So far, 2016 seems to finally be the year that Margus Hunt shows that he is worthy of a roster spot with the Cincinnati Bengals. He hasn’t been lighting up the stat sheet, but his four tackles, two pass deflections, and two blocked kicks already total up for a much boarder impact than he has had in any other season.
In fact, his broad impact doesn’t stop at simply putting up a bunch of different kinds of stats. He has also been spotted playing multiple positions so far.
According to Pro Football Focus, through Week 3, Hunt had played 109 snaps (excluding special teams) and in the process, lined up at left end for 57 snaps, right end for 18 snaps, right defensive tackle for 13 snaps, left defensive tackle for 11, and as the nose tackle for 9 snaps. He also had one snap as an outside linebacker. Totaling them up, shows 75 snaps (roughly 69%) as a defensive end and 33 snaps (30%) as an interior defender.
Yes, the 6’8, 295 pound Estonian giant has turned into a do-everything kind of player for the Bengals. Seeing him play so often at defensive tackle is a bit surprising, given his top heavy stature. His level of athleticism makes you think that the Bengals would do best to keep him on the edge, although the Bengals have clearly been experimenting with his sheer size.
Regardless, the experiment seems to be working, for the first time in four years. If the strategy continues to allow him to produce at a sufficient level, it could also be a very good strategy to help guys like Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and the rest of the veteran linemen feel stronger and more rested heading later into games and the season. The strategy seems to be working, as Carlos Dunlap explained to Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com:
“It’s too early to tell right now (the cumulative effect),” Dunlap said. “But, in games I have noticed later in the games we have a lot more energy, a lot more fresher.”
That freshness can build up over the course of a season, allowing for more great play from the Bengals’ top defensive linemen. For example, Dunlap performed very well in 2015, but you can see a sharp decline in his statistics in the second half of the season as compared to the first half. Through the first eight weeks, he recorded 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles.
But, he was completely shut down in Week 9 against the Texans and only recorded six sacks and 17 tackles in the second half of the season. In the first eight games, he only recorded two games without a sack. But, as he wore down in the second half, he recorded five. Having a developed Hunt around to take away some of the responsibility could make all of the difference in the world to evening that production up.
“When you’ve got a guy like Margus going in there and he’s playing very good against the run and pushing the pocket it helps, so you don’t feel that anxious to get back out there when you’ve already been out there for maybe five plays in a row and you come out for a blow,” Dunlap said. “You don’t have to take one play, you can give him a couple plays because he’s playing real good football right now.“
The kind of versatility and fantastic relief play that Hunt has displayed this season means that he is starting to earn his place on the roster. At this rate, the Bengals coaches are going to look like geniuses for allowing him the time he needs to develop. And, those who doubted him can hopefully eat their words (which is just about everyone).
It’s probably too early in the season to say Hunt has already proven himself. But, if he keeps performing the way he has, the Bengals might even offer him a contract extension when his current rookie deals runs out at the end of the season.