"Potential". It is one of the most polarizing traits that an NFL player can have in his arsenal. Scouts and coaches drool over a player that oozes it, but fans and front offices pull their hair out when said player doesn't reach it. In recent years because of a well-constructed roster, the Cincinnati Bengals have saved picks in the second round and beyond on some of these uber-talented, yet project-type players.
No one defines that more than second-year defensive end, Margus Hunt. At 6'8" and a now-astonishing 290 pounds, Hunt looks like a mean, lean, quarterback-sacking machine. However, very limited time playing high-level organized football has had an impact on his development and his 2013 rookie stat line. With three tackles and a half-sack to his credit last year, there is a bit a nervousness for the former second-round pick.
With Michael Johnson leaving for Tampa Bay in free agency, Hunt will be entrusted with a bigger role in the defense--be it as a starter, a rotational guy, or both. Early indications from OTAs and minicamp show that Hunt will be a starter on the outside with Wallace Gilberry kicking in to tackle in obvious passing situations.
Size And Athleticism Could Make Him A Star:
In last year's "Hard Knocks", head coach Marvin Lewis noted that if you were to draw up a prototypical NFL defensive end, Hunt would be the blueprint. I mentioned that he has basketball-type height and wingspan, but now he has added almost 15 pounds of bulk/muscle to his frame. If there is such a thing, it sounds like a long, lean 290 pounds, not stocky-like.
Most fans will wonder how this weight increase will affect Hunt's speed and agility. It's an understandable concern, though I'm not sure it will be negatively impacted all that much. Here's where it could get fun with Hunt and his new build, though--staying on his feet and not getting pushed around as easily.
It's definitely not an easy thing to knock down a guy who was 277 pounds, but with Hunt's long limbs and tendency to play upright, it was easier for tackles to knock him off of his game and take him out of plays. Now, if Hunt can somehow play lower, he will be an offensive lineman's nightmare because it will be that much harder to take out an athletic 290-pounder.
Let's also not forget the potential impact that he could have on special teams. In college at SMU, Hunt excelled at blocking field goal attempts. The Bengals didn't ask him to do much of it in 2013, but that could change this year.
Hunt, in a way, is replacing Johnson. They might not play the same end spot all of the time because of rotations, but he will be compared to him going forward. Once the Hunt pick was made and Johnson's free agency status loomed, it was deemed a replacement type of pick.
Johnson had an outstanding 2012 season with 11.5 sacks, but those numbers tailed off in 2013 down to just 3.5. With more snaps, another Training Camp and added weight, it's hard to see Hunt not surpassing those totals. That in itself requires a spot on this list, as this elite defense needs to keep the momentum that has been built since 2008. And, what makes this defense so great? Pressure up front.
We're not necessarily saying that Hunt will be a Pro Bowl player in 2014, but it's hard to see him being a total bust. If he gets around the eight sack mark, that's a pretty solid season for a project player, isn't it? Most would probably say that that is within the realm of possibility this year.
If anything, you can picture him saying something like this to offensive linemen and quarterbacks (here is the link in case you don't understand the reference):