Invariably, there is a player at every NFL Scouting Combine who wows scouts, general managers and media members en route to skyrocketing up the draft board. Gifted with an innate ability to outrun, out-jump and look better in a pair of compression shorts than his peers, this player becomes the talk of the town.
Unquestionably, the gold medalist in the 2013 Underwear Olympics was former SMU defensive end Margus Hunt. A former discus thrower in his native Estonia, Hunt came to Indianapolis and put together one of the best all-around combine performances in recent memory.
He finished tied for third among all defensive linemen with a 4.60-second 40-yard dash, tied for the most bench press reps with 38 and finished among the best at his position in nearly every other drill. Hunt's numbers were particularly impressive considering he measured at 6'8" and 277 pounds, a behemoth for a defensive end.
Initially expected to fall somewhere in the third or fourth round, Hunt's performance in Indianapolis was so awe-inspiring that some have wondered whether he could sneak into the first round. That almost certainly won't happen, but Hunt may have locked himself into a mid-to-late second-round choice with his brilliance.
If history is any indication, whichever squad ultimately drafts Hunt could very well wind up regretting it. From Matt Jones to Vernon Gholston to Bruce Campbell, the combine has produced these raw workout warriors whose draft stocks become disproportionate to their actual skills on the football field.
It's an ultimately understandable phenomenon. Hunt and guys like him are pipe dreams in pads. Teams and fans look at a player with his size and speed, and they understandably wonder whether all of that raw physicality could manifest itself into an NFL superstar. If he looks and runs like he should be a 99 OVR in the next edition of Madden, then there has got to be otherworldly potential stored in there somewhere.
Drafting a guy like Hunt may be ultimately understandable. It's a lottery ticket. But it's one that won't be worth purchasing if Hunt becomes a second-round lock.
Despite all the athletic prowess in the world, Hunt is still extremely raw as a football player. Initially brought to SMU to be a track-and-field star, Hunt only started playing his future profession after the school cut its track program and he learned football through video games. Hunt was given a scholarship on the pure basis of his potential—much like what will be happening when he gets drafted in April.
Unfortunately, Hunt was only intermittently the impact player June Jones hoped for in college. He had eight sacks last season, was named the 2012 Hawaii Bowl MVP and was a consistent kick-blocking menace his entire career.
But those eight sacks in 2012 were exactly how many he had his first three years at SMU. And despite that little ascent, Hunt is still rawer than a steak put in the microwave for 30 seconds. He has a tendency for jaw-dropping plays, but needs a ton of work in technique and would go entire games without making an impact in college.
Keep in mind we're talking about Conference USA-level competition here. Hunt was bigger, stronger and faster than just about all of his peers. It's not like Hunt struggled to eviscerate his competition in the SEC while learning how to play football or anything. This is a very mediocre football conference, where you see players like Hunt oftentimes get by on their physical laurels.
Let's speak about this from a purely logical perspective. Hunt was not even the most dominating force in Conference USA, so what makes anyone think for a second he'd be able to become a menacing force in the NFL? As we learn every year, there is a difference between athletic marvels and professional football players.
That's all without mentioning the most obvious factor working in Hunt's detriment: his age. He will be 26 years old before ever taking a regulation snap in the NFL. That puts him behind a huge 8-ball in comparison with his peers, nearly all of whom range from 21-23 years old.
Even if we assume that Hunt develops his skills and becomes a solid player in one or two years, he'll be pushing 30 before his rookie contract runs out. Will we ever see a point where Hunt's athleticism and ability to actually play defensive end crest together? It seems highly doubtful at this point.
My negativity is in no way an end-all-be-all declaration that Hunt will be a bust in the NFL. He may very well buck history, find the right coaching staff and become an instant-impact rookie that shocks the world. There are late-bloomers throughout history, just as there are workout warriors who turn out to be busts. And Hunt's on-paper resume as a physical specimen leaves anything up to the imagination.
Nevertheless, the smartest NFL teams are the ones that find value where others fail to see it. Coming into the draft process, it was very possible that Hunt was that under-appreciated gem.
That's not the case now. Everyone with a Twitter account knows the name Margus Hunt. As his draft stock meteorically rises with every gushing article and jaw-dropping athleticism, the value of his actual selection decreases on that same exponential level.
It's possible that Hunt's value regresses to the mean by the time April comes around. But if the cost is a second-round pick for a completely unproven commodity, NFL teams may be better off passing on Hunt's captivating measurables.
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