If former three-time Pro Bowler Jevon Kearse was "The Freak," perhaps Margus Hunt is "The Freak 2.0."
The defensive end from SMU, selected by the Bengals with their second pick in the second round (53rd overall), ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, bench-pressed 225 pounds 38 times, and posted a 34 1/2 inch vertical jump ... at 6-8, 277 pounds.
"The combine was unbelievable," said Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "I think he was right near the top of every category."
"Obviously he has great stature and unbelievable measurables," said Marvin Lewis. "But he really grew and got better as the season went along last year."
Hunt, who turns 26 on July 14, has only been playing football for four years. He grew up in Estonia competing in track and field and won gold medals in the shot and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships.
He moved to the United States in 2007 to train under famed SMU track coach Dave Wollman, but when the school dropped its track program, Margus decided to try out for football and was given a scholarship.
"When I got in, it was just a way to stay at SMU, but I wanted to put that scholarship to full use and really learn the game of football," said Hunt.
"They had to show him how to put on equipment and all of that stuff," said Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
"Up until I came here I barely knew the game at all," said Hunt. "I knew there was the game of American football out there, but I didn't know how it exactly worked or how big a part of this nation it is."
SMU brought Hunt along slowly, initially using him on special teams to block kicks. He promptly rejected four field goals and three extra point attempts as a freshman and finished his career with 17 blocked kicks – the second highest total in NCAA history.
By his senior year, Hunt was a force at defensive end, earning first-time All-Conference USA honors after finishing with eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and an INT.
"I'm really starting to enjoy the physicality – the violent part of the game," said Hunt. "Being able to dominate people on the line of scrimmage."
"He is as good at getting off the football as anyone I've seen in this draft," said Zimmer. "That's really his number one asset. He's got great, great speed and his ability to get off the ball is phenomenal."
The Bengals already have considerable defensive line depth, so they can afford to develop Hunt. Right end Michael Johnson is working on a one-year deal and left end Robert Geathers, who just signed a three-year deal, turns 30 this season. Only four D-linemen are older than Hunt: Geathers, Domata Peko, Wallace Gilberry and Johnson (by just five months).
"He was playing in a different style of defense than we'll ask him to play here, so he'll have an opportunity to use his athleticism a little bit more and continue to learn the game and grow," said Lewis.
"We're not counting on him to come in and be a starter right away, but that is why we liked him," said Zimmer. "That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for a guy that we can hit a home run on."
Hunt, who learned English by watching American TV shows and movies, says his friends and family back home in Estonia are excited by his NFL opportunity.
"When I started playing they weren't happy that I decided to do this," said Hunt. "They were really ticked that I stopped doing track and field and decided to play football but it turned out for the best. Now they've changed their minds and think that this is something extraordinary and can be really beneficial to the nation.
"That's how big this game is," said Hayes. "It's going global. That's a great thing – it's what the commissioner wants."