Before the 2012 college season began, Margus Hunt was named the most "athletic freak" in college football. After a solid senior season, the native of Estonia went to the NFL Combine and really started to make a name for himself. A top performer as a defensive lineman in the 40 (4.6) and bench press (38 reps), Hunt left Indianapolis as a player on the rise because of his rare athletic abilities. But the question is there: Is he an athlete or a football player?
To help us answer that question is Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (@NFLDraftScout). In Hunt, he sees a player who tested off the charts at the Combine, but is relatively green on the football field. After a world champion-level run in track and field, Hunt joined the SMU football team in 2009 and while his numbers weren't eye-popping, he did produce one stat that speaks to his freakish athleticism. As a freshman, playing for the first time ever, he blocked seven kicks on special teams, one shy of the NCAA record. As a senior in 2012 he recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and one interception. He ended his college career with 17 blocked kicks, two shy of the record.
So is Hunt the next in line in a long line of players to tease teams with incredible athletic talent but unable to translate to the NFL game or is he young in his growth as the next athletic breakout star in the league on the defensive line?
"Right now, (he's an) athlete," Miller said. "Hunt has a lot of work to do as a football player, but he's promising. On an average SMU team he played every single position on the defensive line. NFL teams love versatility, and Hunt has plenty of that. He's a much better athlete right now than football player, but most great football players have a very strong athletic foundation."
Because he came to the game late, he's 25 as he looks to begin his first year in the NFL. At some positions in the league, this age could be considered an issue, but along the defensive line, where strength and force is as much in play as athletic skills, it's not much of a concern for Miller, though it can lead some to believe Hunt was a man among boys at the college level.
"I don't worry too much about age for a defensive lineman," Miller said. "If Hunt were a quarterback, cornerback, running back or wide receiver it would be more of a concern because of natural athletic regression at positions that require physical ability, but as a defensive lineman he can continue to be effective even after losing a step athletically due to age."
Hunt's draft status is as much in the air as his potential. He's projected anywhere from the middle of the first round to the second round and while there are plenty of teams that will be interested in the services of the athletic Estonian, Miller doesn't think the Falcons are one of them. He sees Hunt as a 3-4 defensive end and most of his conversations with teams confirm that. In the 4-3 the Falcons currently run, Miller doesn't see a place for Hunt, but as Atlanta experiments with more disguises and formations on defense, there could be a chance for Hunt, but on the edge of a 3-4 where he can use his size and strength is his best fit.
"Hunt, to me, is an ideal 3-4 defensive end in a one or two-gap scheme," Miller said. "This is with the caveat that he would need to add some bulk to his long, lean frame. He's too tall and not quick enough to be a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme—unless that team really wanted a run stopping left defensive end. In the 3-4, Hunt's length and strength are both assets as he's taking on offensive tackles from a five-technique position."
Hunt draws comparisons to Chris Long of the Rams from Miller and Arizona's Calais Campbell because of his ability to stay strong on the edge and give his team an athletic pass-rushing option, but his game is still raw so it's hard to say what Hunt will do best at in the NFL. He's played all over the line and that may continue into the NFL, but he needs to improve his pass rush repertoire to incorporate more finesse and speed moves.
As intriguing as those 17 blocked kicks are, they don't offer much insight into Hunt. While it tells you about his motor and effort, it's not necessarily something that translates to his position in the league. However, it does show a potential future ability to defend passes, as aspect of defensive line play that is growing in recent years.
"His kick blocking ability doesn't come into play much when scouting him," Miller said. "It's a nice anecdote, but teams will draft Hunt based on his play on first, second and third down. That said, his length can come into play as a defensive end or a tackle if he learns to use it to knock down passes. That's not a big part of his game right now, but at 6-foot-8 there's obvious potential."