed—despite not playing against major-conference competition.
Hunt has the size, speed and strength to be an impact player in the NFL, but his game film shows that day will come later rather than sooner.