Margus Hunt truly is a conundrum. One look at the guy will sell you on his ability to dominate as a professional football player. But, one look at his professional stats will make you cringe and question whether or not it’s actually a good idea to evaluate football players by simply looking at them. Checking out his production from the beginning of the 2016 preseason will make you wonder why the Bengals even bother continuing to keeping him around, but another look at how he’s played in the last two games gives you a reason for hope.
The 6’8, 277 pounds the Estonian-born defensive end was once considered to be one of the most exciting prospects in the nation. Despite the fact that he never played a single football snap until arriving at SMU in 2009, his 112 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and one interception recorded in a four year college career combined with his outstanding size and athleticism caught the eye of many NFL scouts. As a result, the Bengals made the decision to draft him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
However, since joining the Bengals, he has only managed to record 7 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 1 pass deflection in his three years so far. That would be a decent statline for a rotational defensive end in a single game. But, it’s abysmal considering those stats were accumulated during the course of three seasons.
Despite being talked about as a potential breakout candidate this year, Hunt hasn’t really looked like it this preseason. He looked absolutely putrid in the preseason opener against the Vikings, although he did look somewhat improved the following week against the Lions. He was up-and-down against the Jaguars, although he did record his second tackle of the preseason during the game.
On Thursday, against the Colts, Hunt had the best performance of his preseason. He only recorded two combined tackles, but he could regularly be seen putting pressure on the Colts’ quarterbacks, making numerous hustle plays to keep the Colts’ offense scrambling around on every drive.
However, he still needs to figure out how to finish plays if he wants to make an impact in his fourth season, a contract year. He looks to be figuring out the basics of how to push through NFL level offensive linemen. But, his production will remain incredibly low if all he can do is get to the ball carrier right before the ball is thrown.
From where we stand right now, I would argue that Hunt is virtually guaranteed a spot on the final roster this year. He struggled coming out of the gate against the Vikings, but he showed enough improvement each week that the Bengals won’t just outright cut their 2013 second round draft pick this season. That’s especially true since they have so little depth at defensive end in the first place.
Hunt is clearly the weakest defensive end among Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Will Clarke. Clarke has stepped up and made significant contributions this preseason, while Dunlap and Johnson are one of the best starting defensive end tandems in the nation. But, the only other defensive end on the team is the undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State, Ryan Brown, who has been even less productive than Hunt.
Therefore, it would stand to reason that, despite his continued lack of production, Hunt will get one last shot to prove that he belongs in the NFL as a member of the Bengals’ 2016 roster. After that, his contract will be up. If things remain the same, the Bengals will have no reason to bring him back in 2017. But, if he really is ready to break out in 2016 like so many have hoped on an annual basis, he will have one last chance to do it.