Margus Hunt and WIll Clarke both measured in at over 6'6" and 270 pounds as defensive end prospects, and both were selected by the Bengals in the top half of the NFL Drafts.
Margus Hunt was a high ceiling, low floor prospect able to check off all the boxes in regards to athletic attributes that make talent evaluators salivate. Clarke, meanwhile, had a much lower ceiling, but a slightly less low floor. He had actually played the game of football for a while, but did not possess the insane combine measurables.
Looking ahead to the Bengals' roster decisions, they are loaded at the defensive tackle position with Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Domota Peko, Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, DeShawn Williams, and Marcus Hardison all fighting for a handful of spots. At defensive end, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are slated as the starters with both Clarke and Hunt as the top two backups. But with the glut of defensive tackles, and lack of production from Hunt and Clarke, it is quite possible that one of these backup ends could lose a roster spot on the defensive line. And if Dwight Freeney signs with the Bengals, that pretty much assures that at least one of these two players is no longer on the Bengals' roster when the NFL season starts in less than three months.
So if the Bengals only keep one of these two defensive ends, which one would you rather it to be?
Will Clarke 6'6", 290 lbs, 25 yrs old
While Clarke is not the workout warrior that Hunt is, his career is actually tracking upward. He saw his number of games, and production increase from his rookie season of 2014 to his second years of 2015. Hunt, meanwhile, saw his playing time and production drop last year.
After two seasons, Clarke has only produced 0.5 sacks and 7 total tackles. While these numbers are far from productive, his 0.5 sacks and 4 total tackles in 2015 are actually better than Hunt's production from 2015.
Clarke is three years younger than Hunt, and one can argue that he has a little more upside, being younger and with his career tracking the right direction. Although, with his upside being that of a nominal backup, one could easily argue that if you're looking at a deep backup, and not a starter, you may be better off taking the risk with the more athletic player in Hunt.
Margus Hunt 6'8", 290 lbs, 28 yrs old
Hunt is still the athletic freak that wowed evaluators at the NFL Combine in 2013. His 38 bench press repetitions as a 6'8" athlete, and speedy 40 yard dash represent who he is - a very big, strong, athletic man. When the Bengals used a second round draft pick on him, the expectation was that they would harness that Olympic athleticism into an NFL football player.
After three seasons, the Estonian has only produced 1.5 sacks (zero in 2016) and 14 total tackles (three last year).
Keeping Hunt on the roster for the 2016 season gives the Bengals one more year to try to transform that athletic ability into NFL production. Cutting him would not only confirm the waste of a second round pick in 2013, but eliminate any last chance to salvage production from him. Of course, one can easily argue that if three seasons were not enough to see any production, a fourth season likely isn't going to see a miraculous rebirth, which would mean they would be better off keeping the player who can play football better, Clarke.