Margus Hunt, aka ‘The Eastern Block’, is one of the most colorful stories in this year’s draft. His journey from being a Estonian junior track and field champion to a potential NFL defensive end is compelling.
Hunt also has the kind of body that’s often referred to as a ‘freak of nature’ - he’s 6-8 and 277 pounds, has an 92-inch wingspan, runs like a safety, and is incredibly athletic. He’s also very new to the sport, having only begun his training in it in 2009. He has a reputation as one of the hardest workers around.
When I turned on the film, Hunt’s good and bad sides quickly became crystal clear. Eventually, two contests really stood out in my mind. His good side was clearly demonstrated in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl against Fresno State; the 2012 game against TCU showed off his weaknesses.
First up is the Hawaii Bowl; we'll start our analysis at the 1:53 mark of this video:
Hunt gives you both some of the good and the bad in one play. He does a nice job of beating the right tackle with his pure, rare speed, taking an outside path, and pressing it to sack the QB. Hunt levels the QB with a hit that will usually draw a flag in the NFL, though. He is so tall and so long that inadvertent blows to the head of offensive players (and the flags that will go with them) are probably going to be an occasional fact of life. The speed he shows gives you hope that you can develop him.
Starting at 3:01, watch how he attacks the guard’s outside shoulder. You should also note the guard’s terrible footwork and failure to square up, making Hunt’s job much easier. That doesn’t detract from Hunt’s technique, though, which is nicely executed. This also explains why people get excited about Hunt - he sacks the QB for a safety.
At 3:28, it’s SMU’s freshman tackle with the same exact problems the guard had - but the play is a screen. Hunt assumes that he’s beaten the tackle again, but he just overruns the screen. It’s a problem that he’ll get better on with coaching and time. Given his height, learning to keep his head on a swivel will be a matter of self protection.
Finally, look at the play which starts at the 3:40 mark. Margus puts a simple but nice move on the tackle’s inside shoulder, and the tackle bites on it. That’s good technique on Hunt’s part, but the tackle seems totally out of it - he just lets Hunt by. Fresno State isn’t the New England Patriots, but one of the things I look for is the ability of a player to avoid playing down to lesser competition. Hunt’s still working on his technique, and he was usually applying the right approaches to the right situations during that game. It suggests that he’s not just athletic, but should be able to apply that natural skill to the specific requirements of playing DE at a higher level.
The other side of his game came to the forefront when I watched his play against TCU:
Hunt spent much of that game being beaten over and over from making the same mistake: losing his leverage. He lost out on pass rushes, on run defense, and even in pursuit. He still makes plays at times, certainly, but he lost a lot of his effectiveness just by that one tendency. It’s partly the downside of his immense height, and I’m not sure how much he’ll be able to change it.
Hunt tends to jump up out of his stance instead of firing low into his man: that tendency to come in high got him beaten all game. He will have to work hard to learn not to keep poping upright at the snap and giving away his leverage - he wasn’t able to during that game. His point of balance was often undercut by the offensive line, or they just steered him away. He’s not a natural knee bender, and his pad level comes up slightly farther than normal due to his height. His size is a two-edged sword.
Remember, as an offensive lineman, you need only move a defender three inches up, or bend them back, to take them out of the play. When you’re 6-8, you’re frequently giving 1-2 inches away just due to your height, unless you consciously keep your pad level very low. Hunt hasn’t shown a lot of progress there yet - it’s not a natural thing for him. His upper body is also somewhat stiff, which exacerbates the issue. He gets a nice sack at 2:58 - it’s a one-move, slap-and-run technique. It won’t work in the NFL, but it’s fun to watch; Hunt lacks a second move to go to when his first one fails.
As a result, he has the same problem that Kwame Geathers has shown: when you have a taller man who isn’t a natural bender, and who doesn’t keep his pad level down, he’s going to receive a barrage of cut blocks. Over the course of a game, that player is usually going to get slower as swelling naturally builds along the lateral area of the thigh, which is the target of a cut block.
There are also a lot of nerve endings in that area - cut blocks hurt. Repeated ones will eventually slow most players down. Hunt hasn’t learned to keep his pads low enough or his hands out in shed mode to prevent it. Hunt can get you some sacks and pressures through his sheer size and effort - he’s a very hard working player - but NFL linemen are trained in how to take advantage of weaknesses like his. Hunt even struggled against the better tackles during Senior Bowl practices.
Hunt usually shows a lot of talent in backside pursuit of the run game - his 4.60 speed is a solid weapon when coming off the backside. But it won’t do him a lot of good unless he shows that he can get his pad level down, beat a reach block, and stop the run when it comes right to him. There won’t be any reason to run plays away from him unless he shows that he’s able to stop them.
His season high in tackles at SMU was only 45; part of that is due to his problems in stopping the run when the flow is towards him. He doesn’t have a good ‘feel’ for run versus pass, draw and screen, and that’s also an issue. Check the TCU tape at 5:08 - he isn’t looking to diagnose the play and runs himself right out of it. With his height, not looking is a bad tendency.
While it’s hard not to get enthused at visions of what he could look like when he matures in the game, you also have to bear in mind that Hunt started in football in 2009, and he’s already older than the average player coming out of college. He’s a special teams player at best next year, and he’s clearly a project. Some are already talking of moving him to tight end. I doubt that will happen, but consider this:
You usually pick a player of his size to hold the left or strongside corner in an even-front or 4-3 formation. He might struggle with a two-gap defense until he’s more familiar with the game. I don’t see him taking up double teams effectively at this point either.
He’s not usually that effective as a pass rusher against better tackles, so you might not see a lot of a return on your investment in the next year or two, at the least. He easily could be 30 before he’s fully ready to start. The good side is that he has the frame to put on 15 lb. of muscle fairly easily. Right now, though, he lunges on a lot of tackles due to his lack of upper body flexibility. Some of his misses are pretty bad.
When your weaknesses still stand out that much going into the draft, I have to wonder if some team (it used to perennially be the Raiders, but they seem to be wising up) won’t fall in love and overdraft him. He’s a remarkable physical anomaly, it’s true, but this is going to be a tough challenge for him. Hunt understands this. His own comment was,
There’s a lot of work to be done to be that every-down starter.
I wish him well in the game. I wouldn’t consider him as the kind of choice that John Elway/John Fox would be likely to make - they’ve generally been more conservative and value-oriented with their picks.
One thing’s certain, though - Margus Hunt will be a lot of fun to keep track of.