There is an inherent risk in taking SMU defensive end Margus Hunt in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. But after such a sensational combine performance and so much upside, teams will essentially be forced to take a flier on the "Eastern Block."
If Hunt emerges as a star—and he has all the potential to do so—evaluators will be kicking themselves for years to come should they pass over him. This is an unbelievable athlete who should thrive in the pros even with borderline competent coaching.
Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports summed up well what happened with Hunt at the NFL Scouting Combine:
Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB
SMU's uberfreak Margus Hunt at 6-8, 277 just ran a 4.60. As expected he's lighting up the testing here.2013-2-25 14:47:26
Sirius XM NFL radio host Adam Caplan didn't even know where to put Hunt on the field given his unique skill set, but implied that he might be able to be a force at the next level as a tight end.
Adam Caplan @caplannfl
The legend of Margus Hunt continues....could he also play TE? With that speed....wow.2013-2-25 15:16:22
Hunt also raised 38 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. Considering how long his arms are to go along with that 6'8" frame, though, that is ridiculous.
Strength alone and even fundamental tutoring in how to gain leverage against blockers should allow Hunt to be a bull-rushing force right away, capable of dominating offensive tackles on the edge and driving them into the backfield.
Additionally, Hunt's speed should allow him to become an effective defender against the run as his career progresses. His range is limitless, which should help him track down ball-carriers in the open field—and he obviously has the power and physicality to disengage from blocks.
As a member of the Mustangs, Hunt blocked an NCAA-record 17 kicks throughout his career. That is a skill that doesn't necessarily lose any of its merit in the transition to the NFL, and making that type of difference on special teams alone could swing several games for whichever team Hunt winds up with.
The knock on Hunt is that he is too raw, and that his lack of finessed technique will prevent him from succeeding especially early on against the technicians he will be lining up against.
That makes sense, since Hunt didn't start playing organized football until 2007, when he came to the United States from his native country of Estonia and barely even knew the rules. That didn't prevent SMU coach June Jones from offering him a scholarship, though.
Even with the late start on the gridiron, Hunt has still managed to burst into the conversation as a possible first-round pick despite the inexperience.
That alone should be enough for teams to take the plunge.
A top-10 pick may be too much of a reach, but struggling franchises will be hard-pressed to find a player with more promise and potential to grow than Hunt.
Legendary cornerback Deion Sanders recently gave a glowing evaluation of former LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu, calling him a "dog." By that, Sanders indicated that he meant Mathieu is a "man's best friend"—that he is the real deal, and will be a "baller" in the league.
In light of his scintillating display at the combine, Hunt should be considered a dog in that context.
Whether the Eastern Block becomes a dog that hunts in the NFL remains to be seen, but teams drafting in the first 32 picks may deeply regret dismissing that possibility.